Why Do We Sing?

Why Do We Sing?

Some weeks ago I attended an AFL match at the Gabba. I was struck by how the supporters of the victorious team - which just happened to be the Brisbane Lions! - rose as one at the end of the game to sing the club anthem. The tune is an old one (the Marseillaise), the words are rather corny, but young and old, male and female, tuneful and vocally-challenged alike joined in the rousing chorus.

Music is often an important part of special gatherings – carols around the piano or keyboard at Christmas, the school song at reunions, and of course 'Happy Birthday' whatever the age being celebrated.

The reasons why singing is so much a part of these occasions are the same reasons why singing is integral to liturgy. Liturgy is too a celebration – a celebration of faith.

Music serves the liturgy, and those who gather to celebrate, in several ways.

§ Music draws us together in unity.
Just as the team song unites people across all ages and background at a football match, singing together at Mass draws us into a single worshipping community. The entrance song in particular helps transform us from a disparate group of Mass-goers into a community with a common purpose.

§ Music expresses and shares faith.
Music serves the liturgical assembly by enabling us to express faith through song. We use the words and tunes of gifted composers to say what we often cannot ourselves put into words. The hymns that we sing speak of the wonders of God, of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and of the power of the Holy Spirit among us.

§ Music allows the words of the liturgy to speak more fully.
Sometimes words take on a much deeper meaning when sung. The words of 'Happy Birthday' sounds pretty silly when spoken rather than sung. The melody of favourite hymns has become as much a part of their message as the text. The meaning of a Mass response or hymn is heightened if the melody reflects what the words express. The joyful Celtic Alleluia, for example, is popular because the joyous lilting melody expresses so well the Good News which it announces. An effective musical setting conveys a meaning that goes beyond the words themselves.

§ Music allows us to express joy and enthusiasm.
The lively rhythm of a musical setting can draw people in and enable them to sing along, perhaps even to clap in time with the music! Singing offers us a way of expressing joy and enthusiasm that is not possible by any other means.

§ Music sets the tone for particular celebrations.
Music plays an important part in helping us enter into the spirit of the different liturgical seasons. The sombre tone of Good Friday is so effectively captured in songs such as “When I survey the wondrous cross”. The music of Easter enables us to express our joy in the resurrection of Christ.

We sing because we are people pf prayer and, according to an ancient proverb, the one who sings prays twice!


Elizabeth Harrington