Singing in Worship

Today, in St Mary’s Church, we begin the recording of material for three broadcasts for the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBNUK), a Christian television company, that Simon Lole has worked with to produce programmes in the past.  The three half-hour services will explore some of the music written to support the liturgy for Passiontide and Easter.  There are to be readings and prayers as well as the choral work, and they are designed to be broadcast on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day.  Details of how they may be accessed will be published nearer the time.

Giving thought to how music and words come together in worship takes us to the very root of worship itself.  When the Psalmist writes at the beginning of this morning’s Psalm 34, that, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth,” it is clear that he was referring to his singing rather than his speaking.  Music is one of the things that binds Christians as one in worship.  We may use it in different forms, but there is no doubt of its influence over the flow of God’s praise across the Church traditions.  

There are other lines in this psalm that bring to mind that words alone are not the only vehicle of praise.  Take the beginning of verse six, for example: “Look upon him and be radiant.”  What a line that is for the contemplative, but also for the person needing the strength to complete some great task.  If verse six engages the eyes, then verse eight adds the thought that the tongue speaks words, but uses another sense, metaphorically, to experience the wonder of God: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

The engagement of more than one of the senses in worship has been discovered to be effective in the course of many centuries, not least in the psalms, but the power of music to transport us is undoubtably the most important, as we create it with our capacity to sing, but hear it through our sensitivity to sound and rhythm, to mood and creativity.

Through the months of the pandemic one of the most critical losses has been the difficulty of making music together.  Some Church people have made what one might consider to be an extreme statement, and said, that they see no point in coming back to Church until they can sing.  Perhaps few would go that far, but maybe more than we might think.  

Soon, we hope, music may return and be played and sung and heard in all our Churches.  I think that hearing the music each Sunday in St Mary’s at the 10.30 a.m. service, though there is currently no singing allowed, has been vitally important to maintain the concept that our worship is more than words and our engagement with the divine more than verbal.  The Psalmist knew a very long time ago as he wrote of looking upon the Lord and tasting his goodness.  Music helps the inner eye of faith and lifts the senses to engage our whole being with the emotion of what we are contemplating, along with the words of what we are saying.

John Mann