A Fine Text for St. Paul’s Conversion

A Fine Text

Image of St. Paul from the Sisters' Collections

One of the greatest joys of my time so far with the sisters of St. Paul’s Monastery has been exploring the rich diversity of hymns available to us for singing at the Liturgy of the Hours. Although the abundance of hymns at most parish Masses is relatively new in the history of the Church, they have long been part of the Divine Office. Benedict himself calls for hymns as part of the different hours, specifying “Ambrosian hymns” (those traditionally attributed to St. Ambrose, d. 397), “the hymn proper to each hour” for the hours during the day, and even naming the hymns “Te Deum laudamus” and “Te decet laus” as proper to the Night Office on Sundays.

Over the years, the great poets of Christianity have added countless more hymn texts to our repertoire. One fine text for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul comes to us from the Benedictine St. Peter Damian (ca. 1007-1072). The Divine Office Hymnal published by the US Catholic Bishops in 2023 gives this new translation:

Together let the Church extol
Paul’s noble glory and renown:
this foe so wondrously transformed,
the great Apostle claimed by Christ.

The ardent zeal with which he burned
and raged against the name of Christ
then blazed with even greater flame
as he proclaimed Christ’s saving love.

How worthy of a great reward!
Paul climbed the third celestial height
and heard of myst’ries told in words
that none would ever dare to tell.

Then, as he sowed the word in seed,
the harvest grew with richest grain,
and so the barns of heaven filled
with fruit of good and holy works.

Resplendent like a gleaming lamp,
he floods the world with rays of light
and puts to flight dark sin and doubt,
that truth alone may reign supreme.

All glory be to Christ the Lord,
the Father and the Spirit blest,
who on the nations have bestowed
the shining chosen vessel Paul.

Like so many of the texts in the Divine Office Hymnal, there is much more here than could easily be absorbed while singing the hymn once during Morning Prayer. I like to think it is the fruit of St. Peter Damian’s lectio divina, combining like a mosaic many New Testament passages written by or about Paul. May it provide material for our own lectio as we celebrate this great feast of our patron.

Stephen Kasperick-Postellon is the Director of Liturgy and Music for St. Paul's Monastery since 2022. He is an oblate of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie (PA).