My favorite Lenten hymn is “The Glory of These Forty Days.” What I like so much about it is its simple melody coupled with lyrics attributed to St. Gregory the Great that clearly teach us–or at least remind us–what Lent is all about.
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.
This opening verse proclaims the dignity of the season, and immediately links Lent to Jesus’ 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness, which is the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent.
Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.
Here we receive teaching on Moses, who represents the Law; and Elijah, who represents the Prophets. Their special role in salvation was accompanied by fasting. They appear at the Transfiguration, which is the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent.
So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lion’s might;
And John the Bridegroom’s friend became
The herald of Messiah’s name.
Now we hear about Daniel and St. John the Baptist, figures who also come to mind during the Lenten season. Prayer and fasting are connected with deliverance and heralding Jesus as the Messiah. And there’s also the catechetical point that Christ is the Bridegroom, wedded to His Bride, the Church.
Then grant that we like them be true,
Consumed in fast and prayer with you;
Our spirits strengthen with your grace,
And give us joy to see your face.
The hymn here concludes with a personal application, that with Christ and in imitation of the saints and heroes of the Bible, we might devote ourselves to prayer and fasting, as we continue on our journey to our eternal home, where our joy will be complete.
Surely there are other excellent Lenten hymns. I personally tend to be more patient with contemporary hymns that have doctrinally sound lyrics but have a less agreeable melody. Where I tend to lose it is when I start reading a hymn’s lyrics and can’t readily figure out (a) what it means, and (b) why it’s even considered a Christian hymn, suitable for liturgical worship.
Yet our celebration of the liturgical year isn’t limited to Sunday Mass and dependent on the hymns that are selected by the “music minister.” I strongly recommend that families sing hymns together–whether at the dinner table, during evening prayers, or some other suitable time. “The Glory of These Forty Days” is an easy song to learn, and singing it as a family is a two-fer: we’re praying (twice, according to St. Augustine) and catechizing, and in the process we’re building an authentically Catholic culture.