In the last few ti morceaux I’ve shared, we’ve been highlighting aids to prayer. Everything from posture and gesture, to accessories like candles, icons, and incense have been mentioned. The reasons for this are that we human beings are bodily creatures: in using our senses like sight and touch and smell we get a more “full” experience of anything, communication with God included!
Yet in reviewing these morceaux, I can hardly believe that I’ve missed one until now! And it’s a major one, for one accessory to our prayer appeals to one of the most common human senses of all: sound! I’m talking about music.
In the Church’s official daily prayer, called the Liturgy of the Hours, every prayer-moment includes a hymn. Whether at daybreak, midday, evening, or in the middle of the night, song is supposed to accompany prayer. In fact, in its best and most full expression, all of the Church’s official prayer is supposed to be sung! Many religious orders especially pride themselves for always praying together “in choir,” that is, with completely sung worship.
And this goes for Mass as well. I admit that the only totally sung Masses I’ve ever done have been private ones or for very small and willing groups, for singing all of the readings, various dialogues, and “solo” chants of the priest can get a bit tedious in the ears of many, especially if they’re not used to it or expecting it. But gradually, both here at the Cathedral and elsewhere in the Church, faithful clergy and lay ministers are gradually expanding both our repertoires and our comfortability with sung prayer. Why? The simple answer is that “it adds so much!”
And so I recommend it in private prayer too. After all, when you’re alone you don’t have to worry about being on pitch, or hitting every high note just right! Singing or humming hymns and psalms to oneself is still a way to enhance prayer. I frequently find myself recalling some of the melodies I’ve learned at Mass or even way back during my seminary days at the Abbey in St. Benedict, Louisiana, as I pray the psalms each day. Why not give this a chance in your own daily spiritual exercise?