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Musical Musings: Christmas

On Making Music

by Gary Penkala

The Sound of Heaven

Music will be very much a part of Christmas 1998, just as it surrounded the historical Nativity in Bethlehem of Judea. The original Christmas celebration included choirs of angels singing "Glory to God in the highest." This was in keeping with an ancient Palestinian custom of music surrounding the birth of a child. Villagers would gather at the expectant parents' home and break into song at the child's birth. Far from home, Mary and Joseph and the Infant Son were serenaded by the "residents of heaven, the messengers of the Almighty, the angels of God."

Music was not restricted to times of birth; it was a part of daily life and an integral part of all celebrations. Rev. Edward Hays, in Sign magazine, wrote, "Music and religion have been companions since the most ancient days, perhaps since the beginning of time. We know that the people whose lives form the web of Scriptures and the Gospels had music as an important part of their lives. We possess the words of their songs even if we do not know the melodies, as in the Psalms. They made music at weddings, funerals, births and holy days." It is in keeping with this holy tradition that the present-day Church affirms in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that, "Music forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy." It cannot be superfluous or dispensable, but is necessary to the prayer of the Church.

Father Hays notes that perhaps because music is so commonly present in our day, we can easily forget its sacred origins, that music in and of itself is prayer and worship. Saint Augustine is quoted, "He who sings prays twice." According to Father Hays, "Music is the sound of heaven, and that is why it is double prayer. Music is the harmony of chords that easily could be perpetual discord. The laws that govern the composition and playing of music are the same as those that govern the universe -- harmony!"

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Part II: What about Silence? 

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