Roots of Liturgical Singing

The verb sing appears over 300 times in the Old Testament and almost 40 in the New Testament. The first scriptural reference to singing occurs after the Hebrew people escape Egypt through the Red Sea:

“They sang thus because Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers had gone into the sea, and the LORD made the waters of the sea flow back upon them, though the Israelites had marched on dry land through the midst of the sea. The prophetess Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, while all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing; and she led them in the refrain: Sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.”–Exodus 15:19-21

On Holy Thursday night, our Lord and his disciples sang a hymn at the Last Supper:

“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” –Mark 14:26

Paul and Silas sang while in prison:

“About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.” –Acts 16:25

while the Book of Revelation tells of the cosmic liturgy bursting into a song of victory:

“On the sea of glass were standing those who had won the victory over the beast and its image and the number that signified its name. They were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: ‘Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God almighty. Just and true are your ways, O king of the nations.'”
–Revelation 15:2,3

According to the Bible, singing is an integral part of worship and in celebrating the Catholic Mass, we, too, express our joy in the Lord with something more than mere speech. By singing, we place ourselves alongside the heavenly hosts in the great and eternal liturgy that spans space and time.