Hymn for the Lenten Season: Attende Domine

March 3 – Hymn for the Lenten Season: Attende Domine

One thing that helps me enter more deeply into the feel or experience of a particular season is music. A few years ago, I discovered an old hymn that has been part of the Lenten experience of the Church for a millennium, titled, in Latin, Attende Domine. It is an ancient hymn in the Gregorian chant tradition that both in its chant melody and in its lyrics has deeply moved me this Lenten season. At first glance its lyrics may seem like quite a depressing or pessimistic hymn; it is quick to name us as sinners, “burdened with sin” and “owning our offenses” and condemned and convicted by our sin!

And nobody particularly likes to be reminded of his or her own sins! I don’t like to look at or acknowledge sin in myself – and I ESPECIALLY don’t like it when it is pointed out by others! But the season of Lent is a time to do just that…to recognize our own sinfulness and need for repentance.

Yet while the words of the hymn calls attention to our sinfulness, it does not stop there, but calls for repentance! The recognition of our sin is always for us to repent, not on our own but by returning to our Savior and Redeemer to RESCUE us!

The hymn repeats this hopeful cry in its refrain to “Have mercy on us, Lord, we implore you!” Or some translations of the refrain are, “Draw NEAR to us O Lord”.

The hymn goes on seeing that Jesus is the Gentle Savior, who has GREAT compassion! But not only is He gentle and loving, but that He has the POWER to save us, and to do so mightily! As it says in the third verse: “…Though sin condemns us, You are STRONG to Save us!” That He is the “Gate of Salvation and way to life immortal”!

Believe it or not, there are some days when I feel very convicted of my own wrongdoings, my sinfulness and failures. There are days when the things I’ve said and done wrong weigh heavily upon me. Especially those things that have left others hurt, and I cannot take back what I’ve done. When I’m painfully aware of my failures and screw ups as a priest, as a man of God, as a brother, son, and friend.

BUT the great hope is that there is SALVATION from all my failures. That God’s redemption and salvation is far greater, far mightier than my sins … That His light is far greater than my darkness! Or to steal a quote written about the joy of heaven: “Here is joy that cannot be shaken. Our light can swallow up your darkness: but your darkness cannot now infect our light.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, Ch. 13)

This hymn sings of this great hope! That ultimately God is far greater than our sins, and so with great we TURN to Him, and look to Him to rescue us to save us! And what a Mighty Savior He is!


– Fr. Kevin