"Cantemos al Señor"
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 149
Let's sing unto the Lord
a hymn of glad rejoicing.
Let's sing a hymn of love,
at the new day's fresh beginning.
God made the sky above,
the stars, the sun, the oceans;
and God saw it was good,
for those works were filled with beauty.*
One of the most widely sung bilingual hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal is Carlos Rosas' "Cantemos al Señor" ("Let's sing unto the Lord").
The hymn captures the spirit of Psalm 19:1 -- "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork" -- and also demonstrates the strong relationship of Latino cultures with nature.
Carlos Rosas was born in 1939 in Linares, Nuevo León, Mexico. He attended the Seminario Arquidiocesano de Monterrey, Mexico (1951-1958); Instituto de Liturgia, Musica y Arte Cardenal Dario Miranda, Mexico City; San Antonio College, San Antonio, Texas; and the Mexican Cultural Affairs Center in San Antonio.
Mr. Rosas served for many years beginning in 1970 as the music director and coordinator of liturgy for the San Juan de los Lagos parish, San Antonio. He now lives in retirement in San Antonio with his wife, María Teresa.
Among his many activities, Mr. Rosas directed choirs in Mexico and Texas and was the liturgy coordinator for the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio (1976-1980). He has written much on liturgical music and composed extensively for the Catholic Church, and he is considered a pioneer in using the musical style and popular rhythms of Mexican music in his compositions.
Mr. Rosas' extensive training in both liturgy and music has led to the composition of music that is thoroughly integrated into worship following the models expressed in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). He says biblical reflection and liturgical celebration go together, "feeding and enhancing one another."
The popular hymn, "Cantemos al Señor," was composed as a joyful entrance hymn for his Rosas del Tepeyac ("Roses of Tepeyac"), a setting of the Mass composed in 1976. Tepeyac is the hill where Juan Diego (now a saint) is said to have had his vision of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, in December 1531. The Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City was constructed on this site.
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe carries special significance because she appeared to a poor indigenous Mexican rather than to a person of power. The authorities would not believe Diego's vision until he returned the third time with a bundle of roses (a flower that did not grow in that region at that time of the year) and the imprint of the Virgin on his cloak. That she had facial characteristics and skin color similar to the indigenous people was seen as a special manifestation.
Mr. Rosas chose to honor this event, celebrated annually on Dec. 12, with his mass Rosas del Tepeyac. "Cantemos al Señor," with its celebration of God through nature, follows obviously from the story of Juan Diego, who is said to have seen the Virgin three times in a natural setting on (what was then) the remote hill of Tepeyac.
This hymn first appeared in Celebremos, Segunda Parte (1983) in an English translation. Raquel Mora Martínez, the editor of the United Methodist Spanish-language hymnal, Mil Voces para Celebrar (1996), provided the musical accompaniment.
Roberto Escamilla, who helped with the English translation, commented recently on the effectiveness of this hymn: "The hymn is gaining in popularity among English-speaking congregations because the Spanish words are relatively easy to pronounce (even though most congregations sing the English only).
"Secondly, the musical arrangement written by Raquel Mora Martínez has such vigor and dynamic power that the singing becomes an enjoyable experience of rejoicing in God's marvelous creation.
"Thirdly, it is truly an ecumenical hymn that integrates the rich traditions of the Post-Vatican Catholic Church with our rich Protestant tradition of great congregational singing."
*Translation by Roberto Escamilla, Elsie S. Eslinger and George Lockwood (c) 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House (Administered by The Copyright Company, Nashville, Tenn.) All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.