28 April 2011

Raising Our Voices in Song

'Sing to the Lord a new canticle; let His praise be in the Church of the Saints', says Saint Augustine. He also preached these words: 'Canticum res est hilaritatis, et, si diligentius consideremus, res est amoris' – 'A song is a thing of cheerfulness, and, if carefully examined, it is a thing of love'.

Thus if we’re joyful and in love, we should be singing. Oh how the Church takes care of her children! The liturgy invites us in the Mass and the Divine Office to express our joy, express our love in song. In the liturgy our voices soar towards our Lord, like burning incense.

The Apostle Saint John writes: 'Nos diligimus, quoniam ipse prior dilexit nos' – 'We love, because He loved us first' (1 Io 4, 19).

Saint Augustine continues his homily by reiterating what Saint Paul wrote: 'Quia caritas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per Spiritum Sanctum, qui datus est nobis' – 'Because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who is given to us' (Rom 5, 5). And so, it is God’s gift of love which has been given to us that enables us to love God in return.

And since His love has been poured into our hearts, it is not only our voices that we raise to God, but also as the liturgy commands us and hopefully we are compelled to do, 'Sorsum corda' – 'Lift up your hearts'. What greater expression of love is there than our Lord’s own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which He gives to us. If we are truly in love with Him, then receiving Him unworthily should never be considered.Saint Augustine continues by saying that our Lord calls out: 'Amate me, et habebitis me, quia nec potestis amare me, nisi habueritis me' – 'Love Me, and you will have Me, because you would be unable to love Me, unless you possess Me'. We possess Him by living lives which embrace the call to holiness, remaining in a state of grace, receiving His Most Precious Body and Blood, and by daily conversation with Him.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has been a great teacher on liturgy, and the importance of beauty in the liturgy. The tradition of the Church, as we are reminded by our Holy Father, is that angels of God chant rather than speak. This is heightened conversation as everything in worship should be heightened.

In his [Cardinal Ratzinger] book, 'The Spirit of the Liturgy' he writes: 'When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song. The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is He Who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit Who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father. In liturgical music, based as it is on biblical faith, there is, therefore, a clear dominance of the Word; this music is a higher form of proclamation. Ultimately, it rises up out of the love that responds to God's love made flesh in Christ, the love that for us went unto death. After the Resurrection, the Cross is by no means a thing of the past, and so this love is always marked by pain at the hiddenness of God, by the cry that rises up from the depths of anguish, Kyrie eleison, by hope and by supplication. But it also has the privilege, by anticipation, of experiencing the reality of the Resurrection, and so it brings with it the joy of being loved, that gladness of heart that Haydn said came upon him when he set liturgical texts to music. In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church. Polyphony developed in the late Middle Ages, and then instruments came back into divine worship -- quite rightly, too, because, as we have seen, the Church not only continues the synagogue, but also takes up, in the light of Christ's Pasch, the reality represented by the Temple'.

In the liturgy, then, whether it’s the Mass or the Divine Office, bring your voice, bring your heart, and bring your whole self, body and soul, and lift it up to God in worship and angelic conversation.