Pax Christi Award: Congrats, David, Marty, and Michael!

Today Saint John’s Abbey and University gave its highest honor, the Pax Christi award, to David Haas, Marty Haugen, and Fr. Michael Joncas.

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When it comes to liturgy and music, St. John’s is probably known for traditional hymns more than trap sets, Gregorian more than guitar, and polyphony more than piano. But far beyond all such categories and distinctions (distinctions which, I’m sure, the choristers in the National Catholic Youth Choir would say are “so five minutes ago”), my deepest hope is that St. John’s be known for its humble striving to live out the Kingdom where all are welcomed with an embrace, all differences are reconciled in the love of Christ, and every human stronghold is pulled down as God is all in all.

Minnesta Three

As the award recipients spoke at the ceremony and led us in singing their music, my thoughts oddly turned to my organ teacher many years ago in Vienna, Peter Planyavsky, then principal organist at St. Stephen’s cathedral, the famous Stefansdom. As a classically-trained cathedral organist particularily schooled in Baroque performance practice, Plany nonetheless took a fundamentally positive attitude toward contemporary styles of church music. He once wrote, “The dear Lord also created blue notes, and syncopation, and five-eight meter, and the cluster, and vibrato, and shouting, whispering, laughing, and clapping.” And this: “Baroque organ and electric guitar have acknowledged that even if they cannot always play together in unison, in the long run there must be a working together of all of us making church music.”

If today’s award presentation reinforced that sort of working together then let it be, please God, a sign of the Kingdom.

The Pax Christi award has as its purpose to honor those whose lives exemplify Benedictine ideals. One of those ideals is liturgical renewal, especially active SJBC NCYC ALHparticipation of the people – and who has done more for that cause than the “Minnesota Three,” David, Marty, and Michael? It was a well-deserved recognition, and it was time for St. John’s to give it. And the occasion called for the musical forces of the National Catholic Youth Choir, the St. John’s Boys’ Choir, the abbey schola, and – most importantly – a church full of people raising the roof in united song.

The award ceremony after Mass was in the Great Hall (the old abbey church.) As David Haas took the stage to speak, he said that he had stood and made music on this very spot many years ago, in 1980, at the regional convention at St. John’s of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. His lofty role was… to provide background music while people registered! Something has come full circle.

This memory will stick with me a long time: Marty Haugen said to me after the award ceremony that St. John’s is for him a “thin place.” I didn’t know the phrase. He explained to me that it is used to refer to Iona, a place where the divide between here and above is thin, where heaven and earth seem to touch. I got a glimpse of heaven on earth this morning as I heard hundreds of people singing together the music of the Pax Christi recipients.

Or as the National Catholic Youth Choir sang this morning in the piece by Edgar Bainton, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. … And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes…” (Revelation 21) As the choir sang that last line I shed a tear – funny how that works.

Pax programI won’t attempt to reconstruct here everything said by the award recipients in their powerful, inspiring acceptance speeches. Suffice it to say the main themes sounded were humble gratitude, ecumenism, liturgy and mission, peace-making, justice, youth ministry, the church’s heritage of choral music, and music ministry. The pieces the three recipients selected for us to sing were “All Are Welcome” and “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” by Marty Haugen, “Blest Are They” by David Haas, and “Deep and Lasting Peace” and “In Christ We Come to Offer Thanks / Ubi Caritas” by Michael Joncas.

Here’s an inside joke about today’s Mass known only to me, NCYC conductor André Heywood, Sister Delores Dufner, and God. I wanted a Latin chant introit that would tie into and introduce the opening hymn, David Haas’ “We Are Called.” I went with Vocati sumus facere iudicium, Mode VI. No, you won’t find any setting of that text from Micah 6 in any chant book or manuscript. No one set it in the Middle Ages. I had to set it myself. So: of all the music sung this morning, the most recently-composed piece – June 12, 2017, to be exact – was the Latin chant Gregorian introit.

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A close second for the most recently-composed piece today would be Michael Joncas’ “Deep and Lasting Peace,” copyrighted 2017 with GIA. It was the piece Michael chose for us to sing after his acceptance speech. We had more “heaven and earth” material in the text of the refrain: “In the breaking of the bread: deep peace, deep peace; heaven’s feast on earth is spread: deep and lasting peace.” Amen to that.

Congratulations, huge congratulations, David, Marty, and Michael. Thanks, and again, thanks for your work. Ad multos annos.

Minnesota 3 B



  1. Well deserved by all three, for music and text and witness as well. They have given voice to sung worship around the world. And every time I hear their compositions criticized, I have to think about how unhistorical the critics themselves are. Mary, David, and Michael are in the line of composers who chose popular tunes (“L’homme armé” for instance) to set texts for worship. I would guess that various popular tunes wove their way even into Gregorian chant from time to time, but I don’t know that for sure. So best to these three friends and congratulations in being honored in a long line of composers who found ways to connect worship with the rest of life through song.

