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Finding the sacred in the secular as a Catholic
Before we were even engaged, my fiancé and I already had a few details planned for our wedding Mass, including most of our Mass readings. Yeah, we were that couple.
But the one detail that meant the most to us was the closing hymn, which we decided very early on would be “O God Beyond All Praising.” I don’t even remember where I was first introduced to the hymn — probably sometime during college, if not when I moved to my current parish — but it might be my favorite piece of music. Ever. Whenever I hear it at Mass (especially if it’s played on the organ), I get goosebumps and can’t help smiling while singing. More recently, that smile has gotten bigger as I anticipate a certain day and Mass in October.
So, you can imagine my surprise when the music showed up in a kids show. Let me explain.
If you’re a parent of littles, you might be aware of the Australian TV show “Bluey,” which focuses on a family of animated Blue Heeler dogs: Mum, Dad and two daughters named Bingo (the youngest) and Bluey. Created for preschool-aged kids, I have to give this show major credit, first, for not being obnoxious to adults and, second, for being one of the few shows I’ve encountered with a healthy family dynamic. The parents are always willing to let their kids take them on adventures led by their wild imaginations. Whether it’s dancing in public in order to make their girls happy or pretending that a feather “wand” actually has magical powers, Mum and Dad — even when exhausted, an element the show does not skip over — are always willing to join in the fun, teaching some important lessons along the way.
A few weeks ago, my roommate — who kept hearing about “Bluey” from friends who work with kids — showed me a specific episode of the show, enticing me with the fact that “O God Beyond All Praising” made its way into the background music. The episode — which is called “Sleepytime” and can be found on Disney+ — focuses on Bingo, who is having a hard time sleeping in her own bed. Determined to be a big girl, she goes to sleep and dreams about being in space, hopping from planet to planet. At one point, feeling lonely and cold, a glow begins to radiate from a distance, and she is drawn to the source of the light — which turns out to be the sun. At that moment, the music from “O God Beyond All Praising” began playing … and I may or may not have nearly started to cry; it was that beautiful! My summary doesn’t do the scene justice, so if you are able, I suggest you watch it for yourself.
Later, I learned that the music from this favorite hymn originally comes from Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite about the planets, specifically his piece for Jupiter. While the Catholic Church has a long history of using famous composers to craft Mass settings — Google “Mozart Mass setting” and you’ll see what I mean — Holst’s symphony was composed relatively recently in the early 1900s, and words were only added in 1982 by Michael Perry.
It’s inspiring how the Church can see something beautiful and give it a new home — when appropriate, of course. Not all music considered beautiful is fit for the liturgy, but music such as this section of Holst’s suite that truly lifts the soul, well, even kids’ shows can’t avoid its impact. In fact, I found it striking that the section for Holst’s “Jupiter” that corresponds to “O God Beyond All Praising” began playing at the exact moment when Bingo, in need of warmth and comfort and love, encounters the sun — which always points to the Son.
One of my favorite parts about being Catholic is seeing Catholicism in so much of our culture. The sacred in the secular. It’s impossible to watch TV shows and movies, read books or listen to music without seeing Christian themes. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now I just need to make sure I’m not distracted during my wedding Mass by a certain hymn.
Have you ever had an experience like this? Share your stories by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ava Lalor is associate editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.