“He who sings prays twice.”
– Martin Luther
– Just kidding, it was St. Augustine
– Ooohhh actually just kidding again. We have no idea who said this. 

“For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyously; he who sings praise, is not only singing, but also loving Him whom he is singing for. There is a praise-filled public proclamation in the praise of someone who is confessing God, in the song of the lover there is deep love.”
– St. Augustine, for real. I guess it’s kind of like “singing twice.”

I drive past St. Stephen Catholic church and school every day on my way to and from work. As a church sign aficionado, I like to see what they have on their sign each month. The messages are pretty mundane as far as church signs go [1]—congrats to graduates, spaghetti supper announcements, and so forth, but for October and November, they have written “October: Month of the Holy Rosary” and November: Month of the Holy Souls.” I got curious one day in October and looked it up. Along with the liturgical calendar Protestants may be more familiar with (ordinary time, Advent, Lent, etc.), the Catholic church assigns each month a special focus. I discovered all this on the very interesting catholicculture.org and spent a good thirty minutes rabbit hole-ing around the site, reading about saints and feasts. I also realized I’d made it twenty-eight years in an aggressively Christian context without actually knowing what’s involved in praying the rosary. Consider me educated.

November is formally “Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory,” which exists in my head only as something Dante saw and Martin Luther didn’t like. But a few clickety-clicks later and I was learning (remembering?) that each day has a saint or place it celebrates/feasts/memorializes. All Saints Day, November 1, is perhaps familiar even to Protestants. And there, on the page for the Solemnity of All Saints [2], I first encountered the phrase “he who sings prays twice.”

That’s a lot of lead up, I know. But, like, welcome to my head I guess. I found this St. Augustine misquote interesting because I had been doing a lot of singing that week. I sing with the Calvin Alumni Choir, and we had a concert coming up. The phrase rolled around in my head for several days, taking on various meanings depending which word I emphasized or what image came to mind for “sing” and “pray” (I’m also studying Derrida and the deconstructionists in grad class, can you tell?) It’s a pleasantly enigmatic phrase. If you read the original Augustine (big quoted paragraph above), he probably means that singing is both words and music, and both are a form of prayer, a form of worship and love for God. So when you sing, you get wordsprayer and musicprayer.

But when I think about singing in a concert, what strikes me is that singing is praying twice because I as the singer get to pray the words and music, and then so does the audience. When I stood on stage Saturday singing things like “Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may only be a radiance of Yours,” [3] I’m not only singing for myself or my own spiritual edification. The purpose of a concert is to share music, to let the audience experience something beautiful—to help them pray. I got to experience the other side earlier in the week when Lucy Dacus stood on the same stage and sang, “Lord, be near me / My final hour / I once had sight / But now I’m blind.” [4] She prayed so I could too.

What are you praying twice today?

 

[1] Please share the good ones you’ve seen in the comments. Last month, one near my school (I’ll leave it nameless to protect the innocent, but… you know where I work) said, I KID YOU NOT: “Jesus didn’t come to rub it in. He came to rub it out.”
The first one I remember seeing and admiring as a kid was “Can’t sleep? Don’t count sheep. Talk to the shepherd.”

[2] Want to come down the rabbit hole? https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2019-11-01

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ECM8sMLFOE

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NbTmf7sQV0

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Maybe not quite a church sign, but I’ve been introduced to the concept of “Spiritual Yummies”, or things that someone says which make you go “mmmm”, which I think is a similar concept. I think The Bible Project guys (Tim and John) say something like “Jesus opposes all political movements”, but I might have that misattributed. Attribution is hard.

    Reply
  2. Kyric Koning

    My favorite church sign said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

    Reply

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