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Melto D’Moronoyo: Praying to God in song

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Choristers sing during Midnight Mass. For many – especially the young – the occasion is a remarkable one but requires a significant effort to remain alert because of the late hour. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

By Salwa Elias 

St Augustine was 100 per cent correct on singing: we are inspired in musical praise and worship

Most people who know me, are aware of my love for music and singing and my disciplined prayer life. When I say ‘disciplined’ prayer life, I mean a life of prayer that is consistent and united with the prayers of other faithful members of the Church. I pray the daily ‘Divine Office’, which is a uniform way of praying while using the ‘Liturgy of the Hours.’

This is something I have practised since 1998, when I was first introduced to daily prayer within a community. Learning to chant those prayers was the most beautiful lesson I had ever experienced and my love for singing and chanting has grown since. From learning to teaching is a steady and common process when one is passionate about what they know. Hence, I could not help but share my love for prayer with others.

“When words are not enough, the Spirit of God will embrace our soul and speak on our behalf with sighs so deep that they are sometimes expressed in music or song.”

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It starts with a deep desire to know God, to love God, to serve God, and to one day be with Him in Heaven – yes, the basic tenet of our Catholic teaching on ‘why’ God made man. This desire grows into an intimate relationship with our Creator through communication with Him in prayer. Not only do we pray in words, but we also pray in thoughts, actions and deeds.

To adore the One True God is as simple as beholding the majestic and breathtaking beauty of Creation that surrounds us. When words are not enough, the Spirit of God will embrace our soul and speak on our behalf with sighs so deep that they are sometimes expressed in music or song.

There are times when I am filled with so much love for God, my entire being wants to sing aloud in songs of praise and worship that pour out uncontrollably. My family can attest to that! These songs of praise and worship fill my heart with so much joy that I cannot explain their effect on me except by smiling unceasingly.

Members of The Catholic University of America Chamber Choir sing during a rehearsal in a session that included Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant is the singing of the liturgy and its texts are almost entirely scriptural. Gregorian chant is a common feature of the celebration of the Mass in its traditional Latin format. Photo: CNS, Chaz Muth18.

How can song do that to a soul unless a soul is connected to the Fountain and Source of all Joy? Or perhaps vice versa. Singing can achieve this connection which will then lead to a deeper and more intimate prayer life.

I have to admit, when I’m tired and don’t have the energy to pray, I can always find comfort in listening to spiritual songs or church hymns that speak to my inner self, which may even be struggling with unresolved emotions. Singing brings out the joy as well as the pain in my heart, so I find myself either smiling graciously or crying like a baby. God is Good. There’s no doubt in my mind that He turns all things unto good for those who love Him, so I am not afraid of emotions or situations beyond my control. Singing reminds me I can let go and let God take over, as He wills. Singing lifts my heart to the heights of Heaven when my heart feels like it’s buried underground. Singing calms my restless spirit when I am disturbed or troubled.

“If it’s from the heart and intended to glorify the One True God, then a prayer through song is heard by God as clearly as any other …”

I believe the quote attributed to St Augustine, “he who sings, prays twice”, is so true because when I’m singing praises to God, I am thinking only of God and not being distracted as I sometimes would be when reading or praying vocally. I guess you could say it’s like mental prayer being prayed aloud with music.

This may not resonate with everyone, but I love all types of spiritual music and song, be they Gregorian chants, Syriac melodies, or old English hymns we sang from The Living Parish Hymn Book. All have empowered and led me deeper into my Catholic sacramental prayer life. If it’s from the heart and intended to glorify the One True God, then a prayer through song is heard by God as clearly as any other, if not louder.

Such beautiful melodies of praise and worship cannot but lift our hearts and minds to Heaven, as though united with the choir of angels who adore His True Presence for all eternity.

Salwa Elias is a member of the Maronite Catholic Church and is the EWTN producer for Australia and New Zealand

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