Because Gregory the Great Wrote Such a Poem for Lent

The Season of Lent is upon us. This is one of those mysterious times of the year that, before I was a Catholic, I always wondered about. Growing up, we never observed Lent. Of course, now I know that Lent is celebrated by not only the Catholic Church but also the Orthodox Church, and it is even celebrated by some of the mainline Protestant churches.

But the Catholic Church celebrated it first. And as a famous general once proclaimed, sometimes “getting there firstest with the mostest” makes all the difference. When questioned about the lack of fasting among His disciples, Our Lord claimed (and I paraphrase) that there would be no fasting while the Bridegroom was around, but after He was gone? Then there would be fasting.

For the longest time, virtually my whole life, I never got around to it. Those days are gone, for me anyway.  The following scripture verse from the Old Testament helps illuminate the Lenten Season for me,

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness. (Joel 2:12)

St. Gregory the Great, a Doctor of the Church, does a knock-out job of describing Lent to me as well. Over at New Advent, I found this citation about Gregory the Great that says he,

is certainly one of the most notable figures in Ecclesiastical History. He has exercised in many respects a momentous influence on the doctrine, the organization, and the discipline of the Catholic Church. To him we must look for an explanation of the religious situation of the Middle Ages; indeed, if no account were taken of his work, the evolution of the form of medieval Christianity would be almost inexplicable. And further, in so far as the modern Catholic system is a legitimate development of medieval Catholicism, of this too Gregory may not unreasonably be termed the Father. Almost all the leading principles of the later Catholicism are found, at any rate in germ, in Gregory the Great.

I’ll take their word for it (on authority) because I haven’t had the opportunity to read much that he has written. Not yet anyway. But I did find this poem that is attributed to him. To get the season of Lent started right, I think St. Gregory the Great knocks the cover off the ball. Take a look:

The Glory of These Forty Days
The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by Whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God Who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s Name.

Then grant us, Lord, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with Thee;
Our spirits strengthen with Thy grace,
And give us joy to see Thy face.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
To thee be every prayer addressed,
Who art in threefold Name adored,
From age to age, the only Lord.

Short, sweet, and to the point. Thank you, St. Gregory!

  • cathyf

    I'm quite fond of these two for today:Return To GodDeep Within

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14497462123873725598 Maria Holland

    Hi, my name is Maria. I've been reading for about a month or so but this is my first time commenting – I just had to, because I love the poem. We sing it to the tune of "All Creatures of our God and King", but I never knew it was written by Gregory the Great! I used to be the choir director at my college Newman Center and always made sure we sang it at least once each Lent. Now I'm living in China and the music is all unfamiliar, but at least the Church is still here! If you would like to read about Ash Wednesday in China, you can read my journal here: http://maliyastravels.wordpress.com/. Have a fruitful Lent!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @cathyf: Thanks for sharing those. Deep Within is one of my favorites.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Maria,Welcome and Gung Hei Fat Choy! I'm happy to hear from you and hope you enjoy your time in China. I'm glad our site hasn't been censored. The Catholic Church is in China!!! Just another reason YIM Catholic.Webster & I will leave the light on for you! ;^)Check out the sample tune…Glory of these 40 Days

  • cathyf

    In the GIA hymnals they set Glory Of These Forty Days to the hymn tune Old Hundredth (All People That On Earth Do Dwell) I like it better with the Geistliche Lieder Spires. That's what I've always sung it to.

  • Webster Bull

    @Maria,Love your blog of your stay in China. I've hot-linked it here. About your comment: I'm having trouble singing "The Glory of these Forty Days" to "All Creatures of Our God & King"! What do you do with the Alleluias in the middle? In Lent?!

  • cathyf

    All People That On Earth Do Dwell not All Creatures of Our God & King. One of the hazards of reading at 5am, Webster LOL!I also remembered a different version, also attributed to Gregory, Again We Keep This Solemn Fast. It is translated by Peter Scagnelli. They are close enough but far enough that I can't tell if they are two different source texts or simply more or less rough paraphrases of the same original. This is the only link I could find to the lyrics, and it has yet another tune I don't recognize. I really like this version — it's like all of Lent, what we do and why, summed up in 5 verses.

  • Webster Bull

    @Cathyf,I think you had it right. I should have addressed my comment @Maria Holland, the lady writing from China.

  • cathyf

    Oops, I see that Maria also wrote about singing the hymn to an alternate tune. I bet she just misremembered — it's easy to confuse the title All People That On Earth Do Dwell with All Creatures of Our God & King. (I first thought that I had written All Creatures of Our God & King — something that would have been very easy to do in a late-hour posting.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14497462123873725598 Maria Holland

    Oops, I haven't seen an English hymnal in half a year and mixed the two songs up. I'm glad you understood what I meant, and thanks for the correction!@ Frank – this blog is blocked in China, actually . . . but there are ways!