Some of the faithful on this forum have suggested that it is not a requirement for the people to sing during the liturgy of the Mass. Some have said that the liturgical books lack an explicit command to sing and that nobody has to sing, especially if they dislike the song or the music or feel they have a poor voice or technique. Some have also suggested that the Church has no particular preference for which of the “Four Options” are chosen for liturgical music, that it is pie in the sky to think that the proper antiphons should be given precedence or even introduced at all when a parish has chosen hymns from a popular publisher.
However, there is ample Scriptural and documentary evidence to prove these premises false.
I am currently the facilitator of a Bible study in the Great Adventure series called “Psalms: The School of Prayer”. We are learning the significance of the Book of Psalms to Israel’s history and the Church. We are exploring the richness of the musical poetry offered by this book, learning its relationship to today’s liturgy, and moreover discovering that the Psalms are first and foremost prayers, powerful prayers to be used by Christians everywhere to express our feelings in praise and worship to the LORD.
Although this study is still in its preliminary stages, it has confirmed and strengthened my conviction that God commands us to sing in His praise, and that the proper antiphons are a priceless gem in the crown jewels of Roman Rite liturgy. Anyone who prays the Divine Office knows the significance and dignity of the Psalms, as they are a constitutive part of the Liturgy of the Hours. The book would be small indeed, and the prayers empty and hollow, if we excised the Psalms from their pages. Likewise for the Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the “source and summit of Christian life”, The Responsorial Psalm is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word, but it is merely the basis, a starting point, a kernel of prayer. The majority of the proper antiphons are composed from the Psalms. The ones which are not are drawn from other Sacred Scripture. The very nature of the antiphons is that of the inspired Word of God, of perfect prayer to our Creator.
Athanasius of Alexandria said that “the Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of the Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us.” In the liturgy of the Mass, the priest offers sacrifice and prayers on our behalf. He speaks for us to God. We actively participate by offering responses to those prayers and join in the prayer. Many of our own responses have a Scriptural basis; e.g. “Domine, non sum dignus…” But a unique thing happens when we recite the Psalms in the liturgy; we pray in a way handed down across millennia and preserved painstakingly by generations of Hebrews and then Christians. We pray in an inspired way that is approved and sanctioned by Jesus Himself. An even more interesting thing happens when we sing the Psalms: we echo the music of ancient Israel and we fulfill God’s commandment to sing His praises.
Jesus knew the Psalms and He knew them well. He understood their significance and power. Jesus’ first words in the synagogue are from Isaiah 61. Though not a Psalm, it is a canticle, and there can be no doubt that our Lord did not merely recite this passage, but He chanted or sang it. The Psalms were an integral part of His life of faith and they were a striking feature of His passion and death. He understood that the prefigurement of His incarnation and Gospel message were woven into the fabric of the Psalms and could not be separated from the story of salvation.