United in the Eucharist, Guided by Grace

For Catholic singer-songwriter Matt Maher, the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, in which the Lord prays that all will be one, has fueled his 20 years of itinerant ministry and traveling.

Jul 05, 2024

Catholic musician Matt Maher performs April 6, 2024, in concert during the

FREDERICK, Md.: For Catholic singer-songwriter Matt Maher, the 17th chapter of John’s Gospel, in which the Lord prays that all will be one, has fueled his 20 years of itinerant ministry and traveling.

“That prayer, which is the longest prayer that Jesus prays, is right after he institutes the Eucharist,” he said. “So, the unity of all Christians is presupposed in the Eucharist, but maybe the reason that Jesus prays for the unity of all Christians after he institutes the Eucharist is because he knows that’s what will keep the church together.”

Perhaps painfully, too, Jesus foresaw that the Eucharist could be the point of separation for Christians, he said.

“The Eucharist is Jesus’s high priestly prayer of thanksgiving to the Father. It’s the perfect sacrifice of him offering himself on the cross. But it’s also the fulfillment of one covenant, the institution of another; it’s the center of all history. The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus is the epicenter of all of human history, and all salvific activity within the church flows from that,” Maher said in an interview recorded for Catholic Review Radio, a weekly news interview program produced by the Baltimore Archdiocese’s Catholic Review Media.

While in Frederick on his “Live and in the Room Tour” this spring, the Canadian-born musician reflected on the Eucharist as he prepares to provide the music for one of the revival nights during the National Eucharistic Congress July 17-21 in Indianapolis. Maher will be featured July 20 during the revival session at Lucas Oil Stadium, with keynote speakers Bishop Robert E. Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and Gloria Purvis, speaker and host of “The Gloria Purvis Podcast” from America Media.

Within the Eucharist, in Mass, “there’s no place in life where you could be closer to those you love who are in heaven as during Communion, because we’re one with God and we’re one with each other and the Eucharist isn’t just the symbol of that. It represents Christ drawing all men to himself in the offering of himself. Because if he’s in all of us, then because of him, we can be together,” he said.

This is what helped him understand why the U.S. bishops have called for a Eucharistic revival as a three-year project to revitalize the faith. “In the age of so much scandal and disappointment and disillusionment, the poverty of Jesus humbly offered, in what looks like simple bread and simple wine — so simple that it’s not even leavened,” Jesus brings peace, he said.

“My encouragement to everyone is to hold on to the Eucharist. Don’t let go of that,” Maher said. “My hope is through something like the Eucharistic congress, the Eucharist could actually be the place where everyone — young and old, all sides of the political spectrum — it could be the gravitational center that actually pulled the church back toward itself because that is the place where, eschatologically speaking, the church is one. The church will never not be one in the Eucharist.”

He said when the organizers of the congress asked him if he wanted to do a concert in a separate ballroom, he said, “No, I want to adore Jesus in the Eucharist. That’s why I’m there.” The music is a secondary role “to edify the soul, to lift the soul toward God, to reflect the things that are transcendental.”

Though he is still thinking and praying about what music he will use for the revival, he may use the arrangement of five Eucharistic hymns by St. Thomas Aquinas, which he recently composed for the Hallow prayer app.

Maher said that when the organizers of World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janiero asked him to sing during adoration, he suggested “Lord, I Need You,” which the organizers thought was perfect. The artistic director told him it was the tip of the spear. “That’s a beautiful image, you know, in terms of piercing the human heart,” he said.

He sang that song, on his knees, for Pope Francis and more than 3 million pilgrims along the beach in Rio. The experience was “sort of beyond human sensory understanding. There’s a limit to what your eyes can process and what you can emotionally process in a moment, and then it just is like white noise.”

He realized also that in the countless youth conferences, retreats and other events, whether it was a full stadium, or a group of 25 or 50 people, or just five people in an adoration chapel, in that moment in Brazil, “I felt the Lord say, ‘I was just as present then as I am now’ and so, to me, that moment really represented a full circle moment in my life in terms of all the years.”

Such a revelation reminded him that God does not judge things by human experience. “My eyes were open to the global scale of when we come before the Blessed Sacrament, we’re joining with over a billion believers around the world,” Maher said.

Asked how he has tried to show through his music the graces present in the Eucharist, he said he feels barely qualified to answer. “I think I’m trying to figure out how do I show the graces of it in my life, first and foremost.”

As a husband and father — his family lives in Nashville, Tennessee — he is more cognizant these days about the time he spends away on tour, and trying to stay engaged in their lives. “So many people say, ‘I pray for you,’ and I’m like, don’t pray for me, pray for my family. It’s hard for a family.”

When he is home, he tries not to talk about life on the road so much, “not because I’m hiding it, but because I don’t want my kids to think that their life revolves around what I do. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. As a dad, my life is supposed to revolve around what they’re doing.”

During the height of the pandemic, Maher and his wife became a Catholic home-schooling family because the children were not thriving with distance learning. They loved doing it, but once things went back to normal, the kids went back to their parish school. “They missed the community; the social aspect is so important.”

Once the kids were back in school, it freed him up to get back to writing music. “A lot of the songs on this new album, ‘The Stories I Tell Myself,’ were written in that period.” He was able to get back into a studio in September 2021 and the album was released in October 2022.

The musicians and singers he brought together for six weeks of recording sessions became a community of sorts. “I think it naturally happens on its own. I think that’s the great thing about making music is you try collaborating with different people. And with some people it works and some people it doesn’t.

“I think the trick is learning to listen to that and observe that and not try to force it.”

Maher said one of the translations of Scripture talks about Jesus calling all who are weary and labored, and that Jesus says, “‘My yoke is easy. My burden is light.’ It says in this, ‘Come learn the unforced rhythms of grace’ (cf. Mt 11:28-30).

“I look at the creativity as trying to follow an unforced rhythm,” he said.--OSV News

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