Friday, May 28, 2010

Doxology: All Hail, Adored Trinity

There are a lot of paradoxes involved with the “Doxology” track on my recent album of the same name. The word itself derives from the Greek “doxa” (glory) and “logos” (word) and has come to mean a “short hymn of praise.” In Christian worship, doxology can refer to at least three things:

  • Gloria Patri: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit . . .”
    In addition to being one of the three most common Catholic prayers (along with the Our Father and the Hail Mary), the Gloria Patri is prayed as the conclusion of each psalm and canticle during the Liturgy of the Hours.

  • Eucharistic Doxology: “Through him, with him, and in him . . .”
    This is the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass, right before the Lord’s Prayer.

  • “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow”
    This short hymn of praise is sung as the concluding prayer in many Protestant services and may very well be the most popular English Christian hymn of all time:

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him, all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

When I was gathering ideas for my latest album I was inspired to focus on the Most Holy Trinity. Strangely, even though the Trinity is the central tenet of Christian belief, we just aren’t singing in praise of Father, Son and Holy Spirit at Mass as often as we should. The Trinity is invoked in spoken prayer at least nine times during the liturgy. So why aren’t we reinforcing that in our sung prayer?

Part of the problem is the current trend in liturgy planning for theme compartmentalization: We sing Trinity hymns only on Trinity Sunday, Marian hymns only on feast days of Mary, etc. On the Doxology collection, I wanted to offer more Trinity hymns that could be sung throughout the year.

As the years have gone by, I have grown to realize how important it is to balance contemporary songs with traditional hymnody at liturgy. Doxology offers both, sometimes with a creative breaking down of the barriers. In this spirit, I needed to offer a new arrangement for the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” from which I derived my album’s title. While doing research on this grand traditional hymn, I uncovered some interesting facts.

The hymn now known as “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” was composed in 1674 by Thomas Ken, an Anglican priest. His words were eventually joined to the hymn tune known as “Old Hundredth,” which was originally a song of praise based on Psalm 100. This powerful and irresistible combination of words and melody quickly became the cornerstone of Protestant worship.

But there is a Catholic hymn known as “All Hail, Adored Trinity” that was first sung in the 11th century in Latin under the title “Ave! Colenda Trinitas.” It had an entirely different melody than “Old Hundredth,” and yet the English translation by John Chandler fits perfectly with the Protestant melody. It is unclear whether Chandler intended this in his 1857 translation. In the 1960s, Catholic hymn publishers, buoyed by the ecumenical spirit of the Second Vatican Council, started publishing “All Hail, Adored Trinity” with the Protestant melody and even included “Praise God” as the final verse.

I love the inspired paradox in this song. Protestants call the hymn “Doxology,” a word that has different meanings for different Christian denominations. Catholics now sing their own version of the song with the Protestant melody. And on my album I arranged the song in a way that merges contemporary with traditional: It starts out in a light gospel feel with piano, guitar, bass and drums, and climaxes with brass, full SATB choir, and cathedral pipe organ!

In a way, this hymn is an embodiment of what the Catholic Church teaches about the sacrament of Baptism:
The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of St. Peter. Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church #838

In other words, the Catholic Church recognizes as valid the baptism of those baptized in non-Catholic Christian communities who use the Trinitarian formula: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This becomes powerfully evident at the Easter Vigil, when many RCIA candidates profess their faith and are not “re-baptized” since their baptism in a Protestant community is indeed a valid sacrament. Such is the unifying power of the Most Holy Trinity!

May the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit inspire us to reflect their divine love in our families, our relationships, and in our continuing efforts for Christian unity.
O Trinity! O Unity!
Be present as we worship thee;
And with the songs that angels sing,
Unite the hymns of praise we sing.

Listen to Doxology on

Downloadable Octavo

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

O Spirit of the Living Lord

As a composer, I love to create lyrics that will hopefully lead the listener or singer to a deeper connection with God. I prefer to work with the inspired word of scripture, the official text of the liturgy or, sometimes, from the experience of my own spiritual journey. Occasionally, I will look to other poets or lyricists for inspiration.

Benedictine Sister Genevieve Glen is a fine example of inspiration, a liturgical poet of the highest quality. Her dedication to God, to her community and to the liturgy is exemplary, and this love shines through in her graceful and grace-filled hymn texts that are published in several award-winning books.

As I was preparing for my Doxology album, I was trying to come up with song texts that would honor the Most Holy Trinity, as a whole and as the individual Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was a somewhat daunting task. What could I contribute that hasn’t already been said before? There are already several hymns about the gifts of the Spirit, or about the power of the Spirit, or about the Pentecost event. What I was looking for was a way to sing about the Spirit’s gift of peace.

My piano has a long angled “desk” that allows me to write on manuscript paper as I compose or arrange. In the pre-Doxology days, this desk was piled on high with scribbled and crumpled notepaper, old hymnals, and several different translations of the Bible. One book caught my attention: Sister Genevieve’s hymn-text book, Take With You Words. I flipped through it and was immediately taken by one of Sister’s sacred poems.

O Spirit of the living Lord,
You blow across the waiting world;
You cleanse and heal earth’s wounded face
with balm poured from the cross of grace. . .

Such simple yet powerful imagery! I took that text and tried several different approaches, realizing that I needed to compose a melody that would convey the gentle spirit of both the text and the lyricist. I opted to forego a contemporary style and composed something more traditional and choral. Above all, the melody had to be as simple and as moving as the text.

My reputation as a contemporary composer sometimes masks my love for the traditional sacred music of the Church. After all, I grew up with Gregorian chant and sang choral hymnody in the choirs of my youth. This hymn has a traditional feel, but the piano chording lends a contemporary air. On the recording you will hear the flute playing a bit of “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” during the instrumental break, another nod to my love for ancient chant.

In the studio we were blessed to have as our lead singer Jenny Pixler, who is herself a gentle soul gifted with the voice of an angel. Everything just came together beautifully for this hymn. We sang “O Spirit of the Living Lord” at my parish for Ascension Sunday and for Pentecost and the biggest thrill of all, for me, was to hear my parish friends sing these inspired words at liturgy. Thank you, Sister Genevieve. And thank you, Holy Spirit.

Listen to O Spirit of the Living Lord on