Being the work of God Creation expresses His perfection and His glory. The glorification of God is indeed its first raison d’être and the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, relate that earth and heavens proclaim the glories of God. The canticle of the Three Children, in the Book of Daniel, is a beautiful invitation to all the creatures to sing the glory of their Creator: All works of the Lord, bless the Lord: praise and exalt him above all for ever. Then all the creatures, one by one, are invited to glorify the Lord; angels and heavens, waters and powers, sun, moon and all the stars, fire and heat, cold and frost, ice and snow, animals and men are asked to unite together for the praise of God.
Now, there is one thing that we have to take into consideration. Every creature glorifies God according to its own nature. So, a stone glorifies God as a stone, a dog as a dog, a flower as a flower and so forth, and of course, it goes without saying that a man glorifies God as a man, or at least, is supposed to glorify Him as a man. I don’t know if you have well realized it, but God has given us a wonderful faculty, which is language, and, let us be more precise, human language.
So, it is with and by our human language that we worship God. This language is not a necessary condition to do this. First, we should be worshipers in spirit and in truth, which involves our soul and its main abilities: intelligence and will. At this point, speech is not necessary. Some people are deprived of this ability, and yet they can be true worshipers. But now, since a human person is a body and a soul, the interior acts of our soul must be manifested externally by our body. Besides, most of the time, we do this naturally and spontaneously. We have just to look at the face of someone to know if he is happy, sad, scared, angry or annoyed. Consequently, our reverence and our adoration for God must be expressed physically by our attitude, our postures and our words. It is the way, for us human beings, to worship God as men. We are neither parrots nor angels and our adoration cannot be satisfied with mental prayers only or vocal prayers only. Speech is our principal natural means of communication, and once again, we worship God according to our nature. It is already true for the private prayer. It is even truer for the public prayer which we call the holy Liturgy according to the definition given by Pope Pius XII. The Liturgy is a public act of adoration offered to God by the Church which is a society composed of men. I am speaking now just about the Church on earth and her liturgy in our present condition.
So, dear brethren, we have to participate in the Liturgy as men, by using our human faculties of expression which are words. They can be said or sung, but they certainly cannot be mumbled, whispered or murmured. In other words, you are asked to speak and to sing clearly by using well the abilities that God has given to you and not by buzzing like a fly or a bee. Flies and bees worship God in their own way; we do in our own way as men.
And I really don’t think I ask you something difficult. In fact it is not me who asks you this, but the Church and with simple good sense. I am even surprised myself that I have to preach on this subject today, but the fact is that we must improve in this parish regarding this matter. Some of you have already made some efforts, and I would like to thank you for trying to make our Liturgy more reverent and more beautiful. And I am sorry to tell you this, but whispers, murmurs and buzzing are not beautiful. You can use them for gossiping or conspiring behind the backs of people, but not for worshiping God, at least now. Maybe, one day, when persecutions will come, it will be necessary to worship God in silence, but it is not yet the time.
God deserves to be worshiped and to be well worshiped. That supposes on our part some efforts which is, in the end, not terribly difficult. Almost everybody can speak clearly and articulate well, and by the way many do it very well 5 seconds before or after Mass in the vestibule, or even sometime during Mass.
Many of you pray the Rosary before and after Mass and this is a good thing. You pray well by speaking clearly during this prayer, so I wonder why you don’t speak clearly during Mass. And I remind you that even though the rosary is a very good prayer recommended by the Church, it is still a private prayer, while Mass is the public prayer of the Church. So, I am glad that you do some efforts to pray the rosary, but you should do more efforts for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The efforts asked are just to speak naturally at the same volume as the priest, as you do during a usual conversation. Only the priest has some prayers that he says in a low voice, because he acts in the name of Jesus Christ, sacrificer and victim. He offers the Sacrifice directly to God for all of you and doesn’t need to speak loudly for this.
Now there are times we do celebrate a true low Mass, which is when the priest celebrates in a low voice the entire Mass. It is a beautiful way to celebrate the Sacrifice of Jesus which is sometimes necessary when for example two or more priests celebrate at the same time in the same church. It is a beautiful way to celebrate Mass, especially when you are in an old XII century church, early the morning, worshiping God under the Romanesque vaults of an ancient abbey sanctified by many generations of monks. There, the stones pray with you and with the awakening nature outside. You can feel the memory of the place and words don’t have to be necessarily expressed. Such a way of celebrating Mass pushes us to contemplation and to raise our souls toward God.
