Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Generally speaking, Catholics are not tremendous singers. I don’t mean that we can’t carry a tune; there are many in our midst with beautiful voices. Rather, it’s a fair generalization to say that Catholics are not inclined to sing at Mass. Its likely part of our cultural experience as American Catholics that we’re not big singers. And as a priest, I’ve noticed over the years how many of us don’t sing.

Before you think I’m going to scold you for not singing, I must admit that I’m not a big singer myself. Despite having many families members involved with music ministry throughout the years and my father and brother being known for their singing voices, as a kid, I was so opposed to breaking out into song that I instituted a no singing policy at the dinner table.  It was invoked many times over the years.

And so, at a personal level, I certainly get why a person would choose not to sing. And yet, the Church is pretty insistent on encouraging everyone to sing at Mass. In Vatican II, the Church in talking about the liturgy, called the laity to “full and active participation” at Mass. Part of the thought and the reason for that kind of language was to get away from people going to Mass and praying the rosary or simply sitting there with the Mass in Latin.

But instead of jumping to every man, woman, and child having a liturgical role during Mass, the Church really envisioned full and active participation to include saying the prayers and engaging in song. Why? What does singing do for us and why would the Church think it was worthwhile? And why is it that so many of us don’t want to go ahead and do it?

In answer to what singing actually does for us, there are two primary effects I’d like to point out. Singing helps our mood by boosting certain chemicals in our brain, whether we do it by ourselves or with others. A second effect and the one that’s more important within the life of the Church, singing with other people helps us feel more connected to them and part of the community. Yes, it can be embarrassing to sing, especially if we don’t think we are very good at it. But when we do so and hear others join in with us, it makes us believe that we’re all in this together. We stop being so much a bunch of individuals and become a community.

The research about this is pretty well documented. And so, rather than scolding anyone about not singing at Mass, I’d like to make a suggestion. If you find yourself feeling a bit down, consider singing. If you’d like to feel like you belong more at Mass and at the parish, consider singing. If you make it a habit, you’ll be surprised what it can end up doing for you.

Peace and Goodness,

Fr. Dan