Since I arrived here at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton almost a year ago, I have been very impressed that we are a community that strives to actively, fully, and consciously participate in the liturgy. This is especially true with regard to congregational singing. When we sing together as a parish community, we acknowledge our common beliefs, affirm our faith, and collectively give praise to God in a very powerful way.
However, for some people, singing at church is scary. I mean, singing in the shower or in the car is one thing, but singing when other people are around? That’s an entirely different animal. I think this is why I’m often told by parishioners, “I don’t have a great singing voice, so I don’t really sing during Mass.” In response, let me say this: You don’t need a great voice to sing during Mass; you just need to use the voice God gave you.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is often credited for the statement, “Qui cantat, bis orat” translated “A person who sings prays twice.” But, what does that truly mean? For Augustine, singing was not only about proclaiming the actual words of a song, but also about using our own unique singing abilities given to us by God in order to participate in the beautiful act of praising of God.
By all reports, Augustine’s speaking voice was quiet and the quality of his voice was less than ideal. As a consequence, it is also presumed that he was not blessed with a strong singing voice. However, Augustine saw the value of singing as a way of praising God. So he did just that – he sang with the voice God gave him.
In his writings, Augustine promoted congregational singing. He stressed the importance of singing not just with the mouth, but also with one’s heart and one’s deeds. He described singing as a foretaste of the abundant joy we will experience in Heaven. He was convinced that singing praises to God was indispensable for personal faith and was for the good of all the faithful.
So, when you’re at Mass, don’t be afraid to sing! Even if you feel you do not have the best voice, sing just like Augustine did! You’ll be surrounded by several hundred friends in the congregation who are joining with you in that collective act of praising God. By singing and contemplating the lyrics of a given song, you’ll grow deeper in your own faith. In turn, you will strengthen our parish community by contributing to a worship experience that enriches everyone in Christ. How cool is that!?