Singing as Prayer
Brother John Raymond
August 8, 1993
Singing is a special form of prayer. The great Father of the
Church St. Augustine tells us that when one sings one prays twice.
Maybe what he meant was that when one sings one is really doing two
things. One is the actual words of the hymn which one sings as a
prayer and the other is singing itself as a form of prayer honoring
One always associates St. Francis of Assisi with singing. From
his biographies one learns that he liked singing very much. Maybe
that is one of the reasons why the Franciscan spirit passed on by
St. Francis is such a joyful one.
Singing is very special. It seems to be something which comes to
us almost naturally. Every culture has had some form of singing.
Religious songs especially lift one up, almost above one's self,
stirring one's mind and heart to a greater love of God. One
experiences this not only by one's own singing but by listening to
others sing. Personally I find the singing of John Michael Talbot, a
contemporary Catholic singer, very uplifting. He has composed his
own original melodies to some of the prayers of Holy Mass as well as
various psalms from the Old Testament. Could it be that God likes
singing so much that He planted it into our very nature?
That God likes singing is evident in the Sacred Scriptures. The
prophetic and inspired psalms of the Old Testament were hymns sung
to God by the people of Israel. King David is believed to be the
author of most if not all of them. This great King of the Old
Testament was very fond of playing music. Scripture tells us that he
used to play music for King Saul as a young man. Also, he is the one
who "danced with all his might" before the Ark of the Covenant upon
its return to Jerusalem. This musical zealot for God was chosen to
be part of the lineage for the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who
came to be referred to as the "Son of David."
The late Bishop Sheen in one of his talks drew special attention
to the only reference in the New Testament where Our Lord sang.
After the institution of the Holy Eucharist Scripture says, "And
after reciting a hymn, they (Jesus and the Apostles) went out to the
Mount of Olives. (Mark Chapter 14, Verse 26) Bishop Sheen says that
Our Lord sang because of His great joy that He was soon to bring
about our redemption. Maybe it was also because of His great joy in
having instituted the Sacrament of His Love - the Holy Eucharist.
But regardless of the motive that Our Lord did sing and enjoyed it
seems evident. Sometimes one forgets that Jesus was truly human as
well as truly Divine. As the perfect keeper of the Law of Moses
Jesus prayed and sang as any traditional Jew did.
That God likes singing one has further proof from one of the
Letters of St. Paul. He says, "With gratitude in your hearts sing
psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God." (Colossians 3, 16) St.
Paul practiced what he preached about singing. We are told that late
at night while he was in prison with Silas the two of them "were
praying and singing God's praises." (Acts 16, 25) Their singing must
have been a pretty effective prayer because immediately there was an
earthquake that freed them as well as all the other prisoners!
Even in Heaven one will continue singing. St. John tells us about
hearing a great crowd in Heaven that was singing, "Alleluia! Victory
and glory and power to our God . . .. (Revelation 19, 1) So if we
are going to be singing in Heaven for all eternity we had better
start practicing now!