    1. @Gordon E Truitt:
      I appreciate your insights, Gordon. It will indeed be interesting to see how future musicological inquiry will understand the prolific collective oeuvre of these most-deserving honorees. In the sine wave of history, music (sacred and profane) seems to have vacillated in prominence between the “logogenic” and the “pathogenic,” examples of the former being music of the polyphonic revolution at in the first half of the second millennium and the rational, tonal procedures of the Enlightenment. The latter might be characterized by mannerist expression, the advent of monody in the Baroque, and the extremes of miniaturism and monumentality in the 19th Century. The longer I live and work, the more and more I see the genius of Marty, David and Michael as finding common ground between traditional ritual forms and modalities and the popular American song form. In contrast to musical styles that really are dependent on the solo performance modalities of pop music, in which the People of God merely sing along, Haas, Haugen and Joncas have succeeded in keeping communal, choral (dare I say sacramental?) singing in mind in the crafting of their brand of the “new monody” that has taken liturgical music by storm since Vatican II. (Please, traditional “musica sacra” friends, my esteem for more conservative church music is not diminished–I simply agree that there is a lot to celebrate here.) Thank you, St. John’s Abbey, and congratulations, Michael, Marty and David!

  2. Dear Anthony – it was a most blessed and special day for the three of us. Thank you for everything you did, and your introit was truly gorgeous – you really should do a collection of new introits like this, based on some of the more popular liturgical song- prayers that have been written over the years … seriously. Anyways – again, what a holy time it was … God bless you, the monks, and St. John’s!

  3. Dear David, Marty and Fr. Michael – your compositions have been the main feature of my liturgical music ministry. Thank you for clothing the reformed rite in song.

    I’d point in particular to your settings of the psalms. Somehow they became (continue to become!) immediate and real – living scripture – through your treatments.

  4. Congratulations and blessings to all. It sounds like a magnificent and beautiful occasion. Anthony, special thanks for sharing your teacher’s wise remarks. “Let it be, please God, a sign of God’s kingdom” indeed.

  5. The music of these three composers has been a formative constant in my priestly ministry. Their lyrics are rooted in scripture and tradition and the melodies are singable by the vast number of worshippers who don’t read music. I remember all of them when we were young men at various convocations across the country. I have known them as gifted and faithful servants. Congratulations to all of them for this well deserved recognition!

  6. As I read Gordon’s comments, I remembered an blog about the meaning of the term “sacred music”. It stands up for contemporary liturgical music as long as it is well written. I have always been a fan of all 3 of these composers. They have been an inspiration not only in my own composing but more importantly in the concept (and ministry) of pastoral music. Largely due to their influence, I have always considered the assembly in my selection of music. Thank you to Marty, Michael, and David for their gifts and their spirits.
    Here is a link to the blog I mentioned.

  7. A wonderful tribute, Fr Anthony. You are all great disciples and musicians. Thank you for honouring these great men of God who have given their whole lives to this work. For many people, their music is the soundtrack to their spiritual life. Deo gratias!

  8. I want to echo David’s remarks above in thanksgiving to Anthony and the entire St. John’s community for so generously designating us recipients of the Pax Christi award this year. As others have noted, the award places us in pretty rarefied company. I’m grateful for such a public recognition of our stumbling attempts to find a way to help post-Vatican II worshipers sing their faith in worship settings. (I’d also LOVE to have a long conversation with Kevin Vogt about the vacillations between logogenic and pathogenic influences on the music of the Roman Rite.) As Marty always reminds us: “Soli Deo gloria!”

  9. It’s been my great honor and pleasure to work with Marty, David, and Michael for almost 30 years. Your impact has been profound. Congratulations on this incredible honor! I continue to learn from you every day.

  10. I have said this before to Michael Joncas. I occasionally lead retreats for adults …mostly Catholic and if the weather is good and the mood is right, we have a campfire along the lake or river and sing together. Journey, John Denver, Bon Jovi, maybe Taylor Swift (!). “On Eagle’s Wings” is by far the most requested song and the same was true last weekend as a campfire warmed up. It holds so many memories, is so filled with hope, has ushered in couples at weddings and ushered out faithful at funerals.

    We have also used the same Kleenex to get through Shepherd Me Oh God and Blest Are They… These songs hold meaning and mindfulness.

    You composers are deserving of this honor and I am glad the music you write and compose transcends the Cathedrals to pews in so, so many places.

    I will work to get our choir to attempt the June 12 Composition.

  11. Yes, it was a great liturgy and wonderful occasion. It was exciting meeting so many people from walks of life far and wide who, through the Minnesotan Trinity, have been part of my life over the decades. However, there were no guitars apparent in the Liturgy itself, which took me somewhat by surprise. Plenty of fortissime organ and rippling piano accompaniments – but somehow the Abbey church maintained its veil of sobriety. Music selections were fairly representative, and parts of the 2010 Worship hymnal were given a good airing. It was a fun day for the Schola, not to be locked into Tallis!

    I felt that as fellow members of the composers forum, homage was being paid through the triumvirate to all who have conscientiously plowed in the musical furrows of the Vineyard. Yes, the wines were good too….

  12. Deat Anthony,

    I now have enough space to look back upon the blessing it was for me to be with you and the Youth Choir this past weekend at the Sunday morning liturgy. I am still working out (as someone formed as a Lutheran) how humor can be an acceptable part of our faithful sacramental celebrations. But I believe you got it exactly right with your introit based upon the Micah reading. And as someone who was asked (when I was a member of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul Worship Board) to provide guitar-based accompaniment to the Chrism Mass in the cathedral space (because there would be numerous confirmation classes present), I completely appreciate how those of us who plan worship have to make decisions about instrumentation (or lack of instrumentation) based upon what is most appropriate for the assembly. I loved praying and singing in your beautiful and holy space. Thank you.

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