I was surprised and gratified to discover that this was to the opening hymn sung at Mass in my parish this Sunday:
Judge eternal, throned in splendor,
Lord of lords and King of kings,
with the living fire of judgment
purge this land of bitter things;
solace all its wide dominion
with the healing of thy wings.
Still the weary folk are pining
for the hour that brings release,
and the city’s crowded clangor
cries aloud for sin to cease;
and the homesteads and the woodlands
plead in silence for their peace.
Crown, O God, thine own endeavor;
cleave our darkness with thy sword;
feed all those who do not know thee
with the richness of thy word;
cleanse the body of this nation
through the glory of the Lord.
This hymn seems to me very timely, given the general tenor of public rhetoric (and private griping) leading up to, and following, the recent U.S. presidential election. Many Americans, like me, contemplated their votes with fear and trembling, and too many have greeted the results of the election with anger and bitterness — as if the election of one head of state somehow will bring about the end of the world. I think we would all love to have our land “purged of bitter things — if only we could agree on what things those are!
But, of course, the hymn was not chosen with anything so mundane as elections in mind; rather, it echoes the theme of the readings of the day, which remind us of the coming of the Lord in judgment at the end of time, when this world shall pass away.
Sub specie aeternitatis
The Church, in her wisdom, brings the liturgical year to a close — even as it approaches a new beginning — by putting us in mind of the End of All Things. In the waning of the natural year, while harvests are being gathered in, we turn our thoughts also to the Harvest of Souls, commemorated in the Solemnity of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls. Even Advent, which marks the beginning of a new liturgical year, has the double focus of Christ’s first Coming as God-Made-Man and His second Coming, as Judge and King who will put all things to rights. These two events should never be separated in our minds or hearts.
Nonetheless, I find it a happy coincidence that the season of our national elections coincides with this liturgical turn toward contemplation of the Lord’s rule over us and His judgment upon our actions. It puts into proper perspective events which many have found distressing and others, perhaps, find unduly encouraging. As this Sunday’s Gospel reading reminds us, turmoil and persecution will necessarily precede the final Coming of the Lord, when He shall “with the living fire of judgment / purge this land of bitter things.” Meanwhile, we “weary folk” must persevere and continue “pining for the hour that brings release.” If we do so, by our endurance we shall gain our lives.
So let’s put the recent election in its proper perspective, i.e., sub specie aeternitatis (God’s perspective) and remember, as we shall be reminded next Sunday, the feast of Christi the King:
Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!
Author: L. A. Nicholas
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