The hills are alive with the Sound of Music!

Icon of St. Cecilia
Happy feastday to all musicans and lovers of music!

Today the Church marks the feast of St. Cecilia, a saint whom I often invoke!  The most interesting thing about this saint is that even though she is the patroness of music, surprising as it is, she was neither a singer nor a musician. What rendered her deserving of this title is the fact that her life was a continuous song to God. Tradition has it that even whilst the musicians played at her own wedding she sang in her heart to God only. When the Academy of Music was founded at Rome (1584) she was made patroness of the institute and her veneration as patroness of church music in general became still more universal.

 It is fitting to apply the words which we find in the today’s Office of the Reading for her: “ You ask, what is singing in jubilation? It means to realize that words are not enough to express what we are singing in our hearts.”(St. Augustine). Every couple have ‘their song’, the song which reminds of the first time they met, of their wedding, or other significant moments. We ask ourselves: “What is our song with God who is our Lover?” Our prayer is our song. Music is a means of liturgical expression as old as liturgy itself. Cultures use the language of music to express universal emotions and ideas; our Church uses music as the universal language of the soul calling out to God in praise, gratitude, glory, intercession and petition! In prayer we begin a kind of ascent, an upward movement toward God and at the same time we experience a descent of God who adapts Himself to our limitations to hear us and speak to us, to meet us and save us. The Psalms immediately offers us aids for this prayerful meeting. Thus, it is necessary to constantly discover and live the beauty of prayer and of the liturgy. One must pray to God not only with theologically precise formulas, but also in a beautiful and dignified way.

Playing the psalterium for Mass
Personally I often feel that music is the umbilical chord which connects me a little more securely to the Lord and allows me to enter into deep communion with Him. And here I can fully consent to St. Augustine’s phrase: 'the one who sings prays twice'. Music has always been woven through the story of my own life and even in my vocational choice. My discernment journey with the community I am now in began when Sr. Anne, one of our sisters, invited me to join the choir in the Parish when I was 12 years old! The seed was sown! My father was a musician in the Army Band and I thank God that that gift to appreciate music was passed onto me. I love singing and though there is huge room for improvement, I thank God that I can use my gifts to animate liturgy and play the guitar and psalterium. I belong to a Congregation which communicates Jesus to the world through beauty and artistic expression, often using music and song. Each day our daily life finds its rhythm in the Psalms of Morning and Evening Prayer of the Church, also allowing us to find harmony and synchrony with each other.

Yes, music helps us bond with each other. A person may invite us to listen to a song which says something to them and this allows us a glimpse into how they are feeling, how the words of the song, the melody, the rhythm resonates with them at that time. Musically, what we sing and what we listen to and how we sing reveals much of who we are, and entering into another's song and music making provides a gateway into their world, which might be much different from our own. Something is shared in singing that goes beyond the words alone.A song can unite two people in joy and in sorrow. Yesterday we celebrated the Presentation of Mary and my mind and heart is still thinking about Mary as our Mother, as Mother of God, as Bearer of the Christ Child. The babe presented in the Temple by Joachim and Anna is the woman who will spontaneously sing in prayer with the Magnificat when she goes to Elizabeth. Two people united in song! In fact, when we open the Gospel of Luke, we notice it is filled with music, especially the first two chapters. There we find five hymns: the hymn of Elizabeth (Luke 1: 42-45); the hymn of Mary, or the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); the hymn of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79); the hymn of the angels,(Luke 2:14); and the hymn of Simeon in Luke 2:29-32, all which have found their way into modern liturgy be it in the Divine Office or in the Mass.

So going back to Mary, we read:

 “Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth.
  Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb    and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”

When this happened, Mary also began to sing in the Spirit, exalting and worshiping God. It is this song that is recorded as the Magnificat. Mary's song is the great New Testament canticle of liberation, praising God who not only promised to dwell with those who suffer, but more importantly has been faithful to his sustaining promises. Mary's vocation is our vocation. Mary teaches us courage and solidarity in all our difficulties. “With God all things are possible”. Mary lifts up the small horizon of our sighted vision to the abundant insight of her Son.

Advent is just around the corner and for us, Mary is the ‘Advent woman’. The spiritual secret of her ‘waiting’, of her ‘advent’ can be understood in the light of the words of St. Ephrem: “Mary is the zither of the Holy Spirit”. Indeed she was an instrument in God’s hands and she allowed Him to play the melody of the Incarnation upon her life. When she heard Elizabeth’s greeting, she was filled with the Holy Spirit and Scripture came pouring out of her heart. In turn it allows Elizabeth to compose her own hymn of joy: "of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." (Lk 1, 42). What a joy! The conclusion of the Magnificat is like a musical coda declaring God's covenant, mercy and faithfulness throughout history. Though Israel would encounter crisis moments within their wanderings, God would comfort them with the promise of a Messiah. And we wait! We search for the words to pray and yet we are told:“Do not search for words, as if you could find a lyric which would give God pleasure. Sing to him “with songs of joy”. This is singing well to God, just singing with songs of joy. But how is this done? You must first understand that words cannot express the things that are sung by the heart.” (Office of Readings, Feast of St. Cecilia).

Once more our mind returns to remember our Lady. There is a beautiful reading in the Office of Readings for the 20th of December which reads: “Answer, O Mary, answer the angel speedily; rather through the angel, answer your Lord. Speak the word, and receive the Word, offer what is yours, and conceive what is of God” (St. Bernard). It is the suspense of the spectator left with their breath held as they await that final note of the Symphony. We too await the birth of the Word made flesh.

Whether you love to actually sing or not, perhaps you have felt a time when the love or wonder or joy of God transported you to such depths or such heights that you were beyond words and where you just held your breath and basked in the perfection of the music. This is Incarnation. This is the song of the heart sung back to you by the Divine Lover. Today, may you seek  out and find the song of your heart and have the courage to sing it out!