The Hit Singer’s Saint Song

O God of loveliness, O Lord of Heaven above,
How worthy to possess my heart’s devoted love.
So sweet Thy countenance, so gracious to behold
— To Thee alone I give my undivided love.

O God of Loveliness Jennifer Warnes

Did you know that St. Alphonsus Ligouri, the prolific author of spiritual books, also wrote hymns? One was a hit, too. This brief, stark, and powerful reading of most sacred words appears on a 1976 album by Jennifer Warnes. She had her “breakout” hit, “Right Time of the Night” on the album, as well as another very good song that did not do as well, “I’m Dreaming”. The radio station where I was on air had extra copies, and I brought one home to share with my wife.

Obviously, we loved the two pop hits, but were struck by Warnes’ placement of “O God of Loveliness”, as the last track on the “B” side.

St. Alfonso Liguori wrote the song and words in the mid to late 1700s. The English translation appears about a century later.

Alfonso’s words are so personal, so direct, in thankfulness to God, he (and we) bow our heads, open our hearts, and say to ourselves, My Lord and My God, you fill me with radiance. I am not worthy  of this magnificent gift, and I promise to treasure it, always. And, we may sing the song communally, but we keep these words personally.

I do not have any background on the artist’s decision to use the song. I have read that Warnes was raised Catholic in Seattle, and had considered the religious life after high school. While she had a number of tremendously popular secular tunes, including likely her most famous “Time of My Life”, from the movie “Dirty Dancing” in the late 1980s, this track has stuck with me. The interpretation is : stop what you’re doing. Feel the presence of Our Lord. Take in all you sense, and breathe in His presence.

Perhaps this is the best part. Our Lord is always near, no matter what, no matter where. He is with us in our greatest moments and greatest challenges. He has given us our greater gift: Our hearts full of faith, hope, and love.

Michael Throop