Prayers Wrapped in Songs

2 11 2006

“Jesuit hymns are prayers wrapped in music. They are songs in search of souls”.
Fr. Johnny C. Go, SJ

When Fr. Eddie Hontiveros wrote his first liturgical hymn in the 60’s, all he wanted to do was to come up with a song that people could easily learn and sing at worship. He had no idea that in writing that first song and in teaching it to a group of young boys and girls in Barangka, Marikina, he was actually starting a whole tradition of religious and liturgical music in the country — which would later come to be known simply as “Jesuit Music.” Today, thirty years after Father Honti’s first composition, his songs–as well as those of other Jesuit musicians that he has inspired–are sung in churches all over the country, as well as in other parts of the world, wherever Filipinos gather in worship and prayer.

Jesuit hymns are prayers wrapped in music. They are songs in search of souls. Anyone who has heard them and prayed with them knows what this means. For Jesuit songs have a way of inviting you to dive deep into your heart to seek your soul–truly a practical and valuable habit in a world where we all tend to scatter and lose ourselves.

Jesuit Music Ministry is very much Father Honti’s offspring. In 1990, he suffered a serious stroke that impaired not only his speech, but also his ability to write music. Be that as it may, Father Honti continues to make music through his now-immortal hymns, but also through the many beautiful songs that the Jesuit Music Ministry continues to create for God and the Filipino music.

Jesuit Music: A Grand Background in Jesuit History

2 11 2006

Jesuit Music: A grand background in Jesuit history
Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo, SJ

If we read through the history of Jesuit missionary work, even just the magnificent pages in Father de la Costa’s Jesuits in the Philippines (1581-1768), we will see what significant role music played in the work of evangelization. The Jesuits from the beginning realized that “God is more often reached by the people through the gate of beauty than by the gate of truth,” and that thus the arts are truly privileged pathways and doorways to the infinite.

Already in the first Jesuit centuries “Jesuit music” made its mark: from the beginnings we have Jesuit contributions to baroque music played in Jesuit churches and taught and sung in Jesuit colleges. We all saw the film The Mission, and were moved by the Indian boys singing its music. The Paraguay Reductions wrote a glorious chapter in Jesuit music: Dominic Zipoli, Italian, and Martin Schmid, Swiss, and other Jesuit missionaries created an entire culture of music among the Indians; 5000 manuscript pages of sacred music used by the Indians in the “Jesuit territories” were found in Bolivia in our time. As has been well said, the arts–not the least of them, music–have always been part of the Jesuit “way of proceeding.”

The Jesuit Music Ministry, one of the most recently- begun official works of the Philippine Province, thus has a grand background in Jesuit history. Although we have had Filipino Jesuits within living memory like Fr. Jose Ma. Siguion and Juan Trinidad, who were musicians of distinction, it is Fr. Eduardo P. Hontiveros who can be truly named “Father of Jesuit Music Ministry (JMM) in our time, and his work will live on in JMM, we hope and pray, for years and decades to come.

The response to the work to disseminate contemporary sacred music, much of it of Filipino Jesuit authorship, in recent years, has already shown that it meets a great present need. Recordings and concerts of JMM have been enthusiastically welcomed everywhere where Filipinos worship and live and work. JMM meets a truly Filipino need and appeals to the Filipino heart and soul. JMM’s present success is already visibly a sign of God’s blessing and an encouragement for Filipino Jesuits to go forward in this area of pastoral and missionary endeavor.

JMM has placed on the map Jesus and his Gospel, Mary and the call to holiness, evangelizing work among the “little ones” and the poor in our beloved land and wherever else in the world where Filipinos live and gather. We pray that JMM may continue to flourish, and continue to receive God’s gracious help, so that through music, many more may be led throughout the pathways and gateways of beauty, Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.