Are you joining your own verses to the ancient hymn?
One of my favorite church hymns utilizes a tune composed by Gustav Holst (1874-1934). The title of the hymn is O God Beyond All Praising. It is #535 in the Breaking Bread hymnal. One sees that there are two verses, which means that if it is to be used for a lengthy procession, the musicians usually need to play instrumental interludes to fill in for the brief verses.
Last Saturday, this hymn was chosen for the closing of the ordination Mass in the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist. There were many deacons and concelebrating priests in attendance— ergo, a quite lengthy recessional. Well, even before we reached that point of the liturgy, one of my brother priests leaned over to me in the pew and said, “Marty Dober wrote verses 2 and 3!” It took me a moment to register to what he was referring. Sure enough, under the text and notation of the hymn in the worship aid, where credit is given to the composer and author, in black and white it acknowledged: additional verses by Martin J. Dober.
Later, at his family reception, I brought this up to Fr. Marty Dober (it is wonderful to write that!). In his trademark understated manner, he shared that in the past it struck him that the hymn, more or less, was over too soon. He therefore beautifully adapted phraseology from the theology of Holy Orders, and the faculty granted him permission to submit them for use.
Reflecting on this further, it occurred to me that one way to consider what has taken place in the lives of Fr. Marty and the other ordinandi entering the Order of Presbyter—and ancient reality— is that by presenting their lives in service, they are adding new verses to the ancient hymn of our Faith. I believe we can say, also, that when a man and a woman present themselves for the sacrament of Matrimony, they are authoring new verses to hymn of God’s plan for human life.
By our very Baptism, we become “a new creation,” as the rite states. Our very lives are designed by God to be a hymn to His glory. And so, each of us can ask: Am I joining my own verses to the ancient hymn? Do those verses— my words and actions and attitudes— point to God’s power at work in me, or are they, instead, an ode to my selfishness? If so, may I take the opportunity, through the mercy of God, to scrap those verses and allow new ones to be written on my heart by Jesus Christ.