With this notice I would like to begin a series of occasional postings on [recordings of] collections of liturgical music. These postings are intended to be more than glorified publishers’ blurbs yet less than a full fledged critique. Instead I hope to signal to Pray Tell readers music intended for liturgical worship created by living or recently deceased composers. I intend to offer a gentle evaluation of the compositions in terms of their texts, musical settings, and appropriateness for [Roman Rite] liturgical worship. Obviously my own values and tastes will be on display and I want to make it clear that I would not consider my critiques the final word on any of these compositions. I also offer these postings in a spirit of encouragement to today’s composers of liturgical music whose contribution to the sung worship of the Church is, in my opinion, more often denigrated than celebrated. At least for some of the initial postings, further commentaries by Pray Tell readers will be possible, but if the remarks become more caustic than helpful the format may change to simple posting. I also hope that other Pray Tell readers may wish to offer their own postings on other [recordings of] collections of liturgical music.

David Haas: We Are Not Alone: Hymns Psalms and Songs for Eucharist and the Hours

This collection of sixteen compositions appears in a variety of formats — a book of reflections and prayers based on each of the compositions (G-8424), a music collection of a series of octavos (G-8326) and a compact disc (G-896) – all published by GIA Publications, Inc. Samples of these compositions in audio format may be found here or by going to the GIA website, clicking on David Haas, and clicking on We Are Not Alone.

Call to Worship. Text: Lou Anne Tighe adapted from the principles of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet/Music: David Haas

Leader: Let us remember:
All: We are in the holy presence of God.
Leader: And let us love God and the dear neighbor:
All: Without distinction. (2x)

For what ritual setting is this Call to Worship intended? It appears to be a generalized admonition to and by the assembled worshipers of the fact that they are in God’s presence and that there is a moral consequence to their worship. The fact that it is immediately followed by a Gathering Hymn with strong Eucharistic overtones suggests that this dialogue is intended for use at Mass. If so, does this then become an added ritual led by the music ministry PRIOR to the singing of the Opening Hymn? Is it appropriate to add a call to worship distinct from the Sign of the Cross and the Trinitarian Greeting in Roman Rite Eucharist? If it is detached from the following Gathering Hymn, perhaps it is intended as a substitute for the “Lord, open my lips” or the “God, come to my assistance” dialogues at the beginning of particular hours in the Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours. Alternatively it could be intended as a “recollection” beginning in para-liturgical or devotional services.

Gathering Hymn: Coming Together for Wine and for Bread. Text: Adam M. L. Tice/music: David Haas

A general text for gathering at Eucharist is given an easily singable and propulsive 6/8 setting. The two central stanzas articulate the radical inclusiveness and egalitarianism of Jesus’ table fellowship mirrored in the Christian eucharist, while the first and final stanza highlight the Spirit’s role in revealing the presence of Christ through the proclaimed Word of God and the Eucharistic feast at which Jesus is identified as Wine and Bread.

We Are Not Alone. Text: David Haas, inspired by Dorothy Day and Luke 24:13-35/Music: David Haas

The title song for this collection invites the singers to assume the role of the disciples at Emmaus, declaring in the refrain “we know him [Jesus], we know each other, in the breaking of the bread” and in the verses that “we find faith along the road” and “our hearts burn from what we’ve heard.” Structured in a typical verse/refrain pattern and employing Haas’ characteristic lyricism, “We Are Not Alone” would seem ritually intended for the communion processional or perhaps as a meditation after communion. Those critics who have difficulties with congregations singing about themselves, their faith journey, and their relation to God, rather than directly to God, will have difficulty with this text, but others will find value in the imaginative appropriation of the Emmaus story.

By His Wounds We Were Healed. Text: David Haas, based on 1 Peter 2:21-24/Music: David Haas

The Canticle of 1 Peter 2:21-24 is appointed in the reformed Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours as the non-Gospel canticle for Sunday Evening Prayer II during Lent. The Refrain is an extremely simple but effective block-chord choral setting of “In his body, to the cross, Christ carried our sins; by his wounds we were healed.” The melody for the congregation is actually in a fairly low tessitura, so it sounds much better in the harmonized version than sung in unison. The three stanzas in irregular meter are sung freely by a solo cantor to a psalm-tone pattern. The entire composition might appropriately be sung at any liturgical or devotional service highlighting the redemptive power of the Cross, but I think the refrain detached and sung as a mantra could also be a powerful addition to the music for the Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday.

