Singing to Our Father

Praying Hands image

By Carol Wallace Hamlin

There’s a lot of music in a 10 a.m. Sunday service at St. Michael’s. It ranges from ancient to just composed, from lilting to thundering. But one of the most remarkable moments of our worship is always the same: when, as a congregation, we chant the Lord’s Prayer together.

You may even have forgotten that we do this, it’s so simple. The celebrant sings, “And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say”—and off we go. We do not have a conductor. We are not accompanied. Many of us are convinced that we cannot sing — yet we do, week after week. Many of us don’t read music, but we can follow that simple sequence of notes up and down, just by listening to each other. We use a traditional setting adapted from plainsong. Christians have chanted like this, as part of worship, for a thousand years.

The gentle speech-based rhythm allows us to stay together more easily than the individual pace and emphasis of spoken prayer. The limited range of notes means that each congregant can reach them. We sing in unison: joined as one. If the body of Christ on West 99th Street has a voice, it’s sending these words to the rafters: “Our Father who art in Heaven …”

Image: “Praying Hands” by Albrecht Dürer