Saturday evening I had the joy of attending a concert by the Cleveland Orchestra in Severance Hall. The main number was Mendelssohn’s Symphony #2, which is also known as “Hymn of Praise.” It is a series of Scripture passages, mostly from Psalms, set to music and sung by a mighty chorus, two sopranos, and a tenor. The result was a majestic and stirring hymn of glory. The last time I was at Severance Hall, I also was pleasantly surprised to hear another religious performance: a concerto that was a meditation on the rosary’s Mysteries of Light!
Down through the centuries, religion has inspired all styles of music from Gregorian chant and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” to “Jesus, Take the Wheel.” Right now in our chapel people are rehearsing Handel’s gorgeous oratorio “Messiah” for Easter for free-will offerings. They also sing it in Advent as a fundraiser for the Geauga food pantries. Interestingly, Handel used the profits from his concerts to benefit the needy and open orphanages and hospitals.
To me, members of an orchestra playing together as one and choir members singing together are metaphors for heaven. For good reason angels are depicted playing harps, trumpets, and drums. Everyone in the afterlife will be in harmony. We will live in beauty and peace. In John’s vision of heaven every creature sings the following “with full voice”:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!
To the one seated on the throne and to the lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
Music has a powerful effect on us. It prompts us to tap our feet and clap our hands; it can energize us or bring calm to our hearts. Music also leads us to thoughts of God, who created it. Christian songs lift our hearts, and spirituals gave us encouragement and courage. Hymns add significantly to our Eucharist celebrations and prayer services. They are a form of prayer. In fact, St. Augustine claimed, “Singing well is praying twice.”
The 150 psalms originally were prayer-songs. Jesus and the apostles sang them. At the conclusion of the Last Supper, “When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26). I wonder what Jesus’ voice sounded like. No doubt, our Blessed Mother sang Jewish lullabies to the infant Jesus and sang while she spun wool and ground grain.
So listen to, or better still sing Christian songs as you dust, do laundry, or drive in your car. It would be a lovely form of prayer to dance to such songs too! That way your whole body would be involved in praising God.
What is your favorite religious song?