Boy, these songs bring me back to my youth.
Long before “guitar Masses” were a certifiable thing, and a staple in every suburban parish in the U.S., Ray Repp was composing Catholic music with a different sound, for different voices and a different kind of liturgy:
Ray Repp, the liturgical musician who spearheaded the concept of the folk group-led “guitar Mass” with his “Mass for Young Americans,” died April 26 in Palm Springs, California, of complications from cancer. He was 77.
Repp’s first songs, issued in the years following the Second Vatican Council, were staples in thousands of parishes for decades afterward. Some of his best-known songs, more than a half-century after they were penned, include “Allelu!”, “Peace, My Friends,” “I Am the Resurrection” and “Hear, O Lord.” His song “Wake Up My People” was sung during a demonstration chronicled by author Jonathan Harr in his 1995 book “A Civil Action,” later made into a movie starring John Travolta.
Born in 1942 in St. Louis, Repp was a seminarian when he wrote “Mass for Young Americans.” Recorded in 1965, it set the tone for a new form of liturgical expression for a church that had just started celebrating Mass in the vernacular less than a year earlier. His works reportedly sold millions of copies and were translated in 28 languages. His composition “Into Your Hands” is popular at Spanish Masses as “Entre Tus Manos.”
Repp, who left the seminary prior to ordination, said later that demand for his music paradoxically increased after dozens of bishops across the United States banned the use of guitars at Mass. Ten years after “Mass for Young Americans,” there were about three dozen composers working in the contemporary liturgical idiom; by 2006, estimated Jesuit Father John Foley – one of the “St. Louis Jesuits” – at the time, about 175 were actively writing music for the church in that genre.
At concerts in the 1980s, Repp would say he was teaching a fourth grade religious education class when he realized he had nothing prepared one Sunday. So he took his guitar with him and worked with the children to write, on the spot, “Here We Are.”
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.