Online Edition – October 2005
Vol. XI, No. 7
Five Fine Contemporary Hymns
Copyright © 2005 Lucy Carroll
by Lucy E. Carroll
Are there contemporary compositions that are worthy of being included in a church choir’s repertoire of sacred music? Last month I offered a selection of the “top ten” Catholic hymns every choir should know (“A Choir Director Selects Top Ten Catholic Hymns”, AB September 2005): and we also saw the list of Adoremus Bulletin’s readers’ choices. All but one of those hymns have been with us for decades or even centuries, having passed the test of time and transcended popular tastes and styles.
It is difficult to select from the mountain of modern hymn offerings. Which ones will last and which will fade is simply impossible to determine. However, here are five newer hymns that are well worth finding, learning, and singing at Mass.
All of these are sacred in nature, eschewing pop styles and using instead a singable, more neutral sacred style. All are congregation-friendly as far as range and difficulty, and all have lyrical melodies. All are musically well-constructed; all can be used with organ, choir, and traditional orchestral instruments.
Herewith, in no particular order, are five “current top picks”.
1. O Blessed Savior. (text: Omer Westendorf 1916-1997, © World Library Publications [WLP 1990]; music by Jerry Brubaker, © Jerry Brubaker 1990).
Here is a lovely Communion hymn that has been well received by the nuns, choir, and congregation at our monastery. WLP also offers a four-part choral arrangement (SATB) with interesting harmonic lines and a soprano descant. This is a long hymn, with a slightly irregular and long refrain, with melodically simpler verses. If used with choir, the congregation may sing only the refrain or the easier verses, or both.
O blessed Savior, now behold
the grateful gath’ring of your fold
in joyful celebration.
Our thirsting souls, our hungry hearts
now seek the food which life imparts:
the bread of our salvation.
Both text and music are reverent and God-centered, focusing on the Eucharist as a source of life, akin to manna in the wilderness or the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The “saving cup” is “Jesus, [God’s] only Son”.
2. Open Wide the Doors To Christ. (Joseph Diermeier; text and music © WLP 1999).
This hymn was written for the Jubilee year 2000 on the theme phrase “open wide the doors to Christ”. The melody is akin to the classic hymn, To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King (included on our “top ten” list) in its format, although it is not as sophisticated musically. The text of the refrain is suitable for any occasion:
For Christ is the Light
And Christ is the Way
And Christ is the Love who loves you.
3. Where Charity and Love Prevail. (text based on Ubi Caritas et Amor, 9th century), by Omer Westendorf, 1916-1997; music by Paul Benoit 1893-1979, ©WLP 1960).
This haunting, chant-like melody is well-written, easy to sing, and comfortably fits the text. This is a good adaptation of the Ubi Caritas text:
Where charity and love prevail
There God is ever found
Brought here together by Christ’s love
By love are we thus bound.
4. On the Wings of Change. (Jerry Galipeau, © WLP 1994).
This text is derived from scripture: I Corinthians 15:15-16 and Deuteronomy 32:11.
We shall be changed,
the trumpet will sound
The dead will be raised
and we shall be changed.
This little tune has a very singable refrain. The verses modulate to a related key but are still congregation-friendly. WLP offers a fuller arrangement for choir and trumpets with organ that is quite majestic for such feasts as Ascension, Transfiguration, etc.
5. O Lord with Wondrous Mystery. (text by Michael Gannon © WLP 1955; music by Hendrik Andriessen 1892-1981, © Andriessen estate).
This modal, chant-like melody is well crafted and well suited to the Eucharistic text.
O Lord with wondrous mystery
you take our bread and wine
And make of these two humble things
Yourself, Our Lord Divine.
There it is: transubstantiation! And…
… this bread bears your Divinity
this cup contains infinity.
The myst’ry fills our souls with love,
O Holy Majesty!
This text centers on Christ, on the mystery of the act of Consecration. This is a lovely little hymn: find it, sing it, believe it!
Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB, and is the creator of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoons regularly featured in these pages.