Be ye filled with the Holy Spirit speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord.
Dear Brethren, Saint Paul invites the Christians to praise God by speaking and singing. This is not the first time the Sacred Scriptures call us to sing. Saint Paul in the first epistle to the Corinthians says: I will sing with the spirit, I will sing with the understanding. Certain English translations say ‘pray’ instead of ‘sing’ but the latin word of the Vulgat is ‘psallam’ which means I will sing the Psalms. This verse of Saint Paul seems to refer precisely to a Psalm: Psalm 48 that says: Sing praises to our God, sing praises to our King: For God is the King of all the earth, sing wisely.
About the fact that we have to sing to proclaim the glory of God, it is pretty obvious and it is certainly the only thing all the Christians of all denominations agree, except some "traditional" Catholics in the United States of America! But not singing is certainly not the tradition, and I would dare to say, it is even a kind of resistance to the grace of God. Saint Paul relates the fact of being filled with the Holy Spirit and singing and making melody. One causes the other. Because you are filled with the Holy Spirit, as a result, you sing to the Lord. Singing is also a spontaneous way of giving thanks to God, as we see when God has delivered David out of his enemies in the second book of Samuel: the entire chapter 22 is a tribute to God, and after recalling all His works, David said: Therefore will I give thanks to thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and will sing to thy name.
Psalm 22 also says: I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee. It happens that these two quotes from King David are applied to Our Lord in 1 Co 15,9 and Hb 2,12. The Apostles and disciples have seen and heard Our Lord sing the Psalms. And it is Him who teaches us how to sing wisely with the understanding.
Singing is one thing. Singing wisely with the understanding is another thing. All the Christians of all the denominations – except some “traditional” Catholics in the United States of America – sing, but they certainly don’t sing wisely with the understanding. Apparently there were some charismatic brethren in Corinth and Saint Paul had to bring them back on the right way. It is at this occasion that he said: What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, I will pray also with the understanding, I will sing with the spirit, I will sing also with the understanding.
Singing wisely with the understanding is after all not difficult. You just have to follow the rules of the Church, Mater et Magistra, who tells her children how to pray. It is with humility that we should receive her teaching, knowing that whatever we can think or imagine is certainly not better than what she teaches. The Liturgy is precisely one area – among others – where we can easily put into practice the “sentire cum Ecclesia” of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Many times, the Church has called the faithful to sing. As Pope Benedict XVI recalled last year during his journey in France, Christian worship is an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination.
For Saint Benedict, the words of the Psalm: coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine – in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) – are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. – (Saint Benedict wrote his rule for the monks, but what is said about the chant also applies for all the faithful.) What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the “zone of dissimilarity” – the regio dissimilitudinis. Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God’s likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the “zone of dissimilarity” – into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man’s falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter. It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private “creativity”, in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the “ears of the heart” the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.
Zone of dissimilarity
Singing wisely with the understanding (The choir and the congregation alternate the Kyrie)