Diane Mahoney’s jaw dropped when the email arrived in her inbox in June. Her original composition, “We Do Believe, O Lord,” had been selected as the 2024 National Eucharistic Congress’ official theme song, over and above 177 other entries.
“I was so astounded that it was kind of like you’re in a dream or something, like, ‘Wake me up,’” the Iowan told CNA. “I still have that same feeling of disbelief.”
Mahoney, a longtime church organist and occasional composer, entered the contest to write the congress’ official song with “very little hope” that she’d actually win.
“It’s whatever you want, Lord — that kind of attitude,” she said.
“I kind of was saying to God, ‘Well, it’s okay, I don’t have to do this composing thing if you don’t want me to. I’m okay with my life. I do my church music, I play and sing at church, and that’s enough, I feel fulfilled.’ But evidently God had different plans … It was really him saying, ‘OK, I’ve got this work for you, and you’re not done.’”
The National Eucharistic Revival is the U.S. bishops’ three-year initiative to inspire belief in and reverence for the Eucharist. The decision to embark on the initiative followed a 2019 Pew Research study that suggested only about one-third of U.S. Catholics believe the Church’s teaching that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
As part of the revival, a National Eucharistic Congress will be held July 17–21, 2024, and is expected to draw at least 80,000 Catholics to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
In addition to Mahoney’s winning theme song, the Congress judges also chose an official hymn for the gathering. Both composers earned a cash prize of $2,500 and the opportunity to have their compositions professionally performed and recorded in both English and Spanish. (Neither composition has yet been released to the public, but organizers plan to eventually post the sheet music and audio recordings of both songs online.)
The winning entry in the hymn category was “Let the Earth Acclaim Christ Jesus.” Kathleen Pluth, who has been writing hymns for 20 years, told CNA that she typically writes new lyrics to already existing musical compositions. Her prizewinning lyrics are set to the 19th-century tune known as Hyfrydol, which many churchgoers will recognize better as “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” or “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”
The Arizona-based Pluth told CNA that she wrote the words of the hymn after meditating on the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, arguably the clearest Scripture passage in support of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist. She was inspired by Scripture’s use of the word often translated as “remain” or “abide,” which appears in the famous passage: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
“There’s an ‘abiding with’ that happens through the Eucharist — Jesus has made this miraculous way to stay with us throughout our pilgrim journey here on earth until we see him in heaven. And at the same time, it’s a means that gives us the way to stay in him,” she explained.
“The strength and all the gifts that the Eucharist gives allow us to develop that relationship with him, become closer to him, to dwell more and more, even in this world, in the truth of the Word Made Flesh.”
Pluth, who has a licentiate in sacred theology (STL), said she hopes that her hymn’s deep theological meaning will help it to stand the test of time.
“I was honored by this distinction, very much so, and also very encouraged because this is a heavily doctrinal hymn … I have a theology background, so maybe this is biased, but I feel that the more doctrine, the more Scripture, the more of these kind of basic but deep truths of our religion can be worked into hymns, the better,” Pluth said.
“And I think when we look back and see which hymns have had staying power over the centuries, they have this rich doctrine.”
Mahoney, an alumna of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, said she has found it to be
“a great gift to minister as a Catholic with the gift of music, because I just love the liturgy, I love the Eucharist, and to be able to serve it in that way is such a privilege.”
She said her song is based on the passage from Mark’s Gospel in which a man tells Jesus: “I do believe. Please help my unbelief.” Mahoney said she has wanted for years to use that passage in a Communion setting because, she says, receiving the Body of Christ can help people recover their belief in him.
Mahoney said she had been working on the song since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and used the extra time to flesh the song out. The idea, later, of entering it into the January contest gave her a deadline — and motivation.
“I wanted it to be strong, something you would sing as you’re processing to Communion. All those kinds of ideas, very reverent and yet meaningful for the text. So it was kind of a combination of many years of trying different tunes and melodies and harmonies that would be a strong setting for that text,” she said.
Mahoney’s advice for budding composers of sacred music?
“Go for it. Listen to your heart and listen to God. But you also have to work very hard, I think, to make a really beautiful product. It’s not enough just to use the first thing that comes to your mind. I think we need to keep raising the bar. We need to all do the very best we can for the liturgy, particularly,” Mahoney said.
Father Dustin Dought, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, served as the nonvoting chairperson of the committee of judges. Entries were evaluated, the organizers say, on such criteria as poetry, musicality, creativity, theological and doctrinal soundness, beauty, appropriateness for liturgical use, and expression of the mission of the National Eucharistic Revival.
“The quantity and quality of entries for the Eucharistic Revival Musical Competition showed what great devotion there is to the sacrament of the Eucharist among the faithful of the dioceses of the United States,” Dought said.
“These two songs will be used in liturgical and devotional prayer, and my hope is that they enkindle that living relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist, which will renew the Church in the United States.”