There are other ways to celebrate Mass. High Mass is one of them and is recommended by the Church especially for Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. As for a low Mass, the Church wants the congregation to participate in the Liturgy. Pope Pius XII wrote that the fruits of such participation can only be good if we follow the teaching and the rules of the Church which provide against abuses and errors. It is true and I could experiment with it myself.
I remember especially one occasion among others about 16 years ago. I just had recently discovered the traditional Liturgy of the Church and started to go to Mass after many disappointments due to Novus Ordo Masses not very well said. I found these Masses boring and people didn’t seem to realize what they were doing while they attending them. So, this day in Paris, I could clearly see the difference between a true Catholic Liturgy and another way of worshiping which doesn’t attract many people. The rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre had given authorization to have a benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament one Sunday afternoon after a walk for Life in Paris. It had to be done after the regular Vespers of the Basilica which are in French according to the new Liturgy. Many hundreds of traditionalists arrived for this benediction and I was among them. It was still the Vespers and dozens of people, not very young, were trying to sing the Office in this big Church still full of empty seats. It was not very attractive and I thought it was a quite sad.
Then, came the time for our Liturgy. The church became suddenly filled with many young people carrying banners and singing at the top of their voice traditional canticles such as Lauda Jerusalem, O salutaris Hostias, Tantum ergo and so forth. The difference was amazing and I thought that Tradition is very much alive and will go on in the future because of its enthusiasm, its vitality and its youth. Those of you who went to the pilgrimage of Chartres have probably felt the same thing during the Mass at the Cathedral when 15,000 people sang the Kyrie, Gloria and other canticles.
Unfortunately I don’t feel the same thing here in the parish during our Masses our holy hours and I wonder why. Why they don’t sing here at Saint Francis de Sales? There is certainly a reason, but I don’t know it. Why do people sing when I say Mass at the Cathedral, or in Chatanooga Tenessee or anywhere else in the world, but not at Saint Francis de Sales church? Some of you sing and have made some efforts, but the others? So many of you remain silent or sing so low that we hardly hear them.
Singing and music are something important. They express human feelings and reflect what a society is. Music is rhythm and there is no life without rhythm. There is rhythm in walking, respiration, heartbeats. So nature is full of rhythm. We, as rational creatures, have the ability to make rhythm an art and even a prayer. And it is something very natural. Singing is peculiar to men and a baby know how to sing before he knows how to speak. Any good teacher or good pedagogue would tell you the importance of chant in the education of a child. It helps him to stand in a group or in a society and to form his memory.
I am sure that you all remember at least one song that you sing sometimes. It can be the number one song of the hit-parade of the year you fell in love with your wife, a song that you used to sing at the university or in the army, the song of the soccer world cup or anything else. Well, what about a chant which has marked your faith?
Few years ago, I was director of a summer camp for teenagers in France. The main activity of this camp was music. At the end of the camp, after only three weeks, we gave a concert of sacred baroque music and an opera. Our children were able to sing an entire Sunday Mass with Gregorian chant and polyphony. I remember how funny it was when we went to visit certain places during the camp, such as a medieval village or a navy boat. Our children were singing the Gloria Patri from a Mass by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and I can tell you that we didn’t pass unnoticed. People asked us: who are you? This was an occasion of apostolate for us.
It also happened many times during our summer apostolate in Europe when we would say Mass in the church of various villages. Every time, I saw some inhabitants of these villages who attended our Mass crying. I could her them singing with us the Kyrie and other pieces. They just were so moved to tears by hearing the Mass of their childhood that they haven’t heard for 40 years. But they remember it very well because Faith at this time had really built a culture which was expressed by the Liturgy. You could go in any villages until the Fifties, all the parishioners, who were almost all the inhabitants of the village, knew at least three entire Kyriale and different pieces they could sing during processions, vespers or Holy Hours.
So, dear Brethren, I guess you could understand how much it is important to live our Faith, and not only to live with Faith. That makes a major difference which can be the compost and the ferment of a new Catholic society. Our Faith should impregnate or culture and our society. Singing is a wonderful and powerful vehicle for this, as history and sociology show us.
I will finish with one quotation from Saint Josemaria Escriva Balaguer and a question: “the Church sings because Her speech in insufficient for her prayer. So, you, as a Christian, you must learn liturgical chant and you must sing at the top of your voice.”
In the Benedictine monastery of Flavigny in France, it is written on the floor at the entrance of the church:
Ament et cantabunt! Let them love and they will sing !
So, here is my question: if you love God, why don’t you sing?