The Charity of Song

Saint Augustine famously said cantare amantis est, that is, “singing belongs to one who loves” (s. 336, 1 – PL 38, 1472). (Josef Pieper wrote a book on this, and Robert Hickson gave a talk on it.) Apparently, the Doctor of Grace did not say what is often attributed to him: qui cantat bene bis orat, “he who sings well prays twice.”

Since the earliest times recorded in the Old Testament — at least since Enos1 — the members of the true religion sang the praises of God. The Psalms, for instance, were composed to be sung, not spoken. They are still sung in the Church. The Old Testament, in addition, has numerous canticles, the first of which was the Canticle of Miriam (Mary), Moses’ sister, just as the first canticle of the New Testament is the Magnificat of Mary, the Mother of God.

Hold that thought.

A new study has revealed that choral singers “synchronise their heartbeats”:

The scientists studied 15 choir members as they performed different types of songs.

They found that the more structured the work, the more the singers’ heart rates increased or decreased together.

Slow chants, for example [like the Latin Church’s Gregorian Chant, or the beautiful chants of the Eastern Churches?], produced the most synchrony.

The researchers also found that choral singing had the overall effect of slowing the heart rate.

This, they said, was another effect of the controlled breathing.

Dr Vickhoff explained: “When you exhale you activate the vagus nerve, we think, that goes from the brain stem to the heart. And when that is activated the heart beats slower.”

The researchers now want to investigate whether singing could have an impact on our health.

Interesting, no?

A consideration of this in the light of divine and Catholic faith, with the aid of the gifts of knowledge and understanding, might help us reason thus:

  • God made man to be a saint.
  • The saints sing God’s praises.
  • Ergo, God made man for singing.

Given that conclusion, it is revealing of God’s goodness and providence that an activity He intended for man’s union with Him brings us these unexpected social and (possibly) somatic benefits. The social benefit is that choral vocal music literally fosters concord (“hearts together”) — even physiologically. The possible somatic benefit would be any health advantages that may result from the act of singing.

That should make us pray, and hope, and sing what the Royal Psalmist sang, and what Saint Teresa of Avila so loved to repeat: misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo, “The mercies of the Lord I will sing for ever” (Psalms 88:2).

Mozart might help us a bit.

  1. Cf. Genesis 4:26, and the explanation in this sermon of Father Eric M. Andersen.