Sermon – November 13, 2011 – How Can I Keep From Singing
Note: This sermon was delivered by Betsy Rowe-Manning, Parish Life Director, St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. Betsy’s sermon is the seventh in a series of talks designed to prepare the parish for the new translation of the Roman Missal which will be used beginning November 26-27, 2011.
During one of our silly family conversations over dinner my brother declared that he thought it would be very convenient to have a third eye on his index finger: for seeing the kid behind him in class, checking around a corner without being discovered, looking into a jammed drawer to discover what the problem was.
I, too, had an idea for a modification — a dial on the back of my neck. Turned one way, I could sing bass —opposite, soprano or tenor or alto. Why I could sing like both Kim and Brendan Hoffman, Bill Lynch, Justin Beaver, Lorraine Guyon, Taylor Swift, Josh Groban and Susan Boyle with but a simple adjustment. Quite a range … don’t you agree?
Well, what is there about this singing business that it is so core to our celebration of Eucharist ?
Primarily because LITURGY IS SUNG. We sing because this is the nature of the ritual we do together. If all kept silence throughout, that would be a ritual, Quaker-like, but not the tradition we know. Our tradition has DEEDS that NEED music (processions, for example) and WORDS that NEED music (acclamations and refrains that have nothing to do with the speaking voices of an assembly.) Isn’t it almost impossible not to sing: ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA? It would be like saying: Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you !
Our song is something without which there would be no liturgy. There is a place for silence and a place for plain speaking, but singing is all we have when it comes time to acclaim, to intercede, to process. When we come expecting to do and not to watch, we need our music, our song. Song becomes an extra, only nice or only pretty, when we come for inspiration, entertainment, obligation or education. But if we come to do, then song is central to the whole undertaking, for the task to be done can’t be done, except in song.
The first time I participated at Eucharist here at St. Vincent’s, years before Bishop Hubbard appointed me Parish Life Director, I was taken aback at the clapping after the recessional song. I totally misunderstood. Yes music here was, and is, extraordinary, but clapping? — Come on!
What I didn’t comprehend then, but what I’ve come to know through experience, through observation and some research is this: Our applause is not affirmation of only the song. No, rather, –it is our endorsement, our consent, our final GREAT AMEN. YES we believe, YES we agree, YES we are committed to what we have done here in word and song and gesture and posture and silence. And we are steadfast in our commitment to carry Christ with us throughout the week.
Back to the question why is singing core? Secondly, it is because we sing together here. According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, theologian and martyr, the reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for us to speak and pray the same word at the same time. Singing together we can unite in the Word of God, Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds us that of this all the time – we come to God only in community.
It is the voice of the church that is heard in singing together. It is not you or I that sings, (or Kim or Bill or Jenny) it IS THE CHURCH that is singing, and you and I, as a member of the church, join in its song. Thus ALL singing together serves to widen our spiritual horizon, helps us see our little parish as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and helps us willingly and gladly to add our voices, (be they feeble or good) to the song of the church. It is the only way to act together, to be the church and not just many individuals.
“How can we keep from singing?” If baptized, we can’t. If we have cast our lot with this church, if we have been hounded inside, we can’t.
No matter where your switch is permanently set [in the back of your neck], you simply can’t stop singing!