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Ask the Register: do priests have to sing?

Q. I’ve had family members who cannot carry a tune, but who insisted on singing in the parish choir. If a man can’t carry a tune, does that disqualify him from the diaconate or priesthood in the Catholic Church?


A. If carrying a tune was a prerequisite for being ordained a deacon or priest, there would be a lot fewer priests in the Diocese of Lincoln. Thanks be to God, there is no such requirement! It is probably to the spiritual enrichment of the faithful that some priests do not attempt to sing.

In all seriousness, your question is a good one because music is a part of our human nature and therefore incorporated into the worship of God. Throughout the Scriptures, we are reminded to “Sing to the Lord.” Our Lord asks that his entire created world become a song with him. The psalmist writes, “Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” (Ps 57:8). St. Luke records what could be described as the first Christmas carol in history as the angels proclaim at the birth of Christ: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among men, those with whom he is pleased, those of good will” (Lk 2:14).

Singing is a thing for those who love. Thus, it is a proper response to divine revelation. Jesus reveals the eternal love of the Trinity in a human way. And we are prompted to go beyond mere words in our response to the love of God. We are moved to sing. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who is a brilliant pianist himself, said, “Music, after all, has the power to bring people together . . . Reason alone as it’s expressed in the sciences can’t be man’s complete answer to reality, and it can’t express everything that man can, wants to, and has to express. I think God built this into man.”

St. Augustine is famously attributed to saying, “he who sings, prays twice.” When we sing, we add a certain fervor to our words. Thus, music should play an important role in our everyday lives. Good songs can help shape our culture for the better. We need to sing for the good of our families, our communities and our devotional lives.

However, we need music especially in our most solemn divine worship, the celebration of the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery, the mystery of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, which perpetuates Christ’s saving work throughout the ages. Through His saving work, Christ entrusts himself to His spouse, the Church, and the Mass is the means by which we, as members of the Church, unite ourselves to Him.

The Second Vatican Council called the Mass “the source and summit of the life of the Church” (LG 11). In the Eucharistic celebration, the faithful are united to God and united with one another. Sacred music assists our contemplation of these sacred mysteries through its tones and rhythms. Over her 2,000-year history, the Church has discovered the music best suited for expressing the ineffable mysteries of the Mass.

It is possible that a priest may not be given the natural ability to sing well. However, because of the transcendence and beauty of Sacred Music, along with its evangelical appeal, to improve in singing at the Mass is a worthy pursuit, even if it is difficult.

Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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