I Will Wake Up the Dawn. Text: David Haas, based on Psalm 57/Music David Haas

Psalm 57 is appointed in the reformed Roman Rite Liturgy of the Hours for Morning Prayer and is set here in refrain/verse structure. The Refrain is a delightfully dancing block-chord choral setting that brings to mind a Renaissance dance. The three verses so soloists adapt the psalm text to a “psalm tune,” much as folk melodies can adapt to texts of varying syllabic lengths. One might quibble that the sense of joy so pervades that setting that the pleading in text of the first verse and the call for vengeance in the text of the second are underplayed, but the decision may have been to underline the sense of morning joy for celebrations of Lauds.

Come, Follow Me. Text: David Haas, based on Mark 10:17-21/Music: David Haas

“Come, Follow Me” invites the singers to assume roles in the scriptural dialogue between Jesus and the Rich Young Man. For stanzas one and two, a solo male voice impersonates the Rich Young Man asking Jesus what he must do to “gain eternal life” or “find lasting peace”; interestingly, Jesus’ voice appears in the Refrain sung by a choir. Stanza three shifts the farthest from the biblical narrative with the chorus now asking Jesus “what must we do to know your sweet embrace” with Jesus’ voice continuing to appear in the choral Refrain. It is somewhat unclear how this composition would be used in either Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours. Perhaps it might function as a “Hymn of the Day,” sung when this Gospel pericope is proclaimed, but it really doesn’t so much further meditation on all of the readings proclaimed as repeat the Gospel story. It strikes me as perfect for para-liturgical or devotional services, especially on retreats, inviting participants to deepen their commitment to the way of the Gospel.

Hail, Holy Mary, Queen of Peace. Text: David Haas/Music: SALVE REGINA COELITUM, arr. David Haas

This composition is an example of what I term “liturgical re-cycling.” “Hail, Holy Queen Enthroned Above,” sung to the graceful SALVE REGINA COELITUM hymn tune, was a staple of my Catholic childhood throughout the months of May and October and repeated on nearly every Marian feast. David Haas provides new texts for four stanzas of this hymn, extending the range of scriptural images to express devotion to the Mother of Christ: “Mother, servant of God’s grace, / womb for Christ, holy birthing place, / first disciple….”. His text functions more as a litany than as a lyric with progress of thought and is frankly constricted by the need to conform to the end rhymes chosen. His arrangement for guitars, piano, bass and recorders with simple choral harmonies successfully re-imagines this sturdy devotional tune as a folk song. (Notice the clever hint of “O SANCTISSIMA” in the recorder part in the the background of verse 2.) I suspect that many communities will continue to sing the familiar text for this tune, but for those communities who might want to develop their Marian piety in song, this composition is one possibility.

God’s Mountain. Text: David Haas, based on Psalm 24/Music: David Haas

For communities who would be comfortable with a psalm paraphrase in the Liturgy of the Word or when Psalm 24 is appointed in the Liturgy of the Hours, this may prove an attractive meditative setting. The printed edition provides two alternative refrains, thus extending the use of this setting.

Let’s Sing for Justice. Text and Music: David Haas

An a capella syncopated anthem, “Let’s Sing for Justice” is a stirring invitation to initiate Gospel living by singing its virtues: justice, righteousness, integrity and peace. Structured like many a folk song, each stanza changes only one word (“Let’s sing / pray / call / speak” etc.), a perfect device promoting rote participation without the need for printed worship aids. I could easily see this composition echoing the new admonitions at the conclusion of Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” One concern: it may help participation if the first phrase is sung by a soloist or schola both to announce the word change and to establish the key change, if performance follows the composer’s intention.

