One of God’s greatest gifts to us is music. The human race has produced, performed, and listened to all sorts of music, from Bach and Beethoven to Stephen Foster to George M. Cohan to Lerner and Loew to jazz and rap. And it is obviously God’s will that we use music to praise him and perform our sacred rites. If you were to go through the Bible, for example, and count the references made to music in terms of hymns, choruses, and the various musical instruments, they would number up into the hundreds. The last of the psalms, psalm 150, lists every instrument in the orchestras of that time as means of praising God.
I speak of this today because last Sunday night, I had the great opportunity to attend a choral performance in the Catholic Cathedral of Dallas, in which a marvelous group of twenty-four men and women gave a concert of sacred music. And happily, they chose for their repertoire a Mass by the French composer Poulenc, and a number of hymns in honor of Our Blessed Mother, even though the conductor and most of the chorus members are not Catholic. One hymn in particular gave me great pleasure and joy. It is the Ave Maris Stella, a medieval hymn to the Mother of Our Lord. The title means: “Hail, Star of the Sea.” When my classmates and I were in the novitiate, just learning to live our Dominican life, our novice-master told us that for centuries it has been a tradition in our Dominican Order to recite one stanza of that hymn while putting on our scapular each day. The scapular is a long panel of cloth which hangs down front and back over our tunic. It was given to Blessed Reginald, an early Dominican, in a vision by Our Lady herself, who told him that she wished her Dominican sons and daughters to wear it as a sign of her motherly protection over them. The stanza of the Ave Maris Stella which we recite when putting on the scapular says, in English, “Show yourself to be our mother. May he receive our prayers through you. At his birth for us, he condescended to become your son.”
I sat there in the cathedral last Sunday evening, listening to that marvelous rendition of the ancient hymn and rejoicing that even though those talented singers sing the hymn far better than I have ever sung anything, I use that prayer to praise the Mother of the Lord when I put on her scapular each day.
Whether you are musically gifted, you can certainly sing the praises of God and his saints, and express in music your gratitude for all the gifts with which the Lord blesses us constantly. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.