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Does Satan Quote Scripture Better Than Michael Joncas?

Yesterday we celebrated the first Sunday of Lent and heard the reading from the Gospel of Luke with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Outside of a funeral, your odds of hearing On Eagle's Wings was higher this Sunday than any other day during the year because the “dash your foot against a stone” passage was read twice. If you were paying attention and sang On Eagle's Wings for Offertory or Communion you might have noticed somthing odd.  The Responsorial Psalm we read was from Psalm 91 which reads: 

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High
   who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Say to the Lord, “My refuge and fortress,
   my God in whom I trust.

No evil shall befall you,
   nor shall affliction come near your tent,
for to his angels he has given command about you,
   that they guard you in all your ways. 

Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
   lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
   you shall trample down the lion and the dragon. 

The eagles are not part of the citation and do not occur anywhere in the psalm. However, while On Eagle's Wings cites Psalm 91 as a source, it also includes Isaiah 40:31 as a source. This passage reads: 

Young men may grow tired and weary,
   youths may stumble,
but those who hope in Yahweh renew their strength,
   they put out wings like eagles.
They run and do not grow weary,
   walk and never tire. 

Ah ha! Eagles wings! Only, this passage says that the righteous will be like eagles. There doesn't appear to be any reference to God saving his people in the manner of the Great Eagles of Middle-earth, a distinction not lost on the devil. Pope Benedict notes in Jesus of Nazareth that during the temptation in the wilderness Satan takes on the role of an exegete quoting Scripture. As Satan tempts Our Lord from the top of the Temple in Jerusalem, he references Psalm 91: 

He will command his angels concerning you,
   to guard you,
With their hands they will support you,
   lest you dash your foot against a stone. 

Angels again.  In all fairness, Angels are mentioned in On Eagles Wings, but the manner in which the two Bible passages have been combined produces an image of people flying around on eagles that is inconsistant with even the fluffiest Catholic theology.  I'm not suggesting that anyone look for Scripture help from the dark side, but perhaps contemporary Catholic music isn't the right place either. 

Scripture quotes taken from the New American Bible and the Jerusalem Bible.


Oops, my previous post was aimed in part at a "Ten Worst Hymns" list in First Things. There was a link to this blog. Sorry.


No doubt the music of "On Eagle's Wings" appeals more to boomers than to other generations, but I think it will endure; for instance, its chorus appears in the latest Southern Baptist hymnal (2008). So, by the way, does, "Here I Am, Lord," which has a contagious call into ministries and missions for Jesus. Those two are among the few post-Reformation Catholic hymns that have been widely used in mainline, evangelical, and charismatic Protestant churches alike. They should not be on anyone's "worst" lists.

As for the biblical theology, I think that "On Eagle's Wings" is pretty good. Check out Exodus 19:4 for the eagle reference. Exodus 19:4-6 is a biblical passage of central importance in biblical theology! I argue that it is a the central point of reference for understanding the message of Pentateuch and a key passage for connecting the theology of the Old and New Testaments.

As for pastoral theology, I have seen this hymn build faith and trust to carry believers through hard and painful times, an invaluable service, and one not to be sneered at.

As for the sneering tone of some of the comments, cultural snobbery, whether generational or classical, should be avoided by Christians. It just does not fit well with Jesus or the apostles.

By the way, I agree that some of the Catholic hymns on the list are truly dreadful. When pop psychology and pop sociology replace theology, when God is not glorified, the hymn deserves to be listed as awful, and it should perish quickly. This is not the case with "On Eagle's Wings" or "Here I Am. Lord." That distinction should be kept clear.


This and "Ashes" are two of my least-favorite "Catholic" hymns.


Yeah, a phoenix and an eagle. Coincidence?

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