Songs of gratitude enhance thanksgiving at Mass
Can we ever thank God enough?
That’s a question Dr. Kevin Parizo, organist and director of music at the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Middlebury, asks.
He uses hymns of gratitude throughout the liturgical year — sometimes as entrance, offertory, or recessional hymns. “We express our thanks to God in several locations through the rubrics of the Mass — like the Preface and dismissal Rite. Therefore, why shouldn’t we sing hymns that musically reflect that same gratitude? Can we ever thank Almighty God enough?”
Don McMahon, organist and director of music at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington, uses hymns of thanksgiving often, particularly during Ordinary Time. “Whether or not the hymn contains the word ‘thanks,’ almost every hymn is a hymn of thanksgiving,” he said.
Among his favorites are “All Praise and Glad Thanksgiving” and “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.”
The former speaks of eternity, adoration, the Trinity, gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Lord as mighty and saving God. It is based on an early 19th-century hymn from Germany, “Gott Vater Sei Gepriesen,” which means “God Father, be praised,” he explained.
The hymn is also one of the first hymns he heard at Mass during his early childhood, and it captured his fascination with the large pipe organ on which it was played.
“Come, Ye Thankful People Come,” is set to a driving and robust tune, one that is plentiful with strong and exciting rhythms. “You just feel implored to sing along with enthusiasm and vigor,” he said, noting it is a popular hymn for ecumenical worship gatherings, particularly at Thanksgiving.
Some of the favorite hymns of Madeleine Roy, director of music ministry and choir director at Conversion of St. Paul Church in Barton, a part of Most Holy Trinity Parish, are “Sing to the Mountains,” “O Beauty, Ever Ancient,” For the Beauty of the Earth” and “All in the Name of Jesus.”
She explained: “Sing to the Mountains” is a lively number that just makes everyone smile and want to join in. The first verse, “I will give thanks to you, my Lord. You have answered my plea. …” speaks volumes of thanksgiving. … “O Beauty, Ever Ancient,” has that underlying theme of thanksgiving by St. Augustine. … The refrain says it all: “O Beauty, ever ancient, O Beauty, ever new: you, the mirror of my life renewed, let me find my life in you!”
She continued, “For the Beauty of the Earth” encapsulates all for which we should be thankful: the Earth, the heavens, the love around us, peace and God’s love for all of us. “All in the Name of Jesus” doesn’t specifically mention thanksgiving or gratitude, but talks about all those things that we experience and are thankful for, all in the name of Jesus: truth, beauty, happiness, health, heaven, peace, rest, joy gladness, forgiveness and life everlasting. It’s a beautiful piece of music that makes me feel peaceful every time I hear it.
Some of Parizo’s favorites are “Now Thank We All Our God,” “Come Ye Thankful People Come,” “For The Beauty of The Earth,” “For The Fruits of This Creation,” “Let All Things Now Living,” “What Gift Can We Bring,” “Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing,” “Sing To The Mountains,” “All The Earth” and “Father We Thank You.”
He likes them because they each express gratitude to God for everything and because musically many are “exceptionally fine” hymn tunes.
Music (hymns and religious compositions) has the ability “to reach into the person where spoken words do not always register because music is emotion,” he continued. “Musical emotion is different for each individual but universally conveys something to everyone.”
All three musicians agree that hymns of thanksgiving are important to the celebration of the Eucharist. “They express, in song, our thanks for all God does for us,” Parizo said. “Simply put, gratitude is at the heart of everything we are, and we must remember where gratitude began — with almighty God — therefore our lives should center around Deo gratias (thanks be to God).”
McMahon said words of thanksgiving are expressions of humility: “They resonate more strongly and have fuller meaning when they are sung.”
“The Mass itself is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Giving thanks to God every time we attend Mass is the reason we are there,” Roy said. “Voicing that gratitude in song makes it even more meaningful.”
—Originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.