History of Hymns: “Blest Are They”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Blest Are They"
David Haas
The Faith We Sing, No. 2155

David Haas

“Blest are they, the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blest are they, full of sorrow;
they shall be consoled.
Rejoice and be glad!
Blessed are you, holy are you.
Rejoice and be glad!
Yours is the kingdom of God.”*


Before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), guidelines for Roman Catholic music had suggested that medieval plainsong and Renaissance motets were, for the most part, the most desirable musical models for the liturgy. After Vatican II, musical styles for worship increased exponentially, including indigenous music from around the world and an array of musical genres in the U.S. 

The 1960s was the era of protest folksongs. While lacking the sophistication of earlier musical styles and often considered inappropriate music for supporting the Paschal mystery of the Mass, the music was simple, accessible and singable. 

Catholic composers in the following decades sought to maintain the accessible and singable qualities of the folk idiom, yet wanted to compose in ways that integrated the song more successfully with the Catholic liturgical expectations. 

David Haas (b. 1958) is one of the most prominent Catholic composers since the mid-1980s. His songs are musically engaging, appropriate to the spirit of the Mass and accessible to congregations. Protestants as well as Catholics are beneficiaries of his creativity and devotion to liturgical music. 

Born in Saginaw, Mich., Mr. Haas lives in Eagan, Minn., and directs the Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry. He also serves as the campus minister and artist-in-residence for Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, Minn., where he also teaches theology and music. 

Mr. Haas studied vocal music performance, piano and conducting at Central Michigan University, completing his studies in music performance, liturgy and theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He has served as director of music at parishes in Iowa and Minnesota, and presently is an active member of St. Cecilia Church in St. Paul, Minn. 

He gained an international reputation as a composer and clinician while an adjunct instructor and composer-in-residence at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity from 1985-1988. Mr. Haas was also known for his seminars on the implementation of the then-new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), one of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. 

He is one of three liturgical composers who formed what was informally called the “Minnesota School” of liturgical composition, all graduating from the University of St. Thomas. According to the Web site for GIA Music, one of his publishers, Mr. Haas, Michael Joncas and Marty Haugen produced “some of the most popular and effective music for the Church’s worship that has appeared in the days following the Second Vatican Council.” 

“Blest Are They” (1985) appears in recent Catholic and Protestant hymnals and is one of the composer’s best-known songs. A paraphrase of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:3-16, the hymn maintains the two-part structure of Scripture in each blessing in the stanzas—“Blest are they, the poor in spirit; theirs in the kingdom of God”—each of which is followed by an uplifting refrain, “Rejoice and be glad!” 

Mr. Haas is an advocate for expanding the role of young people in the life and liturgy of the church. He is the founder and executive director of Music Ministry Alive!, a liturgical music formation curriculum that has influenced hundreds of high school and college young people. 

He is the author of more than 20 books ranging from liturgical music and liturgy to youth ministry and spirituality. One of his recordings, I Shall See God, was nominated in 1991 for a Grammy Award, and his book, The Ministry and Mission of Sung Prayer, received the Outstanding Professional Book Award in 2003 from the Catholic Press Association. 

In 2004, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians named him the Pastoral Musician of the Year.
 

*© 1985 GIA Publications, Inc. www.giamusic.com. Used by permission. 

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns

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