In spring semester of 2011 it was my honor and privilege to guide a St. Thomas liturgical music major, Mark J. Thomas, through an independent study on Catholichymns and hymn writers. Exploring chronologically, we learned about the lives and works of a variety of Catholic poets, from Ambrose, Prudentius and Fortunatus, throughThomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi, to Federick Faber and Gerard Manley Hopkins. We also studied some non-Catholic hymnwriters’ works (e.g., Luther, Watts, the Wesleys) to gain a sense of contrast.
The final project of the course was the creation of a new hymn text to be sung at the Baccalaureate Mass for spring semester 2011. Using the mission statement of theUniversity of St. Thomas as a starting point, Mark eventually crafted a five-stanza hymn acknowledging the ritual setting of a rite of passage at the conclusion of undergraduate study (stanza one); articulating the values of moral responsibility (stanza two), critical thinking (stanza three), wise actions, skillful work and the advancement of the common good (stanza four), concluding with praise and thanksgiving to the God who has shaped the St. Thomas undergraduate experience (stanza five). Mark acknowledges the influence of John Henry Newman on his text writing, especially the famous “Lead Kindly Light.” I find something of Newman’s own theological profundity wrapped in accessible lyrics in the stanzas Mark has crafted.
I hope that this hymn text will continue to grace graduations at the University of St. Thomas for years to come. In my opinion it is a wonderful example of what we hopeCatholic Studies can inspire in students: an understanding of and reverence for past monuments of the Catholic heritage joined to the desire and skill to produce new artifacts for the glory of God and the sanctification of God’s people.
your Word still sounds beyond each passing phrase.
1. Sent forth in faith we pace the human journey,pilgrims unsure of where our road may lead.We bring our dreams, our hopes, our lives still formingto gather here and map the road ahead.We praise you, God, companion on the journey:help us to know we do not walk alone.2. When on our way this world seeks to divide usand paths diverge when sight and compass blur,then help us heed the one divine direction;our steps retrace to learn where we have strayed.We choose you, God, in ev’ry rightful action:show us the way that leads the wand’ring home.3. Wisdom profound, you give us life as lesson;so on our way we learn to live your truth.While countless tongues profess their counter-culturesyour Word still sounds beyond each passing phrase.We know you, God, as Truth transcending ages:teach us to hear and share what you reveal.4. When in our fields we reach a time of harvest,and turn our hands from reaping now to givehelp us to serve as Christ who lives as servant,who gives himself in unrelenting love.We find you, God, in actions charged with mercy:charge us in turn to bear the common good.5. Though eyes look back, our hearts move ever forwardto greet new days and honor times now past.We thank you, God, for roads already takenand moments blest when once our paths converged.We praise you, God, who gives us this day’s blessingsand walks with us from age to age. Amen.
Mark J. Thomas, 2011 Suggested Hymn Tune: FINLANDIA
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