Mercy, Wide and Late

The concluding hymn at the parish struck me today in a way it has never done before. Two things. First, wideness, wideness, and kindness:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.

I had this mind’s image of an endless ocean. No shores. Ah well, maybe a water world … but on second thought, that’s still not nearly big enough.

More than liberty: what an unpatriotic thought. Frederick Faber, the hymn’s author was an Anglican who later shifted to Roman Catholicism. But he’s right about liberty. The kindness and justice of God are more profound than our human experiences and expressions of freedom.

I had never noticed the play of the human mind and the heart of God in this phrase before today:

For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

I once disliked this hymn. For some reason, I’ve felt awkward playing the tune In Babilone. I know that’s on me. Finding that right tempo that suits the piano or ensemble and respecting the lyrics–that can be tough.

Earlier this morning, I fretted inwardly–this tune is too “happy” for Lent. And then I let it go. It did seem quite suitable for the context of the first Sunday of Lent, of the morning sun streaming in the eastern windows, and in what I’ve been hearing, especially from Pope Francis, about mercy.

So I received an email from an upset student a little while ago, apologetic for missing the shift to DST and missing her turn as a lector at 10:30 Mass. No problem, for “there is welcome … and more graces … there is mercy … there is healing.” After all: it’s Lent.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music, Parish Life, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Mercy, Wide and Late

  1. That hymn text didn’t really strike me until I heard it sung to Calvin Hampton’s hymn tune St. Helena. The perfect wedding of text and tune still sends shivers down my spine.

    Faber originally wrote a very bold verse that doesn’t make it into most hymnals:

    But we make His love too narrow
    By false limits of our own;
    And we magnify His strictness
    With a zeal He will not own.

    Now that’s something worth meditating on!

    • Todd says:

      Thanks, Chase. Indeed yes on text and tune. I just heard this melody on YouTube for the first time I can recall. Quite lovely. Organ accompaniment quite rich and beautiful.

  2. Melody says:

    Lovely lyrics and good thoughts, but I don’t like In Babilone either. Beach Spring, Nettleton, Hyfrydol, Hymn to Joy, and Pleading Savior all have the matching meter, 87 87 D. Or if you want to borrow something Anglican, Blaenwern or Westminster Abbey. Not familiar with St. Helena, going to have to listen to that.

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