Thursday, April 24, 2008

Should we sing the prayer before meals?

It sometimes seems that everything becomes a controversy on the web, and thus has it become with what I thought was an uncontroversial posting of a nice sung prayer before meals. But, sure enough, someone takes issue: "I'm sorry, but 99% of Catholics would consider that the act of a pretentious twit, and rightly so."

Well, let us address the point. Most people don't have the chance to sing chant in their parishes, at least not yet, and Latin struggles too. So if you want to somehow catch up with your heritage, be part of the grandeur of Catholic history, private pursuits are a constructive way to do it. You can set aside time to study chant, which is not always feasible, or you can use something as routine and everyday as prayer before meals as a means to be part of something much larger than yourself or your own generation. This seems like a great idea actually.

And not only that, chanting routinely in an inauspicious setting like your dinner table helps us come to understand something important about sacred music. We learn how the phrases are not metered and earth-bound but float freely upwards like incense. We discover how flexible the music is, how sensitive to the text it is, how changing a slight inflection can make a big difference. For many people, this might be the first time to ever use Latin, and through this discover how lovely the language truly is, especially in song.

Musicians are always going on about the importance of music to all things spiritual. Well, here we have a test. Even in this simple chant, we come to understand that sacred music has a penetrating power of a special sort and helps us to see and understand holy things. We might say that the notes ennoble the prayer in a special way. To do this is not "showing off" but rather bowing down in deference even as our hearts are lifted heavenward. Adding music to prayer is a way of underscoring the reality that prayer is important enough to make it very beautiful. It takes only a few seconds to sing this, and yet consider all that we experience and learn from it.

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