Owen Alstott
Owen Alstott

VICTORIA, Texas — I wonder if anyone else experiences the same distraction at Mass as I do. Whenever a hymn is announced, I go to the page, find the hymn, and begin to sing when everyone else does.

But then, I glance over to see who wrote the lyrics and the music; then I look below to see when they lived, when they died, and maybe from what country the song came.

After glancing away from the song that many times, it’s obvious I’ve lost my place, and I’m no longer singing, unless I know it well. If I don’t know it, I might try to hum along, but by now I’m lost.

I am fascinated by the lives of those who wrote the great hymns and their music and words, but I’m hardly musical. I played the clarinet in junior high and then switched to flute in high school, but that’s about it.

Sometimes the verses are written before the music, or it’s the other way around. Maybe new words were written for a popular, old song. Or maybe someone wrote a poem, and years later a composer put music to it. If both the composer and song writer lived in the same period, I wonder if they worked on the song together, but then sometimes the author is born just a decade or so before the composer dies, or vice versa, and there would have been little chance of that happening. Ah, but maybe the younger of the two was a grandson of the other, and he wanted to honor the grandfather…possibly.

There is one name that I see each and every Sunday, as it is written under all of the music in the Liturgy of the Word. If your parish uses the missalette and music issue from Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) you will see Owen Alstott’s name under the music of every psalm refrain and Gospel acclamation (the Alleluia). He has even written the music for a full Mass, the Heritage Mass. I felt as though I knew him spiritually, as though he sat next to me at each Sunday Mass.

My curiosity got to me and I wanted to know who he was, so I looked up his name on the Internet. It turns out that Owen Alstott is not an ancient writer of hymns, rather he’s a graduate from schools in Oregon and is currently on Oregon Catholic Press’ board of directors. His responsorial psalms and Gospel acclamations, published in “Respond & Acclaim,” are sung in more than 10,000 Catholic parishes throughout the United States. He is also the composer of at least four songs with which you might be familiar, “Come, O Holy Spirit,” “Gather Us Together,” “O Holy Mary,” and “Wood of the Cross,” a Lenten song.

 When you look further into this composer, you’ll discover that he is married to Bernadette Farrell, a British OCP composer. You might recognize her name from some of the church hymns. At our parish of St. Mary in Victoria, Texas, we usually sing one of her hymns at least once a month. Of the dozens of songs Farrell has written and composed you may recognize the very popular “Christ, Be Our Light,” “O God, You Search Me,” and “Your Words Are Spirit and Life. “

Owen remained in Oregon, and from 1976 – 1992 held many positions with OCP, from music editor, editor of missal and music publications, and publisher. However, in 1992 he moved to London, England, and began a company that publishes and distributes religious education material. Owen and Bernadette married, and they and their daughter continue to live in England. However, Owen is still involved with OCP, having served on its board since January 2015.

OCP’s contributing composers include long-time favorites like Dan Schutte, Bob Hurd, and Tom Booth, and newer artists such as Paulist Father Ricky Manalo, Steve Angrisano, Jesse Manibusan, Jaime Cortez, Josh Blakesley, Sarah Hart and Jackie François. View their web site at ocp.org/en-us/artists to see dozens of other artists, news, and blogs. These composer’s songs will continue to be sung at Masses centuries after they’re gone. Some might even become old standards like Amazing Grace by John Newton, 1725-1807.

The writer is former editor of The Catholic Lighthouse, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Victoria in Texas. She also is an author. She blogs at Celovebrewer.com/blog. Oregon Catholic Press is owner of this newspaper.