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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sacred Music

                Sacred music is essential in teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and has played a historical role in gospel settings.  Before the Savior and His Apostles left the upper room where they held the Last Supper, they sang a hymn.  When the hymn was over, the Savior led them to the Mount of Olives where He made preparations to complete His mission.  (See Matthew 26:30.)

                In the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Lord, through His prophet Joseph Smith, instructed Joseph’s wife Emma to “make a selection of sacred hymns” to be used in the Church meetings.  The Lord continued, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:11-12).

                The First Presidency prefaced our newest edition of Hymns with this counsel, “Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings.  The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.

                “Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns.  Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end…

“We hope to see an increase of hymn singing in our congregations.  We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns.  We hope leaders, teachers, and members who are called upon to speak will turn often to the hymnbook to find sermons presented powerfully and beautifully in verse.

“Latter-day Saints have a long tradition of choir singing.  Every ward and branch in the Church should have a choir that performs regularly.  We encourage choirs to use the hymnbook as their basic resource.

                “Music has boundless powers for moving families toward greater spirituality and devotion to the gospel.  Latter-day Saints should fill their homes with the sound of worthy music.

                “Ours is a hymnbook for the home as well as for the meetinghouse.  We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes.  The hymns can bring families a spirit of beauty and peace and can inspire love and unity among family members.

                “Teach your children to love the hymns.  Sing them on the Sabbath, in home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time.  Sing as you work, as you play, and as you travel together.  Sing as lullabies to build faith and testimony in your young ones.

                “In addition to blessing us as Church and family members, the hymns can greatly benefit us as individuals.  Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action.  They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.

                “Hymns can also help us withstand the temptations of the adversary.  We encourage you to memorize your favorite hymns and study the scriptures that relate to them.  Then, if unworthy thoughts enter your mind, sing a hymn to yourself, crowding out the evil with the good.

                “Brothers and sisters, let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord into our congregations, our homes, and our personal lives.  Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment.  Know that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto our Father in Heaven, `and it shall be answered with a blessing upon [your] heads.”

                Sacred music transcends language barriers.  I remember attending Church meetings in Mexico many years ago.  I did not understand a single word that was spoken, but I could sing along with the hymns because the music was familiar to me.

                I remember my father singing hymns in my childhood and youth as he worked around the farm.  My siblings and I enjoyed working with him much more when we heard him singing or whistling. I remember as a young mother using Primary songs to calm my babies and little children.  I also remember learning basic but important gospel principles through singing Primary songs, both as a child and as an adult.

I had a truly sacred experience because of a hymn.  After Mom’s death, Dad had the feeling that he would not live much longer and he divided all of the family heirlooms, etc. among his children.  He was very concerned about dealing with us with love and compassion and fairness.  I returned from my mother’s funeral and was sitting in sacrament meeting when I learned an unforgettable lesson about Heavenly Father.  We were singing “Sweet Hour of Prayer”.  I sang with the congregation, “Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!  That calls me from a world of care and bids me at my Father’s throne make all my wants and wishes known.”  I could not sing the rest of the hymn because of my tears.  Those words made me realize that my earthly father was very much a type for my Heavenly Father:  I had a better idea about how much Heavenly Father loves me because I had witnessed the love my earthly father has for me. 

                When my children were arguing or simply not getting along, I adopted the practice of singing a hymn to them.  The hymn I always sang is entitled, “Love at Home” (Hymns, 294; words and music by John Hugh McNaughton, 1829-1891).  I did not have to sing many phrases before my children were either laughing or begging me to stop singing.  One of my daughters recently told me that her children had been behaving so badly that she had resorted to singing “Love at Home.”  I suppose that this hymn will be chosen for my funeral service because I used it so very often.

                There is beauty all around when there’s love at home;
                There is joy in ev’ry sound when there’s love at home.
                Peace and plenty here abide, Smiling sweet on ev’ry side.
                Time doth softly, sweetly glide when there’s love at home.

                In the cottage there is joy when there’s love at home;
                Hate and envy ne’er annoy when there’s love at home.
                Roses bloom beneath our feet; all the earth’s a garden sweet,
                Making life a bliss complete when there’s love at home.

                Kindly heaven smiles above when there’s love at home;
                All the world is filled with love when there’s love at home.
                Sweeter sings the brooklet by; brighter beam the azure sky.
                Oh, there’s One who smiles on high when there’s love at home.
                Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to put ourselves in tune with the Spirit of the Lord.”  He then shared his experience of visiting the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.  “Before the evening show of dancing and music from various island cultures, I went backstage to thank the performers.  I arrived during those frantic moments before the show began.  Scores of performers were hurrying through the last-minute tasks required to coordinate their efforts in a fast-moving performance.  I wondered how the director would bring this turmoil to order in preparation for my brief remarks.

                “It happened as if by miracle.  On signal, one strong voice began, and the strains of `We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet’ quickly swelled into a beautiful chorus as the uniquely talented young people brought their thoughts into harmony with the Lord….

                “Our sacred music prepares us to be taught the truths of the gospel.  This is why we are selective in the kinds of music and the kinds of instruments we use in our worship services.  This is why we encourage our choirs to use the hymnbook as their basic resource….

                “Our hymns can work their miraculous effect even when the chorus of voices is few and even when hardly a sound can be heard.  I felt this a few months ago as I participated in a musical performance that was unique in my church experience.  I had been invited to speak at the Great Basin LDS Deaf Conference, hosted by the Salt Lake Valley (Deaf) Ward of the Salt Lake Park Stake.  Over three hundred deaf brothers and sisters were in attendance.  The members of the stake presidency and I were almost the only adults in the congregation who could hear and who attempted to sing audibly.  The rest of that large assembly sang with their hands.  Hardly a lip moved, and hardly a sound was heard except for the organ and four faint voices from the stand.  In the audience, all hands moved in unison with the leader as the audience signed `The Spirit of God like a fire is burning’!  (Hymns, 1985, no. 2).  As we sang together, the Spirit of the Lord descended upon us, and we were made ready for prayer.  Our sacred music is a powerful preparation for prayer and gospel teaching” (Ensign, Nov. 1994).

                I know for myself that sacred music brings us closer to our Savior, Jesus Christ, and to our Heavenly Father.  I am grateful for the many talented people who write and perform the beautiful music that I so enjoy.  I encourage all of us to use the sacred hymns to bring more peace into our lives, our homes, and our world.

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