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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Saint Paul on Music

by Gary D. Penkala

Saul...flash of light...frightened horse...thrown rider...the Voice..."Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? "...disbelief...horror..."Who are you, sir?"..."I am Jesus, the one you persecute. "...religious blindness now prophet...Paul.

It is this drama, this miraculous liberation of Saul from the ranks of the Christ-persecutors, that the Church celebrates with a special feast in January. The new convert, the "Great Apostle to the Gentiles," has left a record of his instructions to the early Christians in his Epistles of the New Testament. While references to worship practices are not numerous (and to music, even less so), Saint Paul does on several occasions give "musical guidance" to the early Church.

While imprisoned in Rome (AD 61-63) Paul wrote his Letter to the Ephesians, reflecting and instructing on community, church, Christian living and family life. In chapter 5, verses 8-21, he speaks in contrasts: darkness and light, night and day, evil and good. It is in this context that Paul urges the new Christians to avoid sinful ways, drunkeness, ignorance and debauchery, and become children of the light, filled with the Spirit. He specifically enjoins them: "Recognize the will of the Lord. Address one another is psalms and hymns and inspired songs. Sing praise to the Lord with all your hearts."

In another letter, written during the same imprisonment, Paul encourages the Colossians to full liturgical participation. "Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns and inspired songs." (Colossians 3:16)

We can see in the liturgy of the early Church, with its deep ties to the Jewish worship rituals, that music (singing) played an integral role. Music was vital to the Christian's prayer life, a vehicle by which to praise, thank, honor and glorify his God, the creator of beauty and harmony. In Paul's rich discourse on the practice of virtues, found in Colossians 3, music becomes a metaphor for peaceful, "harmonious" living. Music in worship becomes a true sign, a symbol of Christian virtue.

Flowing from Saint Paul's words and a 2000 year tradition of sung liturgy, the Second Vatican Council wrote:

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value. Holy Scripture, indeed, has bestowed praise upon sacred song, and the same may be said of the Fathers of the Church and of the Roman pontiffs who in recent times, led by Saint Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function supplied by sacred music in the service of the Lord.

Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when celebrated solemnly in song.

The US Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy continues:

Among the many signs and symbols used by the Church to celebrate its faith, music is of pre-eminent importance. As sacred song united to the words it forms an integral aprt of solemn liturgy.

From Saint Paul's pastoral instructions on singing, through the council's approval of the treasure which is music, to the bishops' unequivocal imprimatur, we can see that music is no mere frill, decoration or enhancement. Music is not an addendum to worship, but a means of worship. Those who ignore music as a waste of time, a liturgical interruption, "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise should you, but as wise." (Ephesians 5:15)

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