Angels Don’t Sing! Or at least that is my proposition. When I say this to people they usually respond. “Of course angels sing, you are just plain wrong.” I would like to challenge you to find that I am wrong. Perhaps I am. But why do I say that angels don’t sing? A number of reasons:
1. 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 says that they SAY 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.
2. The catechism never says that angels sing.
3. 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 they do regarding the heavenly hymn and what we join in with are 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 “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.
4. 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?
5. Though there are references to nine “choirs” of angels, the word choir here means “order” or “group.”
6. 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 is possible that humans hearing or seeing angels were enabled to do this through a temporary grace which was not hearing or seeing in the conventual sense as though the angels had actual physical bodies. (However, 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.” I will further state that singing is a particular glory of the human person. The capacity is 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.
This is only a proposition! I have thought about it for years. I do not declare it with pride as though I am certain I am right. But for the reasons stated I want to propose this for your consideration. How say you?