Recollection Material for August 2021: MUSIC, A SERVICE OF LOVE


Ps. 92:2-9.

          Music has always been the expression of emotions and intellectual contents. It is a subtle and elevated form of communication, and a part of life for every human being. Music has accompanied humanity throughout the length of its history, has given identity and has created profound human bonds. At the same time that music is a great wealth for man, he can take an inadequate attitude towards it, because it runs the risk of making it more as an element of consumption or simply a means of distraction and of dehumanization if not of alienation and of forgetting the world. Therefore, it is necessary today more than ever, to seek in music a means of dialogue, of being able to understand the world in which we live and invite to an experience of God by means of musical vocabulary, remembering that the essential music of every human being is to know that he/ she is an instrument in the hands of God and allow him to play the best melody with each person. This month let us reflect on the importance of dialogue with music and its importance in the experience of God and in the evangelization of our time.

Return to yourself.

Let us now dispose our heart for an encounter with the Lord. We need some moments of serenity and peace, as if they were the moments of silence in the melody, to allow that God tune in the chords of our heart, that they vibrate before him and thus produce the melody that he wants to play with us and in us.

          The old man sings an old song; the new man sings a new song. The Old  Testament sings the old canticle; the New Testament sings the new canticle. The new canticle is the canticle of grace; the new canticle is the canticle of the new man; the new canticle is the canticle of the New Testament. Remove the clothes of old age, since you have known a new canticle. New man, new Testament, new canticle. Let us sing a new song like new men who have been made new from old age by grace, and who now belong to the New Testament, which is the kingdom of heaven manifested in Christ, and who lives and reigns forever and ever (en. Ps. 149, 1; en Ps. 143,16; en Ps. 32,2, 1).

Your voice is my joy.

With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words of Psalm 92, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.

2 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

 to sing praise to your name Most High.

          3 To proclaim your love in the morning, your faithfulness in the night.

          4 With the ten-stringed harp, with melody upon the lyre.

          5 For you make me jubilant, Lord, by your deeds,

                   At the works of your hands I shout for joy.

          6 How great are your works, Lord! How profound your purpose!

          7 A senseless person cannot know this, a fool cannot comprehend.

          8 Though the wicked flourish like grass and all sinners thrive,

                   They are destined for eternal destruction;

          9 for you, Lord, are forever on high.

The firmament of the Scriptures.

Biblical Keys.

This psalm is traditionally known as the canticle of the just, because in verse 13 it says: The just shall flourish like a palm tree. The psalm is an explosion of jubilee over the works of God, deeds and portents that the wicked is incapable of understanding, but which the man, who walks with God, proclaims by means of his voice, of the music and his life.

          In this psalm there is a mixture of the ethical and the didactic in the contra position of the just and the wicked. From verse 7 to 12 there appears a reference to the wicked. They are said to be incapable of understanding (v. 7), condemned to destruction (v.8) , put to flight (10) and defeated (12). In verse 11 the palmist becomes the singing voice of the psalm: You have given me the strength of a wild bull. From verse 13 the psalmist centers on a discourse of praise as something proper and natural for the just (v. 16: As they proclaim the Lord is just).

In verse 2 there appears the expression “it is good to give thanks to the Lord,” and is presented as the motive of the psalm. The verb to sing (zmr) is developed by the verb proclaim (ngd): the praise of the Lord will be the proclamation of his love and fidelity (v. 3), accompanied by the instruments as the harp and the cithara (v. 4).

          Verse 5 introduces with the verb shout (rnn) the first of three expressions that exalt the feeling of the psalmist: How great are your works, O Lord. The whole song and the music are reduced to this phrase. Verse 9 presents the second expression: But you, O Lord, are eternally on high! The psalm recognizes the greatness of the Lord over the wicked, presented as senseless (kesil) and evil doer (rasa). Being senseless is understood as the motive of wickedness; ignorance of God is cause of wickedness, and therefore, the psalmist wants to make his declaration before the impious, that they may acknowledge that there is nothing greater than to praise God. The second part of the psalm, dedicated to the just (tsadiq)- he who praises God well – (v. 11-16), culminates with another declaration of praise: “My Rock, in him there is no wrong.”

          The psalms were composed to be sung. Our psalm, like the hallelujah psalms (146-150), present an list of instruments for praise. In our text, aside from the voice, are the harp with ten strings (nabel), the lyre (‘ashor) and the cithara (kinor) (v. 4). These are some of the instruments typical of the epoch that indicate to us that the musical accompaniment was important in the liturgy of the temple. Music is a good and necessary art that demands us to put into practice our natural capabilities, like the voice, and our creative and artistic capabilities to proclaim the greatness of God.

Augustinian Keys.

          The chant and the music occupy an essential place in the life and in the

spiritual experience of St. Augustine. Thus he reminds us in the Confessions of the effects that the Psalms of David had on him, for they were: “canticles of faith, sounds of piety that exclude all conceited spirit” (conf. 9, 8). And the chants in the Church of Milan, the chanting of the psalms as well as the Ambrosian hymns, profoundly moved the heart of St. Augustine, and became for him revulsive for his tears, with which he expressed compunction for his sins, and, on the other hand, the music was a spur that increased his profound desire to return to God:

          How much I wept with the hymns and the canticles, strongly moved as I was by the voices of your Church, how sweetly it sang! (conf. 9, 14).

In fact, St. Augustine reminds us that the acts of singing, not only with the voice, but also with the life and the works, become a function of happiness, and at the bottom is a question of love: “To sing and to chant the psalm usually is a work for lovers” (s. 33, 1).

