Four reasons I sing at Mass

Yesterday after Mass, a parishioner commented that he could hear me singing during the liturgy. I’ve gotten that comment a lot over the years, always as a compliment—of course, if anyone is annoyed by my loud voice then they’re not likely to say anything. But I always sing with gusto, whether I like the music or not, for four reasons:

1. Someone has to. I look around the church, and most people aren’t even holding hymnals, much less trying to sing. It’s awkward. Plus, a few times I have been stopped by people who say they are able to carry the tune and sing along because they can follow my voice.

2. Where else can I do it? As music has become more and more a professional thing and folk music has retreated to the Nashville studios, there just aren’t a lot of non-liturgical chances to sing without looking weird. Church is about the only place left where I can sing with other people.

3. I need to drown out my kids. When my kids don’t know the tune, some of them just sing the words to random notes. They do it all the time at home, with obvious joy, and I’m not enough of a Grinch to tell them to stop. But in church I feel the need to spare everyone around me.

4. Liturgy and singing go together. The Church’s main prayer book, the Psalter, indicates everywhere that it is meant to be SUNG. For ages and ages, the standard way to celebrate Mass was to SING most of it, and the Liturgy of the Hours was always SUNG until the age of the missionaries. God likes it when we sing—and if you’re one of those people with your hands in your pockets during the hymn, then you need to change your attitude.

In my dreams, the priest would surprise the congregation one Sunday by announcing that today’s worship will begin with twenty minutes of singing practice. EVERYBODY will get out a hymnal NOW, and let’s raise the ROOF! Twenty minutes later, he would run through the usual Sunday liturgy but with this as the entire homily for the week: “Now that’s what our singing should sound like!”

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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Robert Wyckoff
8 years ago

Enjoyed your post very much. You are probably aware too that singing also engages a different part of the brain. Sung words are remembered better than spoken words and far better than words merely looked at or read silently. The Methodist hymnal opens with “Directions For Singing” from John Wesley, which includes this admonition among several: “Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung… Read more »