"Then I heard voices speak, entreating there The Lamb of God who takes our sins away For peace and mercy; this was all their prayer, For Agnus Dei did they still begin, So that one speech, one measure kept they all, And perfect concord seemed to fold them in. "Master," said I, "these voices I hear call Are spirits?" "Thou are right," said he, "they go Loosening the knot of wrath that held them thrall." -Dante's Purgatorio
As Dante and Virgil pass into the third cornice of Purgatory, they stagger uphill through a blinding smoke. Feeling gingerly forward, Dante and his guide are first struck not by the sight but the sound penetrating the black haze:
A unified prayer.
Repentant sinners singing to the Lamb of God.
The third cornice is the place of the wrathful. And yet, voices that were once raised clamorously now sweetly join with “perfect concord” in gentle prayer.
In their worldly lives, these wrathful souls were blinded by rage. Now they endure the purging effect of a blanketing fog. However, in this God-given blindness they no longer pass their days in malice, “hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). As one soul explains to Dante, the blindness has awakened a koinonia of the ear: “Hearing instead of sight shall neighbor us.”
Anger has been overcome through listening.
Of course, James connects these concepts together in his Epistle: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). However, reading Purgatorio is the first time that I have considered how effective congregational singing is in “loosening the knot of wrath” that holds us in thrall.
Singing together requires listening. We have to listen to the rhythm of our neighbor’s voices, the pace, the tune, the words, so that we move together, swell together, start together, stop together. As the gathered people, we achieve “perfect concord” and “one speech” only as we tune our ears so that “one measure” keep we all.
Moreover, as the people of God, we must tune our hearts in one accord if we are to pray as a unified people. When we give our ears to one another, our hearts are soon to follow.
And this is the perceptive truth Dante has unravelled. As our ears are intently listening to our neighbors, as we endeavor in melodious prayer to Agnus Dei, the knot of wrath loosens. Tight anger against our neighbors, our spouses, our children, our co-workers, our bosses, our nation, slowly slackens.
And where does it start?
“Hearing instead of sight shall neighbor us.”