Music for the Church’s Worship 1: David Haas “We Are Not Alone”

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.


  1. “Gentle evaluation” of “contribution[s]… more often denigrated than celebrated” – excellent! I want to affirm strongly Fr. Joncas’ constructive spirit. Let’s hope all the commenters follow his good lead.

  2. The setting of God Who Made the Earth & Heaven is quite lovely. A piece such as this would be a good prayer for a choir to sing each week to conclude an evening rehearsal.

    I look forward to this series, and I hope that includes collections and/or composers that have gone overlooked.

    On a related note, do I have it right that we should expect a new collection of Michael Joncas compositions soon? More to look forward to.

  3. I am enthused that the forum will provide space for a consideration of liturgical music composed in more recent times. Without access to samples of the music may hamper constructive commentary. Are such samples available at the publisher’s website perchance? I am unashamed to admit my bias for much of the liturgical music composed over the past four decades or more. I find that the lyrics so richly reflect the scripture and the melodies are easily sung by worshippers young and old. The added advantage of these compositions is that they were written with an understanding of the Eucharistic liturgy and of the Church as reflected in the teachings of the Council. This is not to denigrate all the hymnody composed prior to the council, but it must be said that there weren’t a lot of Catholics composing hymns for Mass prior to Vatican II. We know well of the great classical settings of the ordinary parts of the Mass by the masters, but their performance and use are hardly suitable for Sunday celebrations of the Eucharist… contrast to those composed since the council. Thanks, Michael, for this initiative.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #3:
      I agree with you Fr. Feehily. While I also love some of the hymnody of the past, and can appreciate it in certain settings, the more contemporary music has brought so many gifts.

      Although I was a child, I was born in 1957, do the math, I do recall hating the advent of guitars and folk mass. For various reasons, I left the church in 1972, immediately following my confirmation. When I returned in 1990, I was quite delighted and moved to learn the newer music.

      Your point about the added advantage of offering an understanding of the liturgy is so well made. This music was a strong teaching element and a gift for so many.

      I am very glad to see this forum.

  4. Michael, this is wonderful!! I am so happy to see you comment on the worth, beauty and use of the music offered to us for the liturgy! As a musician, I am interested in your assessment of things musical as well as your offering of things scholarly and liturgical! (the Sacrosanctum Concilium series)

  5. Text: Lou Anne Tighe adapted from the principles of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet

    For what ritual setting is this Call to Worship intended? 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.

    Chapter II-VII. Combining the Hours With Mass or With Each Other II-VII

    94. When morning prayer, celebrated in choir or in common, comes immediately before Mass, the whole celebration may begin either with the introductory verse and hymn of morning prayer, especially on weekdays, or with the entrance song, procession, and celebrant’s greeting, especially on Sundays and holydays; one of the introductory rites is thus omitted.

    The psalmody of morning prayer follows as usual, up to, but excluding, the reading. After the psalmody the penitential rite is omitted and, as circumstances suggest, the Kyrie; the Gloria then follows, if required by the rubrics, and the celebrant says the opening prayer of the Mass.

    Use CALL TO WORSHIP followed by GATHERING HYMN as opening hymn, I WILL WAKE UP THE DAWN as the first psalm, BY HIS WOUNDS WE ARE HEALED as the canticle sung by the choir, and ALL CREATION SINGS GOD’S PRAISE as the final psalm.

    The local Orthodox often preceed the Divine Liturgy by Great Vespers; the splicing occurs after several readings from the Old Testament followed by the Little Entrance and the NT readings. Not everyone is there at the beginning; some come later.

    Of course many people have conflicts with doing this abbreviated Morning Prayer before Mass. Some people want quiet; I would suggest having a couple of minutes between each psalm and canticle. That would also give time for people to enter as the church fills up for Mass

    Choirs often like to practice at this time; hopefully the extra opportunity for music will be an incentive.

    Some people like to socialize before Mass but that can be done better elsewhere (some parishes are providing a coat room which is a nice place to socialize before and after Mass, breaks up the dash to the parking lot).

    A deacon or layperson could begin morning prayer; the priest could process in with the Gospel Book during the last Psalm somewhat like the Little Entrance of the Byzantine liturgy.

    An extended Kyrie could be accompanied by incensing the altar. Given Psalm 150 before and the Gloria after this might be a good occasion for a polyphonic Kyrie by the choir.

  6. Regarding the call to worship, when I worked as a campus minister at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, the student community there and the Christian Brothers community each began every liturgy or meeting with the spoken dialogue, “Let us remember,…that we are in the holy presence of God.” Then at the end of the liturgy or meeting, they would conclude, again spoken: “Saint John Baptist de la Salle…pray for us…Live, Jesus, in our hearts…forever.”

    These brief dialogues were very good, clear ways to transition in and out of focus, communal ritual. But their use as spoken texts became somewhat perfunctory as the school year progressed. So after a year or so, I wrote a musical setting for these dialogues that was intended to be used as a call to worship either before the Opening Hymn for Mass or at other liturgies.

