One year, after my parents moved to a new state, I went to visit them for the Christmas holidays. We went to Mass on Christmas morning at their new parish. I was a little surprised at how poorly people sang. The music choices were traditional Christmas carols, but not the most familiar ones. Still, it was Christmas Day. Why weren’t people singing?
And then, after the final blessing, after the procession out, after the end of the closing song, the musicians spontaneously broke into “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano. And the place erupted!
This confirmed a basic truth for me. God puts a song in our hearts. We’re born with it. It is always there, waiting to erupt.
Turning a song from God into music
The United States Bishops said:
God has bestowed upon his people the gift of song. God dwells within each human person, in the place where music takes its source. Indeed, God, the giver of song, is present whenever his people sing his praises. (Sing to the Lord, 1).
God put a song in our hearts as a sign of love for us. But unless we let it out — unless we sing, or play, or drum, or strum — it is not music. To be music, it has to be heard. And when we do make that joyful noise, our music is almost sacramental.
The idea of sacrament can sometimes be difficult to wrap our heads around. We are used to thinking of sacraments as things. There are seven of them. We get them at certain times in our lives. They do specific things.
But those kinds of ideas are just a small part of the larger meaning of sacrament. Kind of like the blind man who described an elephant as a snake because he was only holding the trunk. The Greek word for sacrament is mystery. A mystery is something we experience without ever fully understanding it. We can go deeper into the mystery, and more and more of the mystery can be revealed to us. But we cannot ever completely define it.
What is the mystery? It is the divine presence, the action of God in the world and in our hearts. We know God is. We and we can know some things about how God is. But we cannot know everything.God put a song in our hearts as a sign of love for us. To be music, it has to be heard. And when we do make that joyful noise, our music is almost sacramental. Click To Tweet
This song is a blessing
How do we know? God tells us. Or shows us. Or reveals to us. The things God does to reveal God’s self are the things we call blessings.
From the very beginning God blessed all living beings…
The covenant with Noah and with all living things renewed this blessing…
The divine blessings were made manifest in astonishing and saving events:
- the birth of Isaac,
- the escape from Egypt (Passover and Exodus),
- the gift of the promised land,
- the election of David,
- the presence of God in the Temple,
- the purifying exile, and return of a “small remnant.”
The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms,
interwoven in the liturgy of the Chosen People,
recall these divine blessings
and at the same time
respond to them with blessings of praise and thanksgiving.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1080-1081)
It is because of all these great blessings, through which God reveals God’s mysterious self, that our ancestors responded with their own “blessings of praise and thanksgiving.”
And it continues to this day. God is. The way God is is a continuous blessing that reveals who God is.
And sometimes we erupt with our own blessings of praise and thanksgiving. When that happens, our music is sacramental.
See also these related articles:
- Liturgical participation: if you’re not doing, you’re not learning
- How Madison Avenue is sabotaging our worship
- A singing church is symbolic of the divine Trinity
- Singing with our ancestors in faith
- Music is the sacramental sign of God’s love for us
- Why sing? Because God put a song in our hearts
- Why the church thinks it is so important that your parishioners sing at Mass
Image credit: Rod Long, Unsplash