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History of Hymns: “Spirit Sends Us"compels singers to live out gospel

by Kyle Miller

“The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve”
Delores Dufner
The Faith We Sing, No. 2241

Delores Dufner

The Spirit sends us forth to serve;
We go in Jesus’ name
To bring glad tidings to the poor,
God’s favor to proclaim.*


“Let us bring to life and liturgy the gifts that differ . . . for the building up of our sisters and brothers into the one Body of Christ,” proclaims Delores Dufner in her introduction to her hymn collection, Sing a New Church. She actively motivates us in this collection to “Sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and praise.” 

Sister Dufner (b. 1939), a member of St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn., has published over 155 hymns in her lifetime, much to the acclaim of Alan Hommerding who named her the foremost female Roman Catholic hymn text writer in the United States in the October 2000 issue of the journal, The Hymn

Sr. Dufner holds master’s degrees in liturgical music and liturgical studies and is a very active member of her monastery as well as the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn. She has received several awards throughout her lifetime for her contributions to liturgy and music following Vatican II (1962-1965), from institutions such as St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and the University of Notre Dame. 

Her work has taken her to various conventions, hymn festivals and meetings throughout the United States and the world. Music consultant work has even taken her on a 15-month journey to the Diocese of Ballarat, Victoria in Australia. Several of her texts have appeared in anthems, cantatas and even an opera/oratorio by prolific contemporary composers. One of her most famous texts is “Sing a New Church,” commissioned for the 1991 convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. 

Her hymnody is derived from her experiences of the Roman Catholic Church during Vatican II along with her involvement with liturgy and music. Sr. Dufner writes texts that function within Catholic liturgy, as well as texts which speak centrally from the Word of God. 

It was her realization that the Catholic Church was in need of English texts after the Vatican II reforms which challenged her to follow in the ways of Martin Luther. She began her hymn writing by creating texts for specific public domain tunes, free of copyright restrictions.
Her texts challenge congregations to keep the church progressing into the future and have earned her a respected presence in hymnals of several denominations throughout the world. Sr. Dufner is also known for her award-winning hymn texts centered on the Virgin Mary and her passion to speak out about women’s rights and injustices. 

“The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve,” based on Isaiah 61:1-4 and Luke 4:16-22, highlights our Christian mission here on Earth by challenging readers to live out the gospel. Sr. Dufner’s modern English writing style is simple and dynamic, calling the assembly into vibrant prayer and action. 

This hymn flourishes with action verbs: bring, comfort, help, serve. Sr. Dufner cleverly reiterates the first stanza through the last stanza, as she sends the congregation forth in Jesus’ name through the working of the Holy Spirit. 

Her texts are often paired with familiar hymn tunes, for practical purposes and to remind us as citizens of the world of our rich ecumenical heritage shared between all. We sing tunes from the past to connect us with our past, and by pairing a fresh text with a durable and loved tune, we bridge the gaps between the past and present and become active witnesses to our evolving faith and church. 

Sr. Dufner suggests the familiar Common Meter tunes AZMON or ST. ANNE for “The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve.” But in The Faith We Sing, it is published with the lighthearted tune LAND OF REST, also familiar to many congregations. 

LAND OF REST is an American folk tune with ballad roots from Northern England and Scotland. It is traced back to The Christian’s Harp, published in 1832, and has associations with the Appalachians as a shape note tune. Previously assigned the title NEW PROSPECT in the 1844 edition of The Sacred Harp, it was named LAND OF REST for its pairing with the hymn, “O Land of Rest! For Thee I Sigh.” Annabel Morris Buchanan is responsible for the common harmonization of this tune, as she published it in her 1938 Folk Hymns of America.

* © 1993 Delores Dufner. Administered by OCP Publications. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mr. Miller is a student of C. Michael Hawn and a candidate for the master of sacred music degree at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns