September 29, 2021 // Perspective

A meditation on time from an old hymn

My blog is usually posted in the evening at about 21:00 (9 p.m.) U.S. Eastern Time. But in Sydney, Australia, it is 1 in the afternoon of the following day. As I prepare for bed, they are eating lunch on a day that has not even begun for me. And proceeding farther west from there, in the Philippines and Japan the afternoon is winding down and the workday is coming to an end.

Time. What could be simpler than for me to look at the clock and say that it is, say, 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17? But on the other hand, what could be more mysterious? Time is a human reckoning of a mysterious passage.

And yet the mystery is also beautiful. At any given time, some people are asleep in the night, while others are at midday. There is a wonderful verse in an old English hymn, “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended” that says,

The sun that bids us rest is waking

Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,

And hour by hour fresh lips are making

Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

Here are two other beautiful verses from the same hymn:

We thank Thee that thy Church unsleeping,

While earth rolls onward into light,

Through all the world her watch is keeping,

And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island,

The dawn leads on another day,

The voice of prayer is never silent,

nor dies the strain of praise away.

Magnificent lines. The hymn contains a beautiful and poetic description of the Church: always praising, always singing, always at worship. Although some are asleep, the praises continue. One of the Psalms says, “Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations.” (Psalm 113:2-4) The praises never end, for the sun is always rising somewhere even as it is setting somewhere else.

Malachi, prophesying the glory of the Mass celebrated worldwide says, “’My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Mal 1:11) At any given time, Mass is surely being offered somewhere on this earth. The Liturgy of the Hours, too, always uttering forth from the lips of the faithful somewhere. Yes, in the mystery of time, this planet of ours is a place of perpetual praise. And our praises join the perpetual praises of heaven, for as the liturgy proclaims, in the words of the new translation, “And so, Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the host and Powers of heaven, as we sing the hymn of your glory, without end we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts …”

Yes, the mystery of time and our praises caught up in the ever-moving sweep of time. What St. Paul says to us as individuals is fulfilled by the worldwide Church. His advice is so simple and yet so profound. St. Paul says, “Pray always.” (1 Thess 5:17)

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.

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