    At another Lasallian institution where I worked as the liturgist for their summer sessions, I began using it as a call to worship for Morning Prayer, preceding it with the slowing striking of a singing bowl. This combination helped the assembly ease out of the shared informal silence into the more formal ritual invitatory.

    I’m glad to see David has set this same text, and I’m also glad to see some creative use of “ritual” music outside of the standard processional accompaniment or set acclamation of the Mass. I think the more we sing/chant these brief transitional moments in a ritual way, we start to become more ritually sensitive in our daily lives.

  7. In regards to the call to worship, “Let Us Remember” – it was a “yoking” together of two traditions that co-sponsor the Catholic High School where I serve as campus minister, Cretin-Derham Hall. It used to be two separate high schools (Cretin – the boys high school with the Christian Brothers; and Derham Hall – the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet).

    As Diana notes, students at all Christian Brother schools – begin each day and class period with the dialogue: “Let us remember/we are in the holy presence of God.” The CSJ’s have a wonderful motto: “To love God and the dear neighbor without distinction.” When I came to work at CDH two years ago, I had noticed that Lou Anne Tighe (our Vice President for Mission), had bound these two visionary proclamations together, to honor the charisms of both communities.

    So when I got there, I found a way to compose a dialogue using this uniting together of the themes.. which we now sing to begin at all of our all school liturgical celebrations (before the Gathering/Entrance Song); and at other events both with the students; and also for gatherings of faculty/staff, and for other events with parents in attendance. It has proven very successful.

    As a composer, it really warms one’s heart, when one is walking down the aisles at school, and every once in a while, hear a couple of the students singing it among themselves.. what a rush.

    Anyways – I appreciate what Diana said about this, and I thought it would be good to share the source about where this came from.

    Also – thanks to Michael for his thought-provoking review… I hope to hear from many here as to your thoughts, reactions, and critique of the collection.

  8. Re: Sing a New World into Being, Fr. Joncas asks a provocative question, “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)?”

    Could a similar question about “addressee” be asked about many of the psalms, e.g., psalm 96? (Who it is telling us to sing a new song?) Could the “addressee” be the entirety of the prophetical tradition, or the inner voice of conscience? Whatever, I think Bringle’s text is a fine one and would serve well the sending of the liturgical assembly back into the world to continue the ministry of Christ.

  9. I have a general question, are these published with approbation for use at public Liturgies, either Mass or the Hours? I notice on the web page that it states: ” ‘We Are Not Alone’ is a collection of hymns, psalms, and songs that are ideal for private prayer as well as a group settings such as retreats, Bible study groups, and adult or youth formation events…It is intended for the public prayer of, and worship by, a singing and participating community.” The intended uses as described seem to be contradictory. The first hymn appears to be written for Mass, yet it seems confusing and vague in it’s imagery. I don’t see any way to be able to access lyrics on the page.

  10. John, there never has been a requirement in the USA that octavos and small collections of music must be submitted for ecclesiastical approval prior to publication.

    However, one selection in this collection did receive ecclesiastical approbation – the very one you questioned. “Coming Together for Wine and for Bread” is also included in GIA’s Gather 3 hymnal, which received the requisite permission to publish from the Archdiocese of Chicago on May 26, 2011.

  11. Rereading my comment #13: I must have been in a fog when I wrote that! Of course, I am talking about the “addresser” rather than the addressee. I would understand the entire worshipping assembly as being the addressee.

  12. I appreciate the use of “Let us remember” from Saint John Baptist De La Salle in this new collection of liturgical music – no bias that I am an alum of Music Ministry Alive! I also agree with Diana. The more we sing/chant these transitional moments in a ritual way, the more we can live into it in our daily lives.

    In my own formation with the Christian Brothers of De La Salle, their use of this simple phrase, this simple invitation, enabled the communities I happened to be with, present to what lay ahead in our liturgical prayer. In that simple wording of “let us remember,” I always find myself being moved – from the call and response, to the informal silence that leads to the formal silence and eventually this reminder: that we are and always have been in God’s presence. I do not have to place myself in it, or “enter” into it, or invite God into it, but that this divine presence is already intertwined with humanity that all we have to do is simply recall it. And that is the challenge – to remember this reality. To remember this reality outside the doors of the space we happen to be in.

    I recently graduated with a master’s degree in divinity and in a few days, I officially begin my first professional job as a liturgist at a university. And I am nervous. I hope that even in the trials of mending what has been broken in this position, supporting a community’s prayer, that, I too, can remember that in our communal work of prayer, it can be a time to prepare and move hearts of the students entrusted to my care. And hopefully, by every door I enter, every bell I hear or every drop of rain that falls from above, I can follow another quote from DeLaSalle: “Be satisfied with what you can do, since God is satisfied with it, but do not spare yourself in what you can do with grace; and believe that, provided you want it, you can do more with the grace of God than you think.”

    May we always remember that we are in God’s presence, and that we are never alone.

  13. I was immediately drawn to “By His Wounds” – a beautiful setting. I see it quickly finding a home in my parish, and hopefully many others. Well done!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *