Reinvigorating Devotion

The Gift and Responsibility of Music: An Interview with Diane Mahoney

Recently, Sr. Kathryn Hermes interviewed Diane Mahoney, composer of the official theme song of the National Eucharistic Revival. Read on to learn more about Diane’s background in music, her Eucharistic faith, and the inspiration behind the hymn!

Sr. Kathryn: You must be so excited about winning the theme song competition for the Eucharistic Revival. It’s truly an inspiring song. What inspired you to be a musician?

Diane: I was born in 1954 in the richly Catholic and musical community of Carroll, Iowa. Ever since I was in grade school at Holy Spirit Catholic School, and later in high school, I immersed myself in music. I played violin in the orchestra and sang in or accompanied the choir. I felt that music was meant to be my life. I went on to receive a Bachelor of Music Education from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, and a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

My first job was at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, as Director of Liturgy and Music. Working with Fr. Jim Wright and the wonderful staff there instilled in me a deep love of the liturgy and the importance of liturgical music. Feast days or special occasions would motivate me to compose songs to celebrate. But there were also pieces born out of necessity. Often, though, a lack of appropriate music for a certain celebration would require a piece to be written or arranged. Fr. Jim radiated the love of God as a celebrant and as a person. He was confident in God’s passionate love for each of us, and I am most grateful for his guidance and inspiration. I cannot forget the years at Benedictine College and the influence of the Benedictines in my prayer life and liturgical life, particularly in the appreciation of psalmody.  

Close-up of an open choir folder with sheet music

As well as my love for liturgy, Holy Trinity Parish brought me my husband, Stan, and eventually our four children. My husband’s job necessitated a move to Burlington, Iowa, after eighteen years in the Kansas City area. It was very difficult to leave our friends and parish family, but I remember one person writing in a card, “I’ll see you in the Eucharist!” And that gave me such hope—I knew that God was guiding the move for the best of each member of our family, and I still feel closely united with my friends (indeed the whole mystical Body of Christ) through the Eucharist!  

For the past 27 years, we’ve been members of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington, IA, where I enjoy helping with music, playing organ and piano, and cantoring at weddings, funerals, and parish liturgies, as well as directing and accompanying choirs. I have co-directed the Shoquoquon Children’s Choir and have sung in the Bel Canto Chorale in our community (which I currently accompany). All of these groups have given me opportunities to compose for children’s choirs, church groups, and the chorale.

Each of these groups has been extremely supportive and a terrific “sounding board” for my musical compositions and overall musicianship. The fine musicians with whom I make music have taught me so much about music, life, and faith—I am most grateful! I guess God did know what he was doing when we “had to” move to Burlington!

Sr. Kathryn: It’s always interesting to know what inspires a musician to be creative. Can you share with us some of your sources of inspiration? How has your faith inspired you as a Catholic musician?

Diane: My faith is so integrated into my musicianship. Probably prayer is my greatest source of inspiration, particularly praying with the Psalms and Scripture. I also get snippets of ideas while walking, sometimes a phrase in a homily becomes a launching pad, and often I feel inspired in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The gift of faith involves a journey, and it is this journey also which forms me as a Catholic musician.  

For me, the gift of music is nearly the same as the gift of prayer. Often my morning prayer might give me an idea for a song (which may or may not develop). Playing and singing music, especially for liturgy, is prayer. I have experienced time and again how God works through me in choosing music or even practicing, to accentuate certain phrases or to vary dynamics in others, inspiring me to really pray the music. I just have to remain receptive.

Close-up of a woman's hand holding sheet music on her lap

Sr. Kathryn: What was the process of writing “We Do Believe, O Lord”?

Diane: I had been working on this piece off and on for several years, and during that time I had thrown away several versions of the refrain. I was really quite discouraged about it. Sometimes, you just have to wait for that inspiration from God. So when I heard about the musical competition for the National Eucharistic Revival and the call for submissions, I decided to come back to it with a fresh perspective. I finally had a goal and deadline! What I still needed, though, was inspiration, in a sense something like a “go-ahead” from the “boss” (God)! I needed more than just the theory and art of music; I needed inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

The piece uses the words of the distraught father from the Gospel of Mark 9:24, (using a plural version of his confession of faith: Help our unbelief). I guess this comes out of my own struggle sometimes to keep my faith and devotion strong. The text for the refrain fervently states what we “behold,” the Holy Body of Christ and the Sacred Blood of Christ, and ends with a prayer that with our “Amen” we will become what we receive. The verses are the lovely “Ave Verum Corpus” (Latin chant text with a new melody), as well as a set of English verses using Psalm 116.  

