Praise and Heavenly Music
“Where were you,” God asked Job, “when I founded the earth . . . while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7).
The angels invite us to sing in praise of creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “the composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition” (1156).
Many people were converted by the beauty of liturgical chants. For example, St. Augustine wrote:
How I wept, deeply moved by your hymns, songs, and the voices that echoed through your Church! What emotion I experienced in them! Those sounds flowed into my ears distilling the truth in my heart. A feeling of devotion surged within me, and tears streamed down my face — tears that did me good.St. Augustine, Conf. 9, 6, 14: PL 32,769–770, quoted in CCC 1157
St. Hildegard & Her Angel
St. Hildegard of Bingen, a Doctor of the Church, was not just a Benedictine superior, mystic, diplomat, woman of letters, naturopath, and linguist but also a composer. She left us with seventy-seven liturgical chants, hymns, and sequences and a liturgical drama: The Order of the Virtues. Fr. Pierre Dumoulin wrote that these works make up one of the richest repertoires of medieval music. Yet they are not the fruit of a composition work, strictly speaking, but the transcription of celestial harmonies that the saint perceived through her visions.
Hildegard actually contemplated the heavenly myriads. “Some radiated like fire. Others were completely clear. Still others glittered like stars. It was a concert of voices that was like the sound of the sea.” She thought that the angel was man’s model. The angel reminded St. Hildegard that praise was her vocation: “Man, God’s creature, must praise Him because his soul is made to live in praise, like the angels.”
The Fall contributed to disturbing the original harmony whose memory lives in us and which we must rediscover: “The canticle of praise is rooted in the Church according to celestial harmony through the Holy Spirit.” St. Gregory said it before her: music is the most elevated of all human activities. Hildegard believed that “when man’s spirit is well directed, he hears the song of the angels.” “The soul is itself a symphony, and it harmonizes everything.” She wrote that “the cohort of the angels yearns for God. It recognizes Him throughout the symphony of its praises and celebrates its past and present eternal mysteries.”
Do we know how to count God’s blessings, as the Bible invites us to do, and look at all that we have received from Him? This includes life, family, friends, health, home, work, leisure activities, and beautiful scenery to look at. Let us not be spoiled children who are never content! In my family, we have, for many years, kept a diary in which we note happy events, parties, anniversaries, and outings, with pictures and drawings. Why not start a “notebook of wonders” to recall what makes us feel good? This could be a phrase that we read or a homily that touched us, an answer to our prayers, a place that left its mark on us, a person who built us up, a teaching, a song . . . When the clouds hide the sun or when the hours are slow and gray, it would be a relief to revisit these stretches of blue skies to rekindle our confidence.
It is important to be grateful, for we are owed nothing. Everything is a gift. “Everything is grace.” Yet praising is not simply thanking God for His blessings. It is very nice to say “thank you.” But praising takes us further:
Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory. By praise, the Spirit is joined to our spirits to bear witness that we are children of God (1 Cor. 8:6). (CCC 2639)
We are not only to celebrate the praise of God with our songs but are also to become a glorious praise through our whole life, as St. Elizabeth of the Trinity had sensed: “A Praise of glory is a soul of silence that remains like a lyre under the mysterious touch of the Holy Spirit so that He may draw from it divine harmonies.” Angels, who never cease praising Him, lead us in this jubilation:
Filled with wonder,
we extol the power of your love,
and, proclaiming our joy
at the salvation that comes from you,
we join in the heavenly hymn of countless hosts
as without end we acclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
We can thank the angels for all that they are doing for us: “We should be so thankful for all the good services that they render us all times!”
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! Your splendor is sung by the mouths of children and infants. (Psalm 8:1–2)
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in the new book Encounters with Angels: The Invisible Companions of Our Spiritual Life. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.