Do Angels Actually Sing?

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 Father Ryland is correct, but for reason 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? – Fr. Ray Ryland

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 has for singing, I am less certain and here’ why:

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 indicates that they SAYING (Gr: legontōn) 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 doesn’t say that angels sing.

3. The liturgy of the Church does not 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 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 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?

If the Angels do sing, here is how they sound:

11 Replies to “Do Angels Actually Sing?”

  1. “… and we thank Thee for this liturgy which Thou hast found worthy to accept at our hands, though there stand by Thee thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, who soar aloft, borne on their pinions, singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:

    Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

    — Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

    So the Eastern Rite might be a bit more explicit about them “singing the triumphant hymn.”

    1. Sort of, but it could be read as follows, “singing the triumphant hymn by shouting, proclaiming and saying.” IOW their “singing is actually shout, proclaiming and saying.” These words specify the meaning of “singing.”

  2. Music is not something that only happens from the vocal chords. I think angels sing in the same way that deaf people feel music. We express with our vocal chords what is “felt”(sensed?) within, and that is God, and angels are part of that, being without bodies.

  3. It would seem that having no bodies angels shouldn’t be able to speak either, nor appear visibly. But they do.

    1. Yes, they clearly do; scripture is clear on that. I am willing to admit that singing or speaking need not be reduced to a merely physical notion.

  4. Who is doing what in Job 38:7? I am no Hebraist, so, under correction, but the Hebrew verb form translated “laudarent” in the Vulgate apparently strictly refers to singing. In the context, who is doing this singing, if not angels? I suspect one would find a lot of attention to angels in Patristic discussions or citations of this verse, but I have not (yet) attempted to follow up that suspicion.

    1. Question is, “are the stars spoken of here” the angels or simply the stars? Contextually it seems more to be the stars

      1. Admittedly a good question, bearing in mind St. Augustine’s saying, in chapter 58 of his Enchiridion, about “the Organization of the Angelic Society”, “I am not even certain upon this point: whether the sun, and the moon, and all the stars, do not form part of this same society, though many consider them merely luminous bodies, without either sensation or intelligence.” (Translated by J.F. Shaw as transcribed at New Advent.)

  5. Also worth considering is that ‘chorus’ and ‘chorea’ seem to have the primary meaning of a group dancing and singing – if so, how do we know ‘how much’ of that sense is, or is not, ‘active’ in a given use of the words?

  6. In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon is still stuck with Amy after he’s married off to Penny. But by the time we meet him in season five, she has relocated her family and their restaurant out of town (just like how Richard starts his own business). It seems as if this show could have been much darker than it ended up being but I won’t spoil that plot point for you any further because all stories are different from the way they end!

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