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The most beautiful hymn is sung on Good Friday

J-P Mauro - published on 03/30/18

Behold the wood of the cross, on which is hung our salvation.
Behold, behold the wood of the cross
On which is hung our salvation
Come, let us adore

The first time I heard “Behold the Wood of the Cross,” I was just a child attending the morning Good Friday service. The hymn was quietly accompanied by piano while two of our parish priests carried a large cross in solemn procession. The two priests were both past middle age and had carried that cross up the isle on countless Good Fridays past, yet as they chanted the hymn both men could not hold back tears and when their sorrow reached their voices the entire church was sniffling.

That is the power of “Behold the Wood of the Cross,” written by Dan Schutte in 1976. The mournful melody perfectly captures the solemnity of the occasion and the lyrics are simple and poignant. When in mourning, as all Catholics are on Good Friday, words do not have the same impact as presence. “Behold the Wood of the Cross” reaffirms our faith in a few words and calls us to be present and bear witness.

Dan Schutte is best known for his hymn “Here I Am, Lord” from 1981. He began his career with the St. Louis Jesuits, a group of religious hymn writers. He has two master’s degrees; one in theology and one in liturgy, from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. In an interview with Reuters, he spoke about his songwriting:

“I have my days, when you struggle to find the inspiration and so forth, as you go farther along your journey of faith, the challenges of the journey and the wonderful blessed things that change along the years,” he said. “But one of the nice things about writing for my own soul and my own prayer is that I kind of move along with the community of people (who know his music) and I can write things that are meaningful for those same people.”

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