Faith & Thought

A Moment of Grace During The Recessional Hymn

I had a strange but wonderful experience at the end of the Eucharistic Celebration on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. At the parish where I have been celebrating the Sunday Eucharist for approximately 40 years, the hymns that are to be sung during the liturgy are printed in the bulletin. I had not looked at the recessional hymn before starting Mass, so when the leader of the song began to lead us in singing the recessional hymn, this was the first time I had looked at the lyrics. 

The title of the hymn, which I had never previously heard, was “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper.” The theme of the hymn was that even the physical world was preparing to welcome Christ. Because of the Incarnation, even the physical world can become sacramental. 

I was literally stunned by the beauty of the lyrics. I don’t recall ever having a similar experience with a hymn at a Eucharist. For me, the experience was unique. The following are the words to the hymn: 

“Now the heavens start to whisper 

As the veil is growing thin 

Earth from slumber wakes to 


To the stirring faint within: 

Seed of promise deeply planted, 

Child to spring from Jesse’s stem! 

Like the soil beneath the frostline, 

Hearts grow soft to welcome him. 

Heavy clouds that block the 


Now begin to drift away 

Diamond brilliance through 

the darkness 

Shines the hope of coming day 

Christ, the morning star of 


Gleams in a world grown dim. 

Heaven’s ember fans to fullness: 

Hearts grow warm to welcome 


Christ, eternal sun of justice, 

Christ, the rose of wisdom’s seed, 

Come to bless with fire and 


Hours of yearning, hurt, and need. 

In the lonely, in the stranger, 

In the outcast hid from view: 

Child who comes to grace 

the manger, 

Teach our hearts to welcome you.” 

After I had heard the words to the hymn, I called to the members of the congregation who were still leaving the church and asked them to stop for just a moment. Then I read them some of the lyrics that I thought were especially beautiful and suggested that we could meditate on those words for the rest of the day. I had never done anything like that previously in the close to 40 years that I had been celebrating Sunday Eucharist in the parish. 

Shortly after Mass, I decided to make the hymn the center of my homily on Christmas. I have no idea what the experience of the hymn was for members of the congregation or what effect my Christmas homily might have had on Christmas morning. 

What made the lyrics so special to me? I cannot be certain. Might it have been the Holy Spirit? Could it have been a moment of a special grace? Of course I cannot prove the involvement of the Holy Spirit, but I am not ruling out the possibility that my experience was due to the Holy Spirit’s presence. 

I love some of the images in the hymn: the heavens starting to whisper, the veil concealing God’s presence being lifted, earth awaking from slumber to hear the stirring Christ’s presence, our hearts like the soil beneath the frost softening to welcome Christ’s arrival. 

The powerful image that the poem conveys to me is that the entire physical world opens its arms to welcome the Savior! 

I think it is a special blessing that Christians celebrate Christmas every year. It provides us an opportunity to remind ourselves what matters most in our lives. No matter how secular our society becomes and no matter how secular it tempts us to become, when Christmas arrives everyone has a special opportunity to be renewed, to be born again into the great mystery of God’s love. 

When I was a student in the seminary, the spiritual director told us that it is difficult to preach on the great holy days because we have spoken so often about their meaning that it is difficult to say something new. 

My experience has been different. My problem is not trying to say something new that I have not said previously. My problem is trying to find words that are adequate to express the love that God has for us. No matter what words I use, they all come up short. It feels like we have to create a new vocabulary. 

Reflecting on the inadequacy of language, it strikes me that the only way to praise God adequately is not through words but through an action, the action of the Eucharist. The reason that the Eucharist is adequate is that it is the Risen Christ’s action. The Eucharist is the perfect word because it is the Word of God offering Himself to the Father. 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.