When I Call. Text and Music: David Haas

“When I Call” is a touching exemplar of what I call a “testimony” song in which an individual goes before an assembly to testify to the action of God in his or her life. The community as a whole can “catch fire” from this testimony and be drawn into praise and thanksgiving for the action of God in its midst. Haas’ great gift for creating a richly romantic melodic and harmonic refrain and verse structure is on display here, enhanced by an intense violin obligatto. (There is a problem in the text of the first sentence of the refrain however: “The path that I walk will hold the life of God, / and rescue me from death, wiping all my tears.” While it is possible that the singer’s “path” could hold “God’s life” and “rescue him/her from death,” that path cannot “wipe the singer’s tears.” I think this is a case where the intensity of the feeling may have overwhelmed the lyricist’s judgment.) While I don’t know where this composition would appear to fulfill a ritual function in Roman Rite Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours, I think it could be a powerful piece in a para-liturgical or devotional setting, on a retreat, or at a Christian concert.

Sing a New World into Being. Text: Mary Louis Bringle/Music: HOSANNA, by David Haas

The vigorous 4/4 hymntune HOSANNA in a bright E major sonority adorns Mary Louise Bringle’s four stanzas, commanding that a new world be sung into being marked by inclusiveness and hospitality, peace and justice. The only question I would have is: who is the addressee of this text? Is the congregation here taking the voice of God and commanding humanity to new behaviors? Is a segment of the congregation (the choir, the singers) singing to another segment of the congregation (the assembly, the silent)? Because I have some confusion about the addressee of the text, I am also unclear about where it would appear as ritual music in Eucharist or the Liturgy of the Hours.

I Pray to You. Text: David Haas, based on Psalm 5/Music: David Haas

A delicate refrain/verse setting of the individual lament found in Psalm 5, “I Pray to You” is especially appropriate as appointed for Morning Prayer. (The composer cleverly places the verses in a relatively low tessitura, knowing the usual difficulty of singing in higher ranges early in the morning.) The composition could also make a contribution to reconciliation services or celebrations of the anointing of the sick.

Join the Gospel Song. Text: David Haas/Music: LASST UNS ERFREUEN, arr. David Haas

I suspect that communities will either embrace or loathe “Join the Gospel Song.” The composer has taken the venerable tune usually associated with “All creatures of our God and King,” re-thought it through shifting accents and meters, syncopated the accompaniment, and re-written the text to transform it into a call to discipleship. My guess is that many ensemble players will find this a delightful challenge to learn and play, just to keep on top of the rhythm shifts (which are entirely logical, but certainly change the feel of the hymn). I don’t think one could spring this arrangement on a congregation without some rehearsal and expect them to sing it with full-throated confidence.

I Have Come to Believe. Text: David Haas, based on John 11/Music: David Haas

Another musical re-telling of a Gospel pericope, “I Have Come to Believe” invites the community to take on their lips the response of Martha to Jesus’ question: “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has come into the world.” It could appropriately be sung (perhaps following some chant traditions as a communion processional, reminding us of the Gospel message as we encounter the Eucharistic Lord) at Mass on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A, when the gospel of the Raising of Lazarus is proclaimed. It could find excellent use in RCIA settings, missions or retreats: any situation where a decision in faith for a life of Christian discipleship is highlighted. I especially like the unresolved cadence at the end of the piece, suggesting the on-going character of faith.

All Creation, Sing Praise. Text: David Haas, based on Psalm 150/Music: David Haas

This driving setting of the concluding doxology of the Psalter demands a skilled pianist whose constant maintenance of a sixteenth note pattern is necessary if the energy of the piece is to be maintained. Neither the melody of the refrain nor of the verses is particularly memorable on its own, but gain power from the rhythmic drive of the accompaniment.  It is reminiscent of his earlier composition “You Are The Voice.”

God, Who Made the Earth and Heaven. Text: Reginald Heber, William Mercer, Richard Whately, alt./Music: LIGHT IN DARKNESS, by David Haas

Those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours regularly know how beautifully the simple service of Compline (Night Prayer) helps us to leave behind the frenzy of the day and commend ourselves to God as we enter into that harbinger of death, sleep. The gentle simplicity of David Haas’ hymn tune LIGHT IN DARKNESS set to these familiar texts for end of day perfectly captures the focus of Compline. I could wish that this could be a hymn that parents would sing with their children putting them to sleep, thus tying the Church’s worship to that of the domestic church.