by Matthew Baute
Michael Joncas is probably best known for one song, and I have a sneaking suspicion that you know it well: everyone’s favorite funeral hymn,“On Eagle’s Wings”. This notoriety belies the depth of scholarship and volume of quality liturgical composition that Joncas has contributed to the Catholic Church over the past 30 years, and we are richer for it. In addition to being a composer, Joncas is also a noted author, speaker, and professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN.
Joncas’ latest release of liturgical music, O God of Past and Present (published by OCP), is a good example of the depth of theological and musical thought that goes into his work. There is much to be pondered in this collection—plenty of food for thought that will help those singing this music and those listening to the CD know and experience their Catholic faith on a deeper level. I happily received a packet of choral octavos in addition to the CD, and the tracks are made richer by the composer’s notes at the end of the octavos. There are frequent references to the writings of Pope Benedict and to other official documents of the Church, along with suggestions of how these hymns might best be used at Mass.
This CD is refreshing because Joncas himself does not appear on the recording at all—the compositions themselves are what are important here. Nevertheless, they are executed beautifully by a skilled choir and instrumental ensemble. It’s a given that choir directors far and wide will appreciate this CD. However, the casual listener will also be uplifted by this sacred music. This collection goes a long way towards building a bridge of continuity between the musical treasures of our Church and new compositions, as called for by Vatican II. Joncas reaches back in creative ways, using a few Latin texts and creating new choral settings based on Gregorian chant, at times intermixed with English words. In addition to his own texts, Joncas employs a variety of sources, including two poems by Sr. Genevieve Glen, OSB, a talented hymn-writer from the Abbey of St. Walburga in Virginia Dale, CO.
All of the tracks on O God of Past and Present are sublime, pointing to the mystery and beauty of the One we come to worship at Mass. This is lasting music that will stand the test of time. May Michael Joncas’ latest work inspire composers to reach higher in their art. May it inspire listeners to connect with the God of love who has come to set us free.
You can purchase O God of Past and Present at http://www.ocp.org/products/20612.