During these inaugural months of the National Eucharistic Revival I have been immersing myself in all things Eucharistic. I remember when I was a child, my mom took me with her to Wednesday evening Rosary and Benediction. It was there, as I sat with her in the back pew, that I was attracted to the mystery of the Eucharist. Today, so many years later, I am being drawn by the Person of Jesus. Since the Revival began I have told Jesus again and again, “I want more! Draw me into your Eucharistic life!” With his grace I lift up my heart, trying to keep it always turned toward his face, and he is drawing me more deeply into his life with the Father. Every human heart yearns always for this more which is what the Eucharistic Revival is all about.
As we make our pilgrimage together toward the Eucharistic Congress in June 2024, I think what we need right now to express what is in our hearts is music!
Since New Testament times music has emerged from the worshiping heart of the Christian community. We have fragments of early hymns in the letters of St. Paul. St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-67) and others in these early years used hymns to put the orthodox faith on the lips of Christians. St. Ambrose (339-97) introduced the singing of hymns and the Psalms in his diocese of Milan to encourage his flock in difficult times. His hymns became the basis for the hymns in the Liturgy of the Hours. More recently, the familiar hymn Gift of Finest Wheat was the contest winner in 1976 for the official hymn of the 41st International Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia. I was blessed enough to actually be at that Eucharistic Congress with my family, but whether you were there or not you most probably have sung this hymn many times as you received Communion at Mass.
“Music is a valuable expression to give voice to the truths of our faith,” said Marilyn Santos, Associate Director of the Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pope Francis has affirmed that “music represents a way of evangelization at all levels, from children to adults” (to the Italian Association of Saint Cecilia (AISC), September 29, 2019).
The U.S. Bishops are sponsoring a musical competition for both a hymn and also a theme song for the National Eucharistic Revival. Santos said, “The hopes of the bishops for these two songs are that they will inspire the People of God, animate their Eucharistic formation, promote continual conversion of heart, and unite us so that we can then be sent out as Eucharistic Missionaries.”
Adam Bartlett, Founder of Source & Summit, a liturgy and music resource provider that helps parishes elevate the liturgy, is a lifelong musician and describes the power of music in his own life. “Music has definitely evangelized me and drawn me to Jesus, helping me to commit my life to him. As I continued to grow and mature in my faith, I also began to see how our tremendous inheritance of sacred music also has drawn me deeper and deeper into the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ and the faith that the Church presents to us.”
Bartlett hopes that this musical competition for the Eucharistic Revival will bring others into an encounter with Christ and, even more, to a participation in his life. “Everything begins with a deep and fruitful participation in the liturgy which, of course, is where a real encounter with Jesus is most profoundly available to us. The liturgy, along with its sacred music, draws us through Christ to the Father and allows us to participate in the reality of the heavenly liturgy.”
Marilyn Santos notes that the musical competition is for two pieces of sacred music that the bishops hope will “capture people’s minds and hearts, uniting Catholics across the nation in a renewed Eucharistic faith, whether they are able to be in Indianapolis for the Congress or not.”
The first category of the competition is for a hymn that is devotional or catechetical in nature which could be sung in the liturgy, in a devotional context, or non-liturgical setting. Textually, it is intended to proclaim and expound the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and to express that in a poetic, creative, and fresh way.
The second category of the music competition is for an original musical composition intended to capture the spirit of the National Eucharistic Revival. It could use an original text or even an already existing text such as Ave Verum Corpus and could be, for example, a motet, a schola piece, a congregational song, or it could even be an instrumental piece.
The response of the faithful to the musical competition has been tremendous. At the time of publication of this blog, over 95 compositions have been submitted as entries in this musical competition.
Music is so important because lifting our hearts to God in the liturgy goes beyond human speech. “As a manifestation of the human spirit,” said Pope St. John Paul II in 1988, “music performs a function which is noble, unique, and irreplaceable. When it is truly beautiful and inspired, it speaks to us more than all the other arts of goodness, virtue, peace, of matters holy and divine. For good reason it has always been, and it will always be, an essential part of the liturgy” (December 23, 1988). Music has the ability to cultivate, strengthen, and deepen the spiritual experience of those gathered for worship.
Adam Bartlett reflected, “Ultimately the aim of sacred music is to draw us out of our earthly context and to give us an actual participation in and a foretaste of heaven, which transcends time and space. We can’t forget that Mass is the action of Christ that we are invited to participate in. I’m hoping that the music that emerges from this competition not only describes that reality theologically, but also invites those who sing it to participate more deeply in the reality itself.”
In these years of Eucharistic Revival our hearts do indeed long for music that will express what we are discovering anew. “The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is par excellence the greatest and most real presence of Jesus on this earth,” reflects Barlett.
The two winners of the competition will be announced this June, a year in advance of the Eucharistic Congress in 2024. According to Santos this decision was made since “as soon as the winners are announced and the music is made available, we are encouraging every parish, every diocese, every apostolate, every school, every religious community, every group to embrace them and use them in their prayer, in their liturgies, conferences and conventions, and youth retreats.”
The musical competition is one facet of the multiyear National Eucharistic Revival launched on June 19, 2022. The revival’s mission is to renew the Church by kindling a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Tim Glemkowski, Executive Director of the National Eucharistic Congress, Inc., said that the musical competition is just the beginning of a number of initiatives that celebrate the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist. “Beauty is the mark of a loving God, and we are excited to see creative expressions from talented Catholic artists that embrace the beauty of Christ and give new light, color, and voice to the truths of our faith.”