Composing for a Church at Prayer

Few contemporary hymns have captured the public imagination as powerfully as On Eagle’s Wings, the hymn written in the 1970s which is now played at many Catholic and other Christian funerals.

President Joe Biden recited it in his presidential victory speech, noting the song was important to his family and his deceased son Beau.

The composer of On Eagle’s Wings and many other contemporary liturgical works Father Michael Joncas will share the thinking behind his music in a special online public lecture at Australian Catholic University in July.

Composing for a Church at Prayer will discuss how to include these contemporary compositions in Catholic liturgy, as well as giving audiences a sneak preview into a least one new composition.

The lecture is part of the work of ACU’s Centre for Liturgy, which recognises music as an essential element of prayer. ACU also offers a post-graduate unit in Liturgical Music, which is designed to provide resources for musicians, liturgists, clergy, teachers, pastoral associates, parishioners, members of Liturgy Committees and Commissions.

The Director of the ACU Centre for Liturgy Professor Clare Johnson said music was an integral and indispensable part of liturgy.

“Music is an enacted art form which is co-created by all who participate in its production. The co-creation of something beautiful to offer to God in worship makes liturgical music an unsurpassed art form in the Church.”

She said skilled composers in every generation could create new music which had a place in liturgy. “We are creative beings and the impulse to create beauty in praise of God will always mean new music is composed for use in liturgy by new generations.”

Professor Johnson said Father Joncas’s insights would be of value to anyone who was involved in preparing liturgy for Catholic schools or parishes, as well as students and academics involved in music, liturgy, and theology.

Father Joncas added he was personally inspired when hearing his music used by congregations with whom he has never had contact.

“Fundamentally, music, like spoken words, visual art and architecture, takes its place as one of the sign-systems that make up liturgical worship in this world of space and time. Since we believe that God communicates grace to human beings in sacramental worship by means of signs, symbols and sign-systems, composing for the Church's worship involves providing music that is a worthy vehicle for God's communication, draws believers together in a unity of mind, heart and voice.”

He said post-Vatican II music had changed because it could be sung in various vernaculars, employ a broader range of musical styles and a wider range of instruments. It was also more oriented towards congregational singing, not just choirs and cantors.

“Contemporary liturgical music attempts to fulfill the purpose of all sacred music -- the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful -- by using the resources of our contemporary cultures in addition to hallowing those of the past.”

Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs