It is late in the evening on the east coast of the United States: the 23rd hour of the day we call February 25th. But where my Uncle, Fr. George Pope, lives (he is a priest in Bangladesh), not only is it already February 26th, but it has been so for some time. It is 9:00 in the morning there and people are likely arriving at work—on a day that has yet to begin for me. Further to the east, in Sydney, Australia, it is 1:00 in the afternoon of February 26th, and people are returning from lunch—before I have even gone to bed! In Wellington, New Zealand, the work day is almost over; it is 3:00 PM and many are looking to wrap things up in a couple of hours and head home—from a day that doesn’t even exist for me yet!
Time. What could be simpler than for me to look at the clock and say, “It is 11:00 PM on June 15th”? And yet what could be more mysterious than a simple thing like 11:00 PM, June 15th? For time interacts with space and folds back on itself. Time is simply a human reckoning of a mysterious passage.
And yet the mystery is also beautiful. At any given time, some of us sleep and some of us are at midday. There is a wonderful verse in an old English hymn that says,
The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.
And other verses say,
We thank Thee that thy Church unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island,
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
nor dies the strain of praise away.
They are magnificent lines, a beautiful and poetic description of the Church—always praising, always sighing, always at worship. While some sleep, the praises continue. One of the psalms says, Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations. (Psalm 113:2-4). And yet the praises never end, for the sun is always rising even as it is setting somewhere else on this earth.
And Malachi, prophesying the glory of the Mass celebrated worldwide, says, My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 1:11). At any one time, Mass is surely being offered somewhere on this earth. The Liturgy of the Hours too, always coming forth from the lips of the faithful somewhere on this spinning orb. Yes, in the mystery of time, this planet of ours is a place of perpetual praise. And our praises join the perpetual praises of heaven, for as the Liturgy proclaims (in the words of the new translation), And so, Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, as we sing the hymn of your glory, without end we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…
Yes, the mystery of time, and our praises caught up in its ever-moving sweep. What St Paul says to us as individuals is also fulfilled by the worldwide Church. The advice is so simple and yet so profound. He says, Pray always (1 Thess 5:17)
Here is the full hymn (The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended) that was quoted above. The full text of the hymn is here: The Day Thou Gavest.