With churches under lockdown and parishioners and clergy unable to gather in person, Catholics connecting online for prayer have begun to sing a new hymn of hope and trust in God, composed specifically for this time of pandemic.

The hymn, titled “Shelter Me,” is a paraphrase of Psalm 23 and the work of Father Michael Joncas, prominent and longtime American composer of liturgical music and well-known for the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings.”

Father Joncas, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said he was inspired to compose the hymn at 3 a.m. March 26, and the basic composition was finished by about 10 a.m.

The hymn’s first and third verses speak about past and future intimacy with God, while the second verse expresses the fear and anxiety that people are feeling as they experience danger, darkness, and lack of peace. The refrain, however, resounds with hope and trust that “all will be well” according to God’s loving mercy.

Cori Scotti, music minister in St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood, described the piece as a blessing, simple and beautiful, and Father Joncas as a wonderful “composer who really tells a story each and every time with each and every piece.”

Reflecting on Psalm 23, which speaks of the shepherd caring for the sheep, Scotti noted that the hymn speaks of how the shepherd and the sheep are coping with the pandemic together. The shepherds, she said, could be those providing care such as health care workers, those working on the front line, such as the police, priests serving in parishes, among others.

“[COVID-19] is teaching us that there is no discrimination or age or color or body type because we can all [contract] the coronavirus, whether you’re old, young, white or Latino, rich or poor,” she said.

Renee Hatzold, music minister in Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, who is very familiar with Father Joncas’ compositions and has heard him speak at workshops and conventions, also believes “Shelter Me” would be appropriate for Sunday liturgies, especially for Good Shepherd Sunday,” which this year is May 3. It’s a poignant piece whose words would “speak to the congregation,” she said. It speaks of “what a shepherd does, he shelters the sheep.”

Hatzold added that she can’t help but wonder what “it’s going to be like “when we do go back to our parishes” and the impact that the coronavirus will have on the celebration of the liturgy in the long run and of course, on the congregation.

“You wonder what it will be like,” she said. 

Father Joncas said he offered “Shelter Me” to one of his music publishers, GIA Inc. They rushed the score into production and uploaded it to their One License website by March 29, “with the understanding that people could download it and reproduce it for free for the next year,” he said.

He urged those who download the song to direct the cost of the license fee they normally would have paid “to groups (that) are offering physical, emotion and spiritual care in this time of crisis.”

The “Shelter Me” score is available at www.onelicense.net for free download until March 31, 2021, and the copyright notice must remain on the score.

At first, Mike Zorner, music minister in St. Anselm Parish, Tinton Falls, said he thought the composition of “Shelter Me” seemed “a little too simple” knowing the caliber of music that Father Joncas writes.

“However, after playing through the song and working with it a few times, I think that the beauty of the piece is in its simplicity.

“This is one of those times where the old phrase less is more definitely comes into play! I could hear in my head the typical beautiful harmonies that Father Joncas writes as I played through the piece,” said Zorner, adding that while almost every single Catholic composer has a setting of Psalm 23, this one is quite different.

“Father Joncas found a very creative way to play with the words of Psalm 23 and make them relevant for our current situation. Very few settings of Psalm 23 stand out of the pack, but this one definitely does!” Zorner said.

A version of the hymn can be heard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EbCgi_7gQs.

Laura Ieraci of Catholic News Service contributed to this report.