One who truly loves God necessarily must love the neighbor, and with it fulfills the law of the New Testament, which for St. Augustine is nothing more than to sing a new song, because “love is the new song” (en. Ps. 95, 2). On singing the new song one, not only makes an exhortation to happiness and love, but also to conversion. He who sings the new song cannot continue walking on the path of the old man, corrupted by sin. He needs to sing the new song, because he lives in the newness of Christ, of his grace and of his salvation.

We have been invited to sing to the Lord a new song. The new man knows the new song. Singing is a function of happiness and, if we consider attentively, a work of love (s, 34, 1).

And St. Augustine concretely manifests what it is to sing the new song. It is not only intoning hymns with the lips, but above all praising God with our coherence of life. Thus the Bishop of Hippo says: “Sing the new song not with the tongue but with your life” (en. Ps. 32;2, 1). And this coherence should bring the believer to transform himself into what he sings, to truly praise God: “Do you want to intone praises to God? Be yourself what you say” (s. 34, 6).

One concrete form that St. Augustine proposes to his hearers to live, to sing and to be the new song itself is avoiding disorder. Order is a manifestation of the presence of God, and in some occasions the human being can bring disorder in his life by falling into sin by inordinately using the things that surround him, or including one’s own body. Thus he comments:

I will sing giving thanks with joy and properly using the body, which is the spiritual canticle of the soul (en. Ps. 12, 6).

On the other hand, St. Augustine observes that in many psalms we are invited to praise God with the cithara and the harp. The bishop of Hippo interprets these two musical instruments as works that we do in this world, on the one hand, and the prayer that we direct towards God. For this, St. Augustine notes that the cithara has the resonance box in the lower part, while the harp of ten strings, that represent the Ten Commandments, (s. 32, 8), has the resonance box in the upper part. For this reason, when we praise God, we hear the word and we make of our life a melody pleasing to God, we fulfill the actions of the “cithara”; and when we fulfill the Ten Commandments and we pray raising our heart towards God, we do the “works of the harp”:

Therefore, it seems that the harp belongs to heaven; and the cithara to the earth. Proclaiming the word of God is heavenly. But if we sigh for heavenly things, let us not be lazy to fulfill earthly things, because we ought to play the joyful harp but together with the cithara (…) Therefore, we are here advised to respond with corporal works to the preaching of the word of God (en. Ps. 80, 5).

Finally, every believer is invited to sing while he, a pilgrim, travels the road to the heavenly Jerusalem. In this manner, while we confront the many vicissitudes of life, we travel the road of this world advancing through the pathways of God. Nevertheless, we do not travel the road of God with sadness or depression, but with the happiness proper to love, advancing every day, knowing that we are at each moment closer to the goal. That is why St. Augustine invites us to sing while walking:

          Sing as travelers sing; sing, but walk; lighten your work with the song, don’t love the sloth; sing and walk (s. 256, 3).

 The Gold of Egypt.

The artistic work that serves us to reflect in this occasion is the painting of Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi, 1571-1610), “The Musicians or the Concert”, kept in the “Metropolitan Museum” of New York.

          The opus was painted circa 1597, and was ordered by the Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, a great lover of the arts and of music, who possessed a valuable library, as well as various musical instruments. The painting apparently represents three youth at the point of beginning to play a melody, calling our attention the youth dressed in red who holds a lute in his hands. Nonetheless, it has been pointed out that the painting has some elements that make the scene possess a meaning beyond the ordinary elements, begun by a winged cupid found at the background of the scene cutting a bunch of grapes. And together with this detail it has been discovered a few years ago that the text which the young musicians are preparing to sing is a madrigal in six voices, composed by Pompeo Stabile with lyrics of Jacopo Sannazaro, where it is narrated the story of Icaro the mythical imprudent son of Dedalo, who fell like lightning into the sea in his vain desire to fly towards the sun with wings of wax. The painting, according to some scholars, would be a warning to those who pretend through the art to elevate themselves to the heights of God, believing that through their own powers they can arrive to know his mysteries. Music is one of the pathways of the via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty) that brings us close to God, but never can the human aesthetic experience substitute for the live experience of God.  

From word to action.

          St. Augustine tells us that “singing and chanting the psalms use to be the service of lovers” (s. 33, 1). Are religious chant and music instruments that help me have relationship with God? Do they increase my relationship of love with God? Do I take advantage of musical art to grow in my relationship with God? in my relationship with my brothers? in the evangelization?

          The prayer that many young Christians perform in the little French town of Taize is a symbol of ecumenical prayer. The word of God, the silence to capture the Word and respond to God and the music as amplifier of the emotions that arise in the dialogue with God are essential elements of this mode of prayer. What does this experience suggest to me as regards ecumenical and inter religious dialogue?

          St. Augustine tells us that “love is the new song” (en. Ps. 95:2). Love and music are languages the whole world understands  and relishes. What initiatives based on the language of love and of music can we generate to construct the Kingdom of love of Jesus Christ? Is my life a new song interpreted with love and happiness to praise God?

Final prayer.

Sing and Walk

(by Jose Manuel Duran)

          Hear these words said a long time ago
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
Take one step forward, then another and another still;
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
The whole world has a history to live.
A virgin path that we must discover;
Sing ad walk! Sing and walk!
Never linger, do not tarry,
Do not look back
Never halt, do not linger,
Sing and walk until the end.
A long road, that is our life;
There is nothing to fear, my friend.
Give me your hand, thus it will be easier.
We are not alone, God is here.
Do not allow fear to detain you, no, no, no;
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
Fight for your dreams, for your faith, for the truth;
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!
You know that in life you will meet the good and the bad;
Yours is the answer: turn back or continue,
Sing and walk! Sing and walk!+

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