From Liber Hymnarius
Audi, benigne Conditor (Gregorius Magnus?)
Melody: dc d fe f de d cd d
Reflection on Audi, benigne Conditor/O Kind Creator, Bow Thine Ear
Rev. Kurt Belsole, O.S.B.
Pontifical North American College
Vatican City State
March 17, 2011
According to the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, which was published in 1971 and which formed the basis of the renewed Liturgy of the Hours after Vatican II, the hymns of the Divine Office should reflect the particular character of the Hour or of the feast (no. 42). Furthermore, it recognizes that the hymns have a place in the Office already from very ancient times, and finally, it notes that traditionally the hymn is concluded by a doxology which is customarily directed to the same Divine Person as the hymn itself (nos. 173-174).
The official Latin edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, therefore, consistent with the tradition assigns a particular hymn to each of the hours of the Office, and the traditional character of the hymn at the Office is not as variable and arbitrary as the edition of the Liturgy of the Hours that is used in the United States might lead one to believe.
Audi, benigne Conditor (O Kind Creator, Bow Thine Ear) is one of only two hymns that are assigned to be sung at Evening Prayer during the first five weeks of Lent. That is hardly by chance. It is one of the truly great hymns of the Catholic liturgical tradition. It was composed perhaps as early as the sixth century, and although it is by an unknown author, it was often attributed to Saint Gregory the Great.
It served as the hymn for Lenten Vespers in the Roman Breviary since the reform of the breviary after the Council of Trent. Beyond that, it also was used in Lenten Vespers in the breviaries of the Ambrosian rite, the Benedictines, Carmelites, Cistercians, Norbertines, Dominicans, and the Roman Curia. In summary, it was the most used, and most characteristic, Lenten Vespers hymn since the beginning of printed breviaries.
As called for in the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, the hymn Audi, benigne Conditor marvelously reflects the particular character of the season of Lent and it is literally packed with various themes that typify the understanding and observance of Lent in the Catholic tradition (the translation used here and in our Evening Prayer is by T.A. Lacey):
mark the cry
know the tear
throne of mercy
hearts are open
abundance of pardoning grace
sins are many
dwell with Thee
fruits of penitence
We sing this hymn both in English and in Latin at Evening Prayer several times during Lent not only because it is one of the two hymns that the Church has chosen for Evening Prayer for the first five weeks of Lent but also because it is a short, but truly exquisite poetic summary of the Church’s understanding of the Lent in the Catholic Tradition. Here we see one small example of the truth about which the great Dominican theologian Yves Congar wrote in his book Tradition and Traditions, “. . . the liturgy is ‘the principal instrument of the Church’s Tradition’ . . . the liturgy is tradition itself, at its highest degree of power and solemnity” (pp. 434-435).