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Music Ministry Blog : March, 2024

Music as Prayer

“To sing is to pray twice,” is a well-known maxim often attributed to St. Augustine.  Music is a vital part of many religious ceremonies.  Bells or singing bowls are used in many eastern religious practices.  In Europe and Western traditions, church music started with simple voices chanting and eventually developed into more complex songs and instrumental works.  There is even a legend of a “secret chord” that King David (the writer of the Psalms) played that pleased God.  As music in the secular world develops and changes, so too does music in the church, with different styles and practices coming in and out of fashion.  Church music also varies by country, denomination, language, and even by region within countries.

During World War II, a Swiss Christian leader and theology student felt moved to try to make a difference in the world that was suffering so much.  In 1940, Roger Schutz bought property in the countryside of war-torn France, in a town called Taizé.  Here he prayed daily, helped to hide Jews escaping the Nazi regime, and then after the war ended, welcomed German prisoners.  Brother Schutz believed that Christians must constantly respond to the changing times and changing needs around them.  Fueled by Brother Schutz’s teachings, this Taizé community began to grow, with other theology students, Protestant and Catholic brothers, and young people from around the world making pilgrimages to the French countryside to pray together.  As these Christians gathered, they often had difficulty learning the beautiful and complex French songs used during prayer.  The community needed a way to allow everyone to join in, no matter what language they spoke.

1 Thessalonians 5: 17 tells us to “rejoice always” and “pray without ceasing.”  There are many ways to approach this task.  Many Christian denominations have morning and evening prayer.  Catholics may be familiar with the rosary.  Orthodox religions teach The Jesus Prayer as a way to concentrate and focus one’s inner thoughts while repeatedly praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The community at Taizé built on these traditions and developed simple, repetitive chants, sung in many languages. These beautiful melodies are sung over and over, making them easy to learn on the spot.  While singing in multiple languages, everyone will have a chance to sing in a comfortable language and everyone will have to work harder to sing an unfamiliar language.  As the chants are repeated, instrumentalists add harmonies or complementary melodies.  Singers become more confident and add alto and tenor harmonies.  The repeated chants focus our thoughts and emotions, bringing the meaning not only to our thoughts, but to our hearts for a deeper understanding and prayerful experience.

Please join us on Sunday evenings during Lent at 6pm to experience this beautiful form of prayer and meditation at our Taizé Vespers services.

To learn more about The Jesus Prayer, visit

To read an in-depth article about the Taizé community, visit 

Larissa Sanders

Director of Music Ministry

Christ Episcopal Church


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