Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 03 August |
Saint of the Day: St. Martin
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

“America the Beautiful”: A lasting prayer for the U.S.A.

J-P Mauro - published on 07/04/19

What seems like a patriotic song is really an intercessory prayer.

Happy 4th of July!

What better way to celebrate the 243rd birthday of the United States of America than with “America the Beautiful,” sung by our very own United States Navy Band. This arrangement attempts to capture the essence of our wide-ranging borders with equally grand orchestration, all presented with beautiful high-definition footage of America’s varied ecosystems and wildlife.

“America the Beautiful” is widely regarded as one of the finest patriotic tunes in the American songbook, but it was written and composed as a hymn, which is why we sometimes hear it sung in church. While the beginning of each verse highlights another of the land’s most glorious aspects, each stanza ends with an intercessory request of the Lord: First that God shed his grace on America; second that he mend our every flaw; third that he refine our gold (our spiritual resources); and finally a repetition of the first verse.

The lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a prolific writer, educator, and scholar of the 19th century. The daughter of a minister, Bates has several hymns credited to her name, but none of them come close to the renown of “America the Beautiful.”

As the story goes, the lyrics were written at the summit of Pikes Peak, in Colorado. At the time, Bates was teaching at Colorado College, when she and a few other teachers decided to climb the mountain. Ballad of America, a website concerned with the musical heritage of the country, has Bates’ own record of writing these lyrics:

“One day some of the other teachers and I decided to go on a trip to 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”

The tune was first published in a special “Independence Day” edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist in 1895, under the name “Pike’s Peak.” Over the next several years the lyrics were set to several different melodies, but none of them stuck until they were set to a tune called “MATERNA,” written by Samuel A. Ward, in 1882. In 1910, the lyrics were published with this melody and they have been inseparable ever since.

So remember, if you sing “America the Beautiful” this week at Sunday Mass, it is not just a song to feel patriotic. It is a prayer that God care for our country.

And at the end of the day, when the party winds down, turn up this excellent arrangement by Ray Charles, a perfect closing hymn for all our backyard BBQs.

AmericaChristian MusicHymn
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Saint Mary of the Angels
Bret Thoman, OFS
All your sins will be forgiven if you go to a Franciscan church o...
Ignacio María Doñoro
Francisco Veneto
The military chaplain who pretended to be a criminal to rescue a ...
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
Violeta Tejera
Carlo Acutis’ first stained glass window in jeans and sneak...
Cerith Gardiner
Gold-winning Filipina Olympian shares her Miraculous Medal for th...
Ary Waldir Ramos Diaz
1st Feast of Our Lady of Silence is August 1
Cerith Gardiner
Simone Biles leaves the Olympics with an important lesson for her...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.