Homily for the Station Mass – St Mary’s, Nairn

1. God, of thy pity, unto us thy children
Bend down thine ear in thine own lovingkindness,
And all thy people’s prayers and vows ascending
Hear, we beseech thee.

2. Look down in mercy from thy seat of glory.
Pour on our souls the radiance of thy presence,
Drive from our weary hearts the shades of darkness,
Lightening our footsteps.

3. Free us from sin by might of thy great loving,
Cleanse thou the sordid, loose the fettered spirit,
Spare every sinner, raise with thine own right hand
All who have fallen.

4. Glory to God the Father everlasting, / Glory for ever to the Sole-Begotten, / With whom thy Holy Spirit through the ages / Reigneth co-equal.

This is a beautiful Lenten hymn. It was originally Latin, dating from the Middle Ages. It got partially lost for a time, but then re-emerged and was put into English by Alan G. MacDougall (1895-1964) and first appeared in 1916. It is given as a Lenten hymn in the current English Liturgy of the Hours.

From the vineyard of the Church, one of the best wines is prayer. The Holy Father, in preparation for the Jubilee Year (2025), has asked that this year be considered a Year of Prayer. Prayer too is one of the three classical exercises of the Lenten season. Prayer is the lifting of our hearts and minds to God.

This hymn can help us respond to this “upward call” of prayer.

“God of thy pity, unto us thy children…” begins the 1st Stanza. We turn to God the Father, “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” as St Paul calls him (2 Cor 1:3). Our Father. We are asking for his “pity”, his mercy, his kindness – on us his children,

And the first thing we ask of this Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), is that he hear our prayers. “Bend down thine ear…hear we beseech thee.”  This is the first image the hymn deploys: the Father with a listening ear. This is the God to whom Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings) (“hear your people, heed them”, he keeps saying); the God to whom the distressed like Hagar and Hannah turned and all the psalmists too, on whom our Lord called on the Cross. And on our side, what is this prayer? Of course, it’s prayer for ourselves: “have mercy on me, God, in your kindness” (Ps 51). But if we only pray for ourselves, we’re not yet praying as Christians. There are expanding circles here: we pray for our loved ones, for those whom we’re responsible for, those we care about. But wider still and wider our prayer can extend. Think of the reach of our Eucharistic Prayers: how they enfold the living and the dead, the world and the Church. Think of the great intercessions of Good Friday. Standing at the foot of the Cross with Mary, we pray on that hold day for the Church, for the Pope, for all the ordained and all the faithful, for catechumens, for the unity of Christians, for the Jews, for those who don’t believe, those in public office, everyone suffering everywhere. We ask God the Father that “he may cleanse the world of all errors, banish disease, drive out hunger, unlock prisons, loosen fetters, granting to travellers  safety, to pilgrims return, health to the sick, and salvation to the dying”. This is prayer as wide as the outstretched arms of Christ. It’s the prayer of Christ and his Body. Lent invites us into it. The world cries out for it. “And all thy people’s prayers and vows ascending, hear we beseech thee.”

Then, in the 2nd stanza, fresh imagery appears. We move from a God who listens to a God who looks, a God who shines. “Look down in mercy…Pour on our souls the radiance of thy presence.”  We ask him to drive “the shades of darkness” from us, to “lighten our footsteps”. “Lift up the light of your face on us, O Lord.”  If we do pray, we begin to see God’s radiance, his light in our lives and in the world, not forgetting the world of nature. Our word “Lent” first meant “spring” and is connected to “lengthen”, to the lengthening days of a northern springtime, the steady growth of light. Do I begin to see the glory? “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey” (Lumen Fidei 57). “Lead, kindly light!” But it is a true light. This 2nd stanza surely looks to the Easter Vigil. The Paschal Candle entering the darkened church to the cry of Lumen Christi! “Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14). “Pour on our souls the radiance of thy presence”; Christ’s Resurrection is that radiance.

Then Stanza 3. The God who listens and answers, the God who looks and shines, becomes the God who acts, who frees. “Free us from sin by might of thy great loving.” There’s a swirl of verbs: free, cleanse, loose, spare and finally raise. Sinful, sordid, fettered, fallen we may be, but then there is  the “might” of God’s “great loving”. And what God the Father did for his Son, raising him from the dead, he does for us. “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12). “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).

So, naturally, we burst into praise – Stanza 4: Glory to the Father, glory to the Sole-begotten, with the Holy Spirit.

It’s a beautiful hymn. Google it, read it, reflect on it, pray with it. It shows us a God who listens, a God who shines, a God who frees. Our Father! A God with ears and face and hands. May he be our discovery, our re-discovery, this Lent and Easter!


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
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