I’m here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore this weekend, leading a convocation of deacons and their wives. This was our entrance hymn for the final Mass Sunday.
Written by the prolific Marty Haugen, it may be one of the most familiar hymns in parishes around America, popular in both Catholic and Protestant gatherings.
“Gather us in” (1982) represents Mr. Haugen’s skill both as a poet and composer. As an opening hymn or an entrance song, it calls the ekklesia—Christian community or assembly—together. One of the themes of Vatican II is upon the community of believers and their work together for the kingdom of God. Mr. Haugen describes his inspiration for this hymn in an e-mail: “‘Gather Us In’ was written after I first heard the wonderful [former Jesuit Dutch theologian and poet Huub] Oosterhuis (b. 1933) text ‘What Is This Place?’ I wanted to craft something that might say a similar message to North American ears. I deliberately wrote it in second person to avoid gender issues and to more directly sing ‘to’ God rather than ‘about’ God. Ironically, that has been at times a problem for some, who would like God more carefully circumscribed and named.” In the first stanza, we find that this community is one of hope where “new light is streaming.” It is also a community of honesty where we can bring both “our fears and our dreamings” into “the light of this day.” This is also a community of inclusiveness that includes “the lost and forsaken” and the “blind and the lame.” Regardless of who we are, we have an identity in this community as we respond to “the sound of our name” (Christian), given at our baptism. Stanza two continues a description of this inclusive gathering: young and old, “rich and the haughty,” “proud and the strong.” Stanza two also indicates that this is a community that has a history and that the purpose of this community is to “be [a] light to the whole human race” (Matthew 5:14-16). Stanza three articulates that this is a sacramental community where we receive the “wine and the water” and “bread of new birth.” This nourishment gives the members of this community strength “to be salt for the earth” (Matthew 5:13). The nourishment from this sacramental meal has an ethical result as we show compassion and “fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true.” The concluding stanza clarifies that the work of the kingdom takes place neither “in the dark of buildings confining” nor “in some heaven, light years away.” The work of the kingdom takes place now in the midst of the gathered, inclusive community.