The Incredible Origins of Matt Maher’s Lyrics

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January 27, 2015 by Alex Johannigman

Picture taken by me from the edge of the stage where I was fanboy-ing during a concert at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

Picture taken by me from the edge of the stage where I was fanboy-ing during a concert at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

Those of you who know me personally are probably aware that I’m a huge fan of Catholic singer/songwriter Matt Maher. “The End and the Beginning” is one of the first CDs I remember buying with my own money back when I was in high school, and I’ve seen him perform live more than any other musician (Barely edging out Reliant K and Reel Big Fish) (Unless you count some Denver area swing bands that I’ve danced to nearly a dozen times) (Oh, and my singer/songwriter friend Emmeline who I’ve seen at least 20 times because she’s awesome) (Ok, so it looks like that may have been a lie, but seriously, I think Matt Maher is fantastic).

As I listen to his music more and more, and as I’ve become more familiar with Holy Scripture and many popular Catholic prayers, I’ve discovered that a ton of his lyrics didn’t originally come from him but rather are based on the Bible and ancient prayers and writings of the Church. If you’ve been wondering what some of those sources may be, and if you suspect that your favorite Matt Maher song has more interesting origins than you thought, check out the list below. I’m sure this list is not comprehensive, so consider it to be a work in progress. If there’s a song that I’m forgetting that has a great origin story, let me know and I’ll add it to the list. But for now, here are some of my favorite Matt Maher songs with lyrics that came from another great prayer or verse (pun intended) of Holy Scripture.

“Alive Again” – One of my favorite Matt Maher songs became even more amazing when I discovered while taking a class on Patristic theology that it was taken from St. Augustine’s Confessions, written at the end of the 4th century. St. Augustine wrote:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

“Every Little Prison (Deliver Me)” – My mind was blown when I first listened to this song again after incorporating the Litany of Humility into my daily prayer routine. Here are links to the Litany of Humility and “Every Little Prison” for you to compare.

“Litany” – The second song in my list to come directly from a popular litany, “Litany” is a musical adaptation a part of The Litany of the Saints

“Great Things” – The whole song is basically the Magnificat, aka the Canticle of Mary, put to music. The prayer is taken from Luke 1:46-55 and is also prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours during evening prayer every day. Here is the text from my breviary:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

“Adoration” – The first two verses are a direct English translation of St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Tantum Ergo” making it one of the best contemporary Christian songs to play during Eucharistic Adoration.

“Kyrie” – This short song was taken from the segment towards the beginning of the mass when we say “Lord, have mercy.” Those who frequently attend Latin mass or a vernacular mass that includes some Latin (or in this case, technically Greek) prayers will probably recognize the words “Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.”

“Turn Around” – While I have no way to verify this short of asking Matt directly, I can’t help but assume that this was inspired by the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32.

“If you’re scared that you don’t matter
If you’re lost and need to be found
If you’re looking for a Savior
All you gotta do is turn around…

You don’t have to
Take the broken road
You can turn around
And come back home”

And come back home is exactly what the prodigal son did.

“Better is One Day” – Ok, I’m cheating a bit on this one because although it appears on Matt Maher’s album The End and the Beginning, his version of “Better is One Day” is only a cover of a song originally written by Matt Redman. The Psalms are a great place for musical inspiration, and in this song Matt (Redman) took sections of Psalm 84 and put them to his own music.

“Restless” – I’m cheating a bit again by including a song that is performed by Audrey Assad, but was co-written with Matt Maher. This is another one inspired by St. Augustine who said “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

“Spirit and the Bride” – This calmer meditation reflects on the words of Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

“Isaiah 61” – I probably didn’t need to explain that the origin of the hauntingly beautiful “Isaiah 61” is Isaiah 61, but it’s too great of a song to not mention in this list, and hopefully by bringing it up those of you who haven’t heard this song from Matt’s second album “Welcome to Life” will feel a nudge from me to go listen to it.

“As it is in Heaven” – Christians of all denominations will recognize the words of the “Our Father” throughout this song.

“Behold the Lamb of God” – The words that John the Baptist exclaims when meeting Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” inspired this peaceful meditation.

“Christ is Risen” – I had to save this one for last because it’s another one of my personal favorites that impacted me strongly during prayer last week.

We must look to the East(ern rite) to see the origins of the chorus of “Christ is Risen” which comes from the Paschal Troparion, a prayer said during the octave of Easter in the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic churches which follow the Byzantine rite. The typical English translation of the prayer is:

“Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!”
matt maher

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2 thoughts on “The Incredible Origins of Matt Maher’s Lyrics

  1. […] had been looking forward to Saturday night all week because I had a ticket to go see Matt Maher (the topic of my last post) perform at a nearby church. During the concert the three musicians on stage devoted some time to […]

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  2. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME!!! Thanks so much for posting this. Maher is doing some amazing work for the Lord. And so are you! Please keep up the great work!

    In Christ,
    Greg Aitchison

    Like

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