Eucharistic Revival hymn contest winner aims to 'make the doctrine sing'
A Phoenix hymn writer who strives to "make the doctrine sing" will see one of her works featured at the 10th National Eucharistic Congress, which will take place July 17-21, 2024, in Indianapolis.
Kathleen Pluth won in the hymn category of the congress's songwriting competition with her original text, "Let the Earth Acclaim Christ Jesus." The lyrics are set to the familiar tune "Hyfrydol," composed in 1830 by Roland Prichard – a Welsh textile worker and amateur musician – and used in hymns such as "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" and "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus."
Fellow winner Diane Mahoney, a longtime pastoral musician from Burlington, Iowa, took the top prize in the competition's theme song category with her original composition "We Do Believe, O Lord."
Sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis, the first-ever Eucharistic Revival Musical Competition invited Catholic composers, poets and songwriters to submit entries for the chance to have their work featured at the congress and other Eucharistic Revival events. The gathering is expected to be a high point in the three-year National Eucharistic Revival, launched in June 2022 by the USCCB as a grassroots initiative to rekindle devotion to the Eucharist among U.S. Catholics.
Competition winners – who were selected from more than 250 entries – were evaluated on their entries' poetry, musicality, theological and doctrinal accuracy, and liturgical appropriateness. A panel of expert judges from Oregon Catholic Press, the Society for Catholic Liturgy, Source and Summit, the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, GIA Publications/World Library Publications and the National Association of Pastoral Musicians assessed the submissions. Father Dustin Dought, associate director of the USCCB's Secretariat of Divine Worship, served as the nonvoting chairperson of the committee of judges.
The awards include a $2,500 cash prize and the opportunity for Spanish translation of the works to make them more widely available for use in worship.
Pluth told OSV News she hoped her hymn would be "a kind of force for unity."
"There are always divisions in the Church, but around the Eucharist, we can all unite," she said. "I would hope this hymn is a help to unity."
Pluth's compositions appear in four hymnals, and two of her hymns will be featured at the August 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal. Pluth describes her work as a "mission" rather than a "career."
With advanced theological degrees from The Catholic University of America and the Dominican House of Studies, both in Washington, along with several years of experience as a pastoral music and choral director, Pluth is well-equipped for the task of making profound doctrinal truths roll off the tongue in song.
In her winning piece, she drew on the 1963 Second Vatican Council document "Sacrosanctum Concilium," which (along with the conciliar document "Lumen Gentium") describes the Eucharist as the "source and summit" of the Catholic Church. Pluth also drew on chapter 6 of the Gospel of John for the lyrics. In previous compositions, she has sought inspiration from the Council of Chalcedon and Church teaching on the Immaculate Conception.
"That's the role of the hymn writer … to take the doctrine and make it sing," she said. "My patron in hymn writing, since I began, has been (fourth-century hymnist) St. Ephrem the Syrian, and that is what he did."
Pluth also keeps her ears – and eyes – open to hymnody that resonates with modern-day Catholics. She selected the "Hyfrydol" tune for her entry after observing how youth reacted to it.
"When I taught children to sing, they would dance to it," she said, adding she had seen young people attending a pro-life Mass in Washington quickly take to the melody.
"It's a very engaging tune, very familiar, with a nice waltz feel," said Pluth.
Whether they compose music, lyrics or both, hymn writers "provide nourishment" to the faithful, she said.
"We can't give them the theological virtues or the sacraments; those come from God," she said. "But music ministers have a role to play as far as the dispositions (to receive grace) go."
That task includes balancing a desire to make liturgical music "accessible, clear and understandable" while encouraging "engagement … by raising the bar just a bit," Pluth said.
When hearing her hymns at Mass, she "looks around to see who's engaged," she said.
And as for Jesus, "I hope he's smiling," Pluth said.
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.