From Religion Unplugged:
Rae Whitney has written more than 500 hymns in her 94 years, songs full of praise and declarations of faith that make them perennial favorites in Episcopal, Presbyterian and Baptist hymnals.
But once in a while, something happens that demands a specific response and she creates a hymn she knows will have a short shelf-life.
“I don’t know if these hymns will last,” Whitney said from her home in Western Nebraska. “These are hymns of the moment.”
Last year, she wrote “A Tiny Thing We Cannot See” for a very specific moment — the COVID-19 pandemic:
“A tiny thing we cannot see
or taste or feel or hear,
has shut down nearly half our world
and brought distress and fear.
We’ve read about the plagues of old:
now a virus gone astray
has caused much sickness, death and grief,
with new reports each day.”
The pandemic has prompted composers to create new sacred music of all kinds — hymns, liturgical music, prayers, praise music and more. These are not limited to one religion, but have cropped up in Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant circles.
And they span the globe, leaping cultural and language barriers via social media and the internet:
• In Japan, a Buddhist priest named Chiba Kenjō from the Rinzai Zen tradition collaborated with electronic musicians to create a piece of sacred music titled “Repel” intended to ritually ward off the coronavirus.
• In India, a group of Hindu women gathered to sing an “aarti,” a form of sung worship, with a chorus of “coronavirus go away.”
• In England and Scotland, the Methodist Church is linking home worshippers to newly-written COVID hymns, including “When We Face an Unknown Future” by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.
These “COVID hymns” are an attempt to cope with uncertain times and express that which may be too painful or difficult to express in plain words.
Meanwhile, The Hymn Society has compiled a list of hymns composed about the pandemic, and I was struck by this one, which is explicitly Catholic.
It’s called “Hear, Holy Mother,” and was written by Anna Bendiksen, a parishioner of the Parish of Saint Catherine of Siena, in Trumbull, CT, in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
The text is set to the hymn tune CHRISTE SANCTORUM.
The hymn alludes to the passage in the Book of Revelation which speaks of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1). The Latin word for “crown” being “corona,” this prayer, set to music, invokes the one who wears the “corona” of twelve stars to intercede for all who are affected by the pandemic, and to bring a swift end to it.
Anna Bendiksen and the Parish of St. Catherine of Siena very willingly give permission to any parish or community who would like to use this hymn for prayer or worship. Anna Bendiksen (c) 2020 Dr. William H. Atwood, Organ Kristen Smith Gionfriddo, Soprano.
Hear, Holy Mother,
Queen of earth and Heaven,
Refuge of sinners, H
ealth of all who suffer,
Hear how your children,
seeking Thy protection,
Pray for our nation.
We poorest sinners,
Know our undeserving,
Yet we implore Thee,
Hear now our petition:
Grant us, Thy people,
Life and hope and healing,
Hear us, we pray Thee.
Bore the One anointed,
Our Savior, Jesus,
by whose Cross most holy Death, sin and evil
Shrink and are defeated;
O glorious mystery.
Thou, Lady Wisdom,
Wearest twelve stars blazing;
How Thy corona Shines above all others!
Suns, moons, and planets
Bow in happy concord,
All to Thy praises.
Therefore, dear Mother,
We commit our nation
To Thy protection
Now and forever,
That we may serve Thee
With the saints rejoicing
Here and in Heaven.
You can hear it below.