Sing forever

St Cecilia with Two Angels. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Today, 22 November, is the feast day of St. Cecilia.  As with many saints, her story is one of great courage, sacrifice, determination, suffering, and a deep love for our Lord.  It is important that while she is known as the patron saint of music and musicians, she loved Jesus with all her heart and sang to Him.  In other words, her focus was always on the Lord first.  Today I would like to reflect on this act of singing, and how we can also make it an act of love to God alone.

As someone who has been singing since childhood and now at church for many years, I firmly believe that human beings were created by God to make a joyful noise to Him.  Our bodies have been designed like speakers, to amplify God through our voices in both speech and song.  To me, singing every day is as necessary as breathing, food, and life itself.  That may sound a bit intense to some, but ask anyone who is passionately involved with singing or voice, or who loves to listen to singing and music, and they will say that this is also true for them.

The problem with singing, however, is that as humans we can forget our true intentions behind it and allow other things to get in the way!  We can get so caught up with our problems, anxieties, work, relationship issues, and other everyday concerns that when we get to church we forget about why we are singing.  When we forget God, everything goes out the window, including our singing.  We can get fuzzy, or lost, and put ourselves first instead of Jesus.  We neglect the meaning behind our music and fail to connect with heaven through our sung prayer.

Singing is much like water running through a pipe.  Our vocal mechanism and body is the instrument, which is the pipe itself.  Church singers are simply conduits through which the sound of our voices transports God’s words, carried in the lyrics of our hymns, like flowing water out into the world to nourish others.  We want God’s message in the music to be absorbed by people’s minds, hearts, and souls.  If we block the pipe with selfish or worldly cares, do not maintain it, or let it get rusty, then the flow of water will cease.

When I am singing in the choir and as a cantor, I of course want my voice to be pleasant and in tune because it is important to sing well to clearly convey God’s teachings.  But it is more important to feel and know that my singing is a service for God and supports the Mass.  I also want people to understand and respect the actual lyrics that I am communicating because they come from the Bible.  I am just a vessel through which God’s word reaches out to others through my pitches, vowels, and consonants.

As church singers we need to get out of the way and let God be the centre of attention.  Singing is not about being an ‘amateur’ or ‘professional’.  Nor is it about getting compliments or claps.  That is not necessary or important, and we must not aim for or seek that.  We are not the stars performing on a talent show.  The sanctuary is not our stage.  God is the true star and the church in which we sing is a holy place.  As church singers we must always be striving to do and be better for God’s sake, and deflect to Him.  We are His ministers and missionaries through the power of music.  We are not singing for ourselves or for other people’s praises, but are aiming heavenward because we love Him.  We also want others to love Him by encouraging them to sing, listen to, and understand the words of our hymns.  We want everyone to feel God’s tenderness, peace, and forgiveness calling out to every soul on earth.  Music is the perfect vehicle for this because it is a universal language, and the language of angels.

But make no mistake. We have an important responsibility in our mission. While singing itself is not hard (our tiny vocal cords were made for it), it does require a lot of diligence and background work! Every Christian knows that striving for heaven requires daily effort and struggle. We must partner with God and ask Him to give us the strength and skill to overcome our challenges every single day. This is no different for church singers and musicians. We need daily or regular practice, commitment, self-discipline, and resilience. While we strive to get better at what we do, it is never about reaching perfection (which is unattainable on earth). The rock solid foundation of our singing is to constantly revisit our purpose deep within our hearts and minds. Do I love Jesus in my music?  Why am I singing at church?  Why am I in the choir?  Am I forgetting God?  Am I focussing on myself?  Am I making an effort for Him and His glory?  Do I really believe what I am singing?  Is God’s love being clearly expressed through me and/or my choir? 

We sing because we are praying to God and want to connect with Him.  We sing because we want something more, and music takes us there.  Sometimes we can even feel heaven floating in the notes.

Singing and projecting the voice involves frequencies and sound waves which carry our voices around the church building to every ear.  But as church singers we want to go deeper, to hit every heart and mind too.  We want those sound waves to carry essential and eternal truths – that God is love, God is good, God will take care of you, God hears your cries, God forgives you, and God will not forget you.

Singing is sacred because it can heal us, change our relationships with God and each other, and bring us deep peace, but only if our minds and intentions are set on Him even before we let that first note go free.

Singing is beautiful, joyful, brings hope, and links us to God forever.  To sing for His greater glory is a wonderful honour, and I can’t imagine life without it.  I know that I want to always sing for our Lord in church while on earth, and to one day sing before Him in heaven.

The final verse of the hymn ‘These Alone Are Enough’ by Dan Schutte (which is based on the ‘Suscipe’ prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola) says it all:

When the darkness falls on my final days, take the very breath that sang your praise. Give me nothing more than your love and grace. These, alone, O God, are enough for me.

St. Cecilia, may we always sing for the love of God and His grace – pray for us.

“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.”

(Psalm 104:33)

Sing Forever

(by Robert Prizeman, sung by Libera)

I will sing for you at the start of each day
I’ll sing forever, sing for you
In all things I do in the dawn of my life
I’ll sing forever, sing for you

Shutting out night, my life renewed
Happy for love that is to come
Opening eyes I’ll follow you
Glad to see, glad to be yours

Echoing what you say
Echoing what you say
Shining out what you are
Shining out what you are
Out of dark, into your light

I will sing for you in the light of each day
I’ll sing forever, sing for you
In all things I do at the noon of my life
I’ll sing forever, sing for you

Shutting out night, my life renewed
Happy for love that is to come
Opening eyes I’ll follow you
Glad to see, glad to be yours

Echoing what you say
Echoing what you say
Shining out what you are
Shining out what you are
Out of dark, into your light

I will sing for you at the end of each day
I’ll sing forever, sing for you
In all things I do in the eve of my life
I’ll sing forever, sing for you

I will sing for you each and every day
I’ll sing forever, sing for you
In all things I do to the end of my life
I’ll sing forever, sing forever

Sing
Sing For You

Image Credit: St Cecilia with Two Angels by Antiveduto Grammatica [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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