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Do Angels Actually Sing?

September 8, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By MSGR. CHARLES POPE

(Editor’s Note: Msgr. Charles Pope posted this commentary on August 30 and it is reprinted here with permission. His blog is found at https://msgrpope.com/)

  • + + Disclaimer: Please take this post in the mirthful manner I intend. I do not intend to be argumentative or to directly oppose the writings of a fellow blogger and priest whom I respect and appreciate. Frankly, I hope and piously think Fr. Ryland is correct, but for reasons stated below, I wonder if his stated, and my hoped-for conclusion is correct, namely that angels sing.
    Here is a link to his post: “Can Angels Speak or Sing?” by Fr. Ray Ryland:
    https://simplycatholic.com/can-angels-sing/
    In his brief article Father concludes that angels can both speak and sing. This is the most commonly held view, to be sure. I have no doubts that they can and do speak, and that God provides some way for them to do that when interacting with us. But as for singing, I am less certain and here’s why:
    First: There is no scriptural verse that I have ever read that describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene where we depict them as singing Glory to God in the Highest, the text indicates that they are saying (Gr: legonton) the song, not that they sing it (cf. Luke 2:13). If you can find a Scripture text that shows the angels singing, please share it, but I’ve looked for years and can’t find it. Here too I state this humbly and may be wrong. If so you will help me.
    Second: The catechism doesn’t say that angels sing.
    Third: The liturgy of the Church does not seem to indicate that angels sing. Perhaps the closest that we come are the prefaces. There is reference to the “song of the angels” (the Holy, Holy, Holy) but they are said to “say” this song. The most common ways of describing what angels do regarding the heavenly hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy are with phrases such as:
    Sine fine dicentes (saying, without end), Clamantes (shouting), in gaudio confitentes (declaring in joy), Concinunt — This is about as close as the Latin gets to saying they sing. It can be translated “they sing” but can also be translated as “they agree in saying” or “they say together.”
    There is also a phrase that comes up in the prefaces which says, cumque omni militia caelestis exercitus hymnum gloriae tuae canimus (and with all the heavenly hosts we sing the hymn of your glory). But the “we” who sing is us. That the angels are referred to as singing is not clear. It may well be a gloss on Psalm 137:1. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises Lord.
    Fourth: I cannot say I have comprehensive knowledge of the Fathers of the Church so here I cannot definitively declare they never indicate that angels sing. Perhaps you can assist in this regard?
    Fifth: Though there are references to nine “choirs” of angels, the word choir here means “order” or “group.”
    Sixth: It would also seem that, having no bodies, they cannot sing. For to sing is to cause the vocal cords to vibrate, causing the air to vibrate as well. While it is true that angels are said to talk, and do other things such as blow trumpets, it is unclear if this is meant literally or analogously. It also is possible that humans hearing or seeing angels were able to do this through a temporary grace from God. St. Thomas effectively argues that angels do sometimes assume bodies (Pars Prima, 51.1). Even if this is the case, they are still never said to sing.
    So here is my proposition: “Angels don’t sing.” Perhaps singing is a particular glory of the human person; a capacity unique to us, a very special gift. In the heavenly liturgy I propose to you that it is we who will sing, and not the angels.
    But please this is only a proposition about a matter not essential to salvation! I have thought about it for years. I do not declare it with pride as though I am certain I am right. The long and consistent belief of the faithful should not be easily set aside. But for the reasons stated I want to propose this for your consideration.
    How say you?
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