Explore the many ways a favorite hymn can help us understand our faith.
By Kate Daneluk
Traditional hymns have stood the test of time and can communicate some of the best catechesis if we take the time to unpack them. The music makes them easy to remember and we have a reference for the rest of our lives to help us better understand our faith. Take some time with us here and in your classroom to explore the Hymn of the Month.
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.
Frederick William Faber (1862)
Over 150 years ago, Frederick Faber wrote this song marveling in the mercy of God. While we could spend Lent considering our sinfulness and mortal limitations, it is most encouraging to remember that despite this, our merciful God is prepared to make up for our weakness with His strength and mercy. This hymn beautifully illustrates the balance and paradox of a God that is perfectly just and perfectly merciful.
One of the most exciting parts of the hymn is the conclusion which explains that if we could truly understand the love and mercy of our God, we would not fail and sin but live in constant thanksgiving. However, we are a broken people and do not fully understand the very mystery that saves us from our failings. And so after the paradoxical mystery is introduced in the first verse, the second goes on to point out how beyond our understanding this mystery is.
The beauty of the mysteries of our faith is they show us that God’s wisdom is different and greater than ours. Even though we cannot ever understand a mystery like a God who is perfectly just and yet perfectly and abundantly merciful, we are called to meditate and reflect on these truths to grow in our faith and understanding of our God.
For the classroom:
Let There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy be your hymn of the month. Put the hymn on the bulletin board. Have a copy with the music for each student to keep in their desk or binders. Sing the hymn each day and spend some time breaking it down throughout the month with mini-lessons.
- Examine the lyrics: Take time to go through the lyrics and ensure that the students understand the meaning and vocabulary. This is a great opportunity to let the students share their reflections and share their faith.
- Scripture connection: Have the students look up and read the relevant scripture to the lyrics.
Psalms 25, 33, 36:5, 51, 57:10, 86:5&15,98:9, 98:9, 103:1-17, 130:7-8, 136:1-26, 145:9
Isaiah 53:5, 7-9, 19 and 63:7-9
- Language Arts: The poetry of the lyrics are an opportunity to review rhyme scheme, meter, stanza, and form.
- Learning about Heaven and the Communion of Saints: We don’t know much about Heaven, but we know it is God’s home. Two very important points are made about Heaven in the hymn; those in Heaven are concerned for us on earth and pray for us each day. We attain Heaven not just through our efforts but primarily through God’s mercy. This is good opportunity to discuss the afterlife with your students and the Church’s teachings on Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.
- Mercy: Be sure your class understands the definition of Mercy. Have them discuss examples of how we can be merciful or receive mercy from each other.
- Justice: Justice by man’s standards is not the same as by God’s standards. This is an excellent time to review how salvation history shows a movement from Old Testament justice to a New Testament emphasis on mercy and forgiveness. Justice is the reason Christ offered Himself for our sins. This concept connects easily to The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe if you are looking for a literature connection.
- Mystery: One of the most difficult concepts in our faith is that of mystery. It is very important for students to know that while they are expected to meditate and reflect on the mysteries of our faith, they are unable to understand it. Often students will fall into heresy in an attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible so be very mindful of this and ready to correct these errors. The mystery of a perfectly just and unboundedly merciful God is a perfect example.
- The Infinite: As limited mortal beings we cannot fathom the infinite power, goodness, love and mercy of God. Let students spend time reflecting on the concepts of infinity, forever, unlimited, etc.
Let your classroom remind students each day of their dependence on God’s mercy and let your soul reflect on the magnitude of this mercy and God’s goodness.
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic school teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music, Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.