“Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst…” (Zep 3:14-15)
Angels appear often in sacred scripture. The term “angel” in Greek means “messenger” and angels have been, since the creation of man, the great messengers of God. The angels are also the great proclaimers of God’s glory in heaven. Interestingly, there is a not-too-serious debate among some Bible buffs as to whether or not angels actually sing. Those who contend that angels do not sing state that while you find them in sacred scripture praising God and shouting for joy, the Hebrew word for “singing” is never plainly used to describe their activity. However, those who say that angels do sing will quote Job 38:7: “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy”. This use of poetic parallelism regarding angels (morning stars) equates singing with “shouting for joy”. Thus, the Book of Job has the angels singing in wonder while God creates. J.R.R. Tolkien went even further in his work The Silmarillion since he has the Divinity sit and watch as the music of his angels spills out into the void to create the universe. Shakespeare made his own contribution to the debate with a prayer for the dying Hamlet that “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”. Perhaps it is just that the speech of angels is so melodic that it resounds as beautiful song when pronounced fervently.
One thing we do know is that man (male and female) has an affinity for song. On this Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday we should participate all the more in joyful song to the Lord. The high liturgy of the Church is always celebrated in song or chant. While we will never know for sure what the speech or song of angels sounds like until we reside with God in our resurrected bodies, we may fairly surmise for now that when we sing our hymns of praise and thanksgiving, we do so in imitation of the angels soaring in the liturgy of the Most High.
In order to ruminate on the corporate song of angels and men on this Third Sunday of Advent, we have placed on our bulletin cover a Mannerist work of Orazio Gentileschi, entitled St. Cecelia with an Angel (1621). One can still see in this work the influence of Caravaggio in light and color. However, this later work of Gentileschi appears to be a return to Mannerism as seen for instance in the sophistication of the posture of Cecelia’s wrist and fingers and the somber intimacy of saint and angel.
Sadly, we are not able to show the entire painting which is almost as wide as it is tall. Still we can see St. Cecelia, patron saint of Church music, being inspired by the Spirit as symbolized by the celestial being holding up sheet music to Cecelia who needs not look up to read, for she perceives it in her soul. Cecelia plays on a (simple) pipe organ – the instrument which the Vatican II council declared to have special status in the Church liturgy.
Let us rejoice in song this Advent, singing proclamations to the Holy Trinity with the angelic host.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services