History of Hymns: 'Gracias, Señor'
By Victoria Schwarz and Wilson Pruitt
“Gracias, Señor” (“My Gratitude, Now Accept, O God”)
by Rafael Montalvo, trans. by Raquel Mora Martínez
The Faith We Sing, 2044.
My gratitude now accept, O God,
For tender care that you provide;
For your abundant faithfulness,
Endless is your supply.
From all your bounty I give to you;
For all the blessings you impart.
Receive this offering I bring.
Receive my joyful heart.*
*Trans. © 1999 Abingdon Press. Admin. by The Copyright Co., Nashville, TN. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Referencing “pray without ceasing” (NRSV), John Wesley wrote in his notes on 1 Thessalonians 5:17:
Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. He that always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. [The Christian] blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from [God], and receives them for [God’s] sake—not choosing nor refusing, liking or disliking anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to [God’s] perfect will. (Wesley, “Notes on 1 Thessalonians 5,” n.d.)
This gentle hymn, “Gracias, Señor” (© 1993), by Rafael Montalvo (b. 1957) is an example of a text and melody illuminating the interconnectivity between prayer and thanksgiving, even as it moves into expressing gratefulness through offering gifts back to God. The Worship Planner Edition of The Faith We Sing offers these words concerning the hymn: “This song of thankfulness acknowledges that everything belongs to God and that from God’s merciful hand flow all blessings for God’s people” (Hook and Hickman, 2000, 76). This text pairs well with the scripture reading of Psalm 107:21–22:
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. (NRSV)
The hymn describes clearly how being thankful means providing an active response to the grace and mercy of God; we do not give thanks simply as a passive acknowledgment of God’s actions in our lives. Instead, through this hymn of joy, we bring our love and praise in the act of singing to God. We are challenged to worship God “with every breath,” and we do this in communion with other members of the body of Christ as we sing together. The hymn moves from describing what God has done for us to describing what we hope to give back to God. The final stanza focuses on the sovereignty of God over all creation and how all of who we are fits into God’s care, ending with a return to God “gifts from the heart” in worship and praise and thanksgiving.
Montalvo, a pastor in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, composed the hymn in 1993. Raquel Mora Martínez (b. 1940), a prolific composer and arranger of numerous Hispanic songs and hymns, translated the text for the publication of Mil Voces para Celebrar: Himnario Metodista (1996). Later, this hymn also appeared in The Faith We Sing (2000).
Montalvo’s tune is fittingly named OFRENDA (“offering”) and is beautifully suited to accompany the text in its simplicity and clarity. The first two phrases begin the hymn by descending stepwise, reminding one of bowing in prayer as the singer sings, “My gratitude, now accept, O God.” The third phrase ascends, lifting the singer for the words “abundant faithfulness,” and the final phrase hovers over the supertonic pitch (the second degree of the scale) as it ends on the dominant chord to lead directly into the next stanza, therefore embodying the nature of the word “endless.”
Written in triple meter with the accompanying figure highlighting beat 2, the music has a light dance character. Martínez agrees but cautions a slower dance feel following the recommended dotted quarter of 46 bpm: “This is a tender song—a prayer from the heart. Don’t sing too fast. Be sure to enjoy the words and let the words speak from the heart as you are singing” (Martinez interview, 2016). For performance, she proposes that a soft piano or organ with non-percussive light instrumentation, such as violin, would be appropriate.
This hymn offers great flexibility for use in worship. The most common practice in Spanish-language services is to sing the second stanza during the offertory, but it has also been identified as a hymn for use on the themes of adoration, abundance, blessing, commitment, discipleship, faithfulness, generosity, God’s faithfulness, God’s generosity, praise, stewardship, thanksgiving, the glory of the Triune God, and worship (Community of Christ, n.d.). The Worship Planner Edition of The Faith We Sing particularly highlights the appropriateness of this hymn for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) Sunday in March, Stewardship Sunday, and the celebration of Thanksgiving (Hook and Hickman, 2000, 77).
Community of Christ Hymn Stories, p. 89, http://www.cofchrist.org/common/cms/resources/Documents/CCS-Hymn-Stories.pdf (accessed November 17, 2020).
Anne Burnette Hook and Hoyt L. Hickman, eds., The Faith We Sing Worship Planner (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000).
Raquel Mora Martinez,. Informal interview with Victoria Schwarz. Phone conversation, Austin, September 2, 2016.
John Wesley, “Notes on 1 Thessalonians 5,” Bible Study Tools: https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/1-thessalonians/1-thessalonians-5.html (accessed November 17, 2020). Also in John Wesley’s Notes on the Entire Bible (Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2010), Kindle.
Victoria Schwarz is a provisional deacon in the Rio Texas Conference and Minister of Music at Berkeley United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. She is active in the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts.
Rev. Wilson Pruitt is the pastor of Berkeley United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Duke Divinity School, Rev. Pruitt is passionate about the theological and formational aspects of hymns at the intersection of faith and practice in the liturgy of the church.
This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. For more information about The Fellowship, visit https://www.umfellowship.org/.