Pope Francis called the prayer a “kind of musical score” and he couldn’t be more right.
At a recent papal audience, Pope Francis made a shrewd comparison between prayer and music. Discussing the importance of prayer, the Pontiff reflected:
“Prayer is a kind of musical score, where we put the melody of our lives.”
This quick observation was meant to support the Pope’s larger lesson on prayer, but it struck a chord with us. The practice of prayer is extremely similar to music. Each has a counter, defined and defined lyrics, and even a tone. In addition, prayer and music are made greater when performed in a group.
Perhaps the greatest similarity between music and prayer is in their meter, or cadence. It’s the rhythm of a prayer or a song. Imagine a church full of faithful reciting the Our Father as one. Rather than going through the prayer at a constant speed, each important line of the prayer is separated by a pause.
Even the shortest prayers contain these pauses. Consider Jesus’ prayer:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. “
These pauses form the cadence of a prayer, just as the silences form a rhythm in music. As any jazz musician will attest, rests are as important as notes. This is as true for prayer as it is for music. These pauses focus on the most important moments of a prayer.
Cadence also acts as a unifier, keeping everyone together as they pray. In this, the priest becomes the conductor of the prayer, and the congregation its orchestra. In the case of the Our Father, it begins with “Our Father” then rhythm with a pause. Each break is what helps keep the faithful on pace and pray together.
Lyrics and tone
Just as songs have lyrics, prayers are constant and unchanging. When an artist covers a song, it would be a misstep to change the lyrics, and this is especially true for prayer. Words are powerful and every word of a prayer is written with care and purpose. The power of words is one of the first things the Bible teaches in Genesis 1:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form or form, with darkness over the deep and a mighty wind sweeping the waters. Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.
It was the Word of God that was the impetus for creation. Only the sound of the voice of God organized the light to arise. In the same way, music is the organization of sound, whether it is a frantic melody or a monotonous prayer.. Even though the cacophony of dozens of parishioners speaking in their own timbre and tone may not sound like music, it is a musical style.
In fact, the simple recitation of prayers is the basis of plainsong. This in turn developed into the polyphonic tradition, which eventually evolved into the church music we have today. In this sense, one could argue that even the pop hits we hear on the radio can be attributed to a simple prayer being recited.
In concert, a solo performance can be wonderful, but it is always made grander with the addition of more musicians. This is also how prayer works. Each of us is called to pray to the Lord, to create a personal relationship with God and to offer Him praise in our daily life. Prayer becomes even more powerful, however, when we pray in community.
Jesus himself taught us in Matthew 18:
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them. “
Suddenly, the cacophonous voices became a harmony, supporting Jesus Christ who is the guest star of the song. A small chapel is akin to an underground music show and a basilica turns into a large concert arena – all elevating the music that is prayer to the Lord.