Song and Music

As higher expressions of human feeling,
song and music unite our hearts in prayer.

Personal prayer is made in silent concentration, from a simple attachment of love. The liturgy which unites a community is a symphony which presupposes that its various instruments are tuned together. As the Old Testament puts it: "Praise him with fanfare of trumpet, praise him with harp and lyre, praise him with tambourines and dancing, praise him with strings and pipes, praise him with the clamor of cymbals, praise him with triumphant cymbals. Let everything that breathes praise Yahweh. Alleluia!" (Psalms 150:3-6). As in many religions, which make song into a higher register of human expression, the voice is the most beautiful instrument of divine praise, and the organ, which is a sort of orchestra all on its own, is its best accompaniment for sacred music. "Whoever loves singing," said Saint Augustine, "and who sings well, prays twice over."

Derived from the Greek word psalmos, "the plucking of a string," a psalm is a poem sung to God, accompanied by a cithara or a lute. For both Jews and Christians, the Book of Psalms is the perfect expression of personal and communal prayer. There are 150 psalms, attributed to King David, which express to God the full range of human feelings when "touched" by misfortune or happiness, persecution, fear or tenderness. In turn, we fill them with our experiences and expectations when we sing them in a choir. They are a sort of love-song from the Bride, who tells the Bridegroom of her joy, and her sufferings.

Different centuries and cultures have left us with many forms of religious song and music, among which is the form known as Gregorian Plainsong. Attributed to Pope Gregory I, who more than anything established the texts, this repertoire adapts and extends the psalms with the strength and the beauty of a profound interior knowledge. Its origins are extremely ancient, and it flourished between the Loire and the Rhine in the eighth and ninth centuries. After that, it spread across the whole of the Christian West, where it is still sung by numerous monastic communities.

In order to unite the faithful in a single prayer, there are also many other songs, whose force depends on their biblical inspiration, and which are sung in our various mother tongues - for example the chorales in German and English. Even today, music and song, when linked with different cultures, are a part of any religious celebration. They are a beautiful homage to God, which also honor those who sing them.

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