With churches under lockdown and parishioners and clergy unable to gather in person, Catholics connecting online for prayer have begun to sing a new hymn of hope and trust in God, composed specifically for this time of pandemic.
Rev. Michael Joncas, a prominent and longtime American composer of liturgical music, said the idea for the hymn woke him up at 3 a.m. March 26.
“I awoke with the germ of an idea for a prayer-song to respond to what many are feeling in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Father Joncas, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “The basic composition was finished by about 10 a.m.”
Father Joncas, well-known for the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings,” said his new composition, “Shelter Me,” is a paraphrase of the well-known Psalm 23.
“These are difficult times for all of us, individually and globally,” said Father Joncas in his composer’s note. “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as normal and called for acts of corporate and individual heroism in the face of present suffering and an uncertain future.
“People of faith may be struggling to articulate their belief in an all-good and all-powerful God in this new era,” he continued. “‘Shelter Me’ is my attempt as a church composer to find God’s presence even in these fraught times.”
The hymn’s first and third verses speak about past and future intimacy with God, while the second verse expresses the fear and anxiety that people are feeling as they experience danger, darkness, and lack of peace. The refrain, however, resounds with hope and trust that “all will be well” according to God’s loving mercy.
Father Joncas offered “Shelter Me” to one of his music publishers, GIA Inc. They rushed the score into production and uploaded it to their One License website by March 29, “with the understanding that people could download it and reproduce it for free for the next year,” he said in an interview for The Lay Centre, a non-profit organization in Rome.
He urged those who download the song to direct the cost of the license fee they normally would have paid “to groups (that) are offering physical, emotion and spiritual care in this time of crisis.”
“I hope that people will be able to sing the song with sincerity as a way of affirming their faith in God during these troubled times,” said Father Joncas, adding that a number of Catholics had already prayed with the hymn in virtual worship settings over Palm Sunday weekend.
The score to “Shelter Me” is available at www.onelicense.net for free download until March 31, 2021, and the copyright notice must remain on the score. The link is an alternative for a free download.
Here are the complete lyrics to “Shelter Me,” by Father Joncas:
1. Shepherd and sheep, my God and I/ to fresh green fields you led my steps in days gone by/ You gave me rest by quiet springs/ and filled my soul with peace your loving presence brings.
O shelter me, O shelter me/ The way ahead is dark and difficult to see/ O shelter me, O shelter me/ All will be well if only you will shelter me.
2. Yet now I tread a diff’rent way/ Death dogs my path with stealthy steps from day to day/ I cannot find your peaceful place/ But dwell in dreary darkness, longing for your face.
3. I will look back in days to come/ and realize your faithfulness has led me home/ Within your house I’ll find my peace/ trusting that in your mercy you have sheltered me.