Singing is praying twice

Christians sing in Praise and Worship. Christians have hymns and songs of praise, thanksgiving, adoration and worship.

Oct 20, 2023

Christians sing in Praise and Worship. Christians have hymns and songs of praise, thanksgiving, adoration and worship. Why is this so? The best answer I learned points to the Old Testament when King David sang his Song of Praise after winning his battle (2 Sam 22), and the song of triumph by Moses and the children of Israel after their deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:1-19).

It was their way of expressing thanks and appreciation to God. This tradition of singing and songs of praise and thanks are found throughout the Old and New Testaments, and down through Church history, especially during the times of persecution when the early Christians sang triumphantly as they were led to their death.

Christian churches all over the world sing in worship. Most, if not all, Catholic churches in Malaysia have one or more choir groups in their parishes. This is the most common point of entry for anyone who wishes to join, participate or be involved in the church. Church music and church choir has helped draw many people — young and old — back to church. Music makes us happy, joyful and sometimes relaxes us. Christian songs inspire, invigorate and uplift us when we feel down. Christian hymns may be sung, hummed or used for reflections.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #1156) says “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. It forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy. The Church continues and develops this tradition. He who sings prays twice”.

The church choir is an integral part of our Catholic worship. It falls under the Liturgical Ministry of the parish, and carries an important role in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. For anyone who has ever attended Mass without the presence of a choir or an organist, they may feel somewhat different. The singing of hymns helps create the solemnity, the joyfulness or the glorious atmosphere for the Catholic liturgical seasons.

Yet, how many of us church-goers seldom pause a moment to think about the people who make the singing in church possible? The choir members, the choir conductor, the pianist or the organists, the other musicians. These are our unsung heroes that are mainly volunteers who have committed their time and talents every week, including on holy days of obligation and feast days, to be present in church for practice, and at every Mass.

For many, singing in church brings them closer to God and to the people of God (the Church). It creates a community, a fellowship and bond with our fellow choir mates. The commitment to attend choir practices, the singing of spiritual songs and to be in church on time every week has done wonders for the development of a person’s spiritual life. In some cases, involvement in the church choir has also given life to their professional singing career. I know of at least four local celebrities who started their professional singing careers from the church choir.

Singing in the church choir builds character, discipline and commitment. It makes the person confident and helps to develop the individual’s vocal chords. Some will move on to cantoring in church, and perhaps participate in concerts and musicals, be it in church or elsewhere. The rigorous week-in, week-out practices does wonders for a person’s personal life as well.

In some parishes, members of the music or liturgical ministry are required to attend liturgical formations so as to better understand and appreciate the songs they sing and the selection of hymns. The official Catholic hymnal of the Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei region Sing Your Praise To God (SYPG) edition 2021, which was introduced by the Episcopal Regional Liturgy Commission (ERLC) on June 8, 2022 assists the faithful to better sing and worship God in spirit and in truth at every Mass, and to sing with joy this source and summit of our Christian lives”. (HERALD, Sep 17, 2022)

For the musically inclined, the new SYPG includes music scores to ensure the tempo, tune, pitch and rhythms are preserved. Back in the 1980s and before, people mostly memorised the tune and sang from reading the lyrics only. Even today, we see many “oldies” sing from memory when popular hymns are sung at Mass. There were no minus one, ipod, itune, YouTube, smartphones to assist with the singing. We sang from the heart.

After the 1976 Aggiornamento in Peninsular Malaysia, many of the churches introduced electronic and electric instruments —organs, pianos, guitars — and newer sound systems, speakers and sound mixers, to replace the pipe organs used in some of the older churches built during the colonial days. This revival brought in youth involvement, livelier music, participation by the lay faithful and thus better appreciation of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

From the late 1980s onwards, several liturgical formations, particularly on sacred music, were conducted for the liturgical groups in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. Combined choirs from various parishes were formed during special diocesan events — e.g. during the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur’s Golden anniversary in 2005, the Marian Rally in 2013, Archbishop Julian Leow’s episcopal ordination in 2014, elevation of the First Malaysian Cardinal in 2016, etc. Choirs from the four language groups — English, BM, Chinese and Tamil — worked together for many weeks to create a truly harmonious celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Church music, Christian songs and hymns will always be an integral part of our Christian life. Singing soothes, calms and puts us in touch with God. It gives us strength. It gives us hope. It gives us joy.

(Richard Chia shares his experiences on the journey of the Church in Malaysia in the past forty years. Its challenges and achievements as it moves toward synodality.)

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