Michael Joncas (born 1951) was ordained in 1980 to the Roman Catholic priesthood, and has served since 1991 on the faculty of the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. He currently serves as Artist-in-Residence. He has written three books, more than a hundred published articles, and has compiled more than 20 collections of liturgical music.
Joncas wrote “On Eagle’s Wings” in 1975-76 in response to the death of the mother of a friend, Douglas Hall, and it was first recorded in 1979. It quickly became popular in Catholic worship—especially for funeral Masses—and has been embraced by many Protestant congregations as well.
The song is based on various verses of scripture:
But those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength.
They will mount up with wings like eagles.
They will run, and not be weary.
They will walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
He will cover you with his feathers.
Under his wings you will take refuge.
His faithfulness is your shield and rampart. (Psalm 91:4)
As an eagle that stirs up her nest,
that flutters over her young,
he spread abroad his wings, he took them,
he bore them on his feathers. (Deuteronomy 32:11)
It also speaks of “my refuge” and “my Rock,” both of which are derived from various verses of scripture.
The promise of the song is that those who “dwell in the shelter of the Lord” can trust that the Lord will “raise (them) up on eagle’s wings, …and hold (them) in the palm of his hand.” The faithful need fear neither snare nor famine, because they can find refuge under the Lord’s wings.
The image of finding refuge under the Lord’s wings will be especially poignant to those who have raised any kind of fowl, because they will have seen chicks scurry to the mother hen at the first sign of danger—and hide themselves beneath the mother’s wings. The chicks know that the mother hen will do everything in her power to protect them, so they feel safe in her presence. The mother hen’s fierce commitment to her chicks makes her a powerful protector.
So also, those of us who trust in the Lord can be assured that he will be our protector, our rock, our salvation. In life and in death, God will “raise (us) up on eagle’s wings.
NOTE: Should this be eagle’s (one eagle) or eagles’ (more than one). Joncas prefers eagle’s, because the eagle is a metaphor for God, who is one.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright, 2014, Richard Niell Donovan