I was struggling a bit with the arrangement, and one day the inspiration came to superimpose the chant tune “Adoro Te Devote” over the melody of the refrain. It helped bring things together, along with many other ideas which I realize could have come only from the Holy Spirit!

Sr. Kathryn: Did “We Do Believe, O Lord” emerge in some way from your own experience?

Diane: For several years, I’ve personally meditated on the words of this desperate father from Mark’s Gospel—“I do believe, help my unbelief!”—and I always wanted to use them in a Communion song. In all truth, although I do believe in the “real presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist, my enthusiasm sometimes wanes. My vision is clouded by disillusionment or simply by distractions. When I was writing the musical piece, I felt quite certain that many people experience similar feelings of lukewarm faith or even serious doubt. This is what led me to make the choice to make the pronouns plural, “We do believe, O Lord, help our unbelief!” For me, this is a central part of the refrain, as well as the words, “May we all become what we receive.”

Hymnals in the back of a pew in a church

The Responsorial Psalm for Holy Thursday has always been very moving to me, so I included verses from Psalm 116, especially verse 12: “How shall I make a return to God for all the good done for me?” I feel this to the depths of my soul—I can’t begin to “repay” God for all the blessings I have received: the many blessings of family and friends and faith community, and the blessing of His presence with us, now and for eternity!

But there is another experience in my life that ties into submitting this song for the competition.

My husband and I cared for my mom in our home for nearly two years. Although it was a privilege to accompany her on this final journey, it also demanded most of our energy and time, and many things, including composing or arranging, were put on hold. She passed away in November of 2022, at the age of 104. When the news of this contest came to me in the beginning of 2023, I said to God that it was fine with me if I did not spend my time and energy in composing—I had plenty to do with grandchildren and music in the parish and community. But I was able to complete the work, and the piece was chosen, which says to me that I’m not finished with this creative endeavor! God still has plans for me in this area, even if I do struggle with the technology of the “Finale” program of notating music!

Sr. Kathryn: What advice would you give to younger musicians in the Church?

Diane: Musical talent is a wonderful, joyful gift from God, but also a responsibility. Developing your talent and skill and using it for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful is a great part of that responsibility. Ah! But the uplifting experience of singing and/or playing sacred music as the people of God join in full voice or the choir sings a prayer—what can compare? Dare to pursue your gift! You will not regret it! God will be with you!

Black-and-white image of a young and an elderly woman standing in church from the back

Sr. Kathryn: What was the first thing you thought when you found out you had won the contest for the theme song for the National Eucharistic Revival?

Diane: After being notified about my song being selected, I was stunned, and in disbelief. Tears of gratitude to God flowed for this astonishing honor! I remember calling my husband over: “Stan, read this! Is it for real?” Also, I pray that the song is worthy of this honor and will be an inspiration for many people. Only excellent sacred music will stand the test of time, be worthy of the liturgy, and speak to people’s hearts for years to come.    

Honestly, though, I truly feel like Mary: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” The song “We Do Believe, O Lord” is a gift, and I am humbled that it was chosen. May God bless and inspire all through the gift of music, and the marvelous gift of himself in the Eucharist!

Sr. Kathryn: Your song is going to be sung in parishes around the country and at the National Eucharistic Congress. That must be so exciting for you. What kind of spiritual fruits do you hope your song will contribute to cultivating in the Church?

Diane: My prayer is that the Holy Spirit may use this song to draw us closer to Jesus in the Eucharist, confirming our faith in his real presence with us, and helping us as his one Mystical Body, to “become what we receive.” Just imagine if we all were touched in a very deep place in our hearts and inspired to be transformed when we sang this song—what an amazing gift of grace that would be!

Enjoy a professional recording of the hymn and sheet music here!