TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Canticle of the Turning

What an amazing week it has been for the Catholic Church in Australia. The first session of the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia was closed today (Sunday) after many words, both written and spoken. Now begins the nine-month journey to the second session which will be held in July. For many women, the image of nine months won’t be lost on them.

As a mum, I can share with you, from the moment you realise you are with child, your thoughts, emotions and heart leap ahead to the due date, to the changes that the birth of this child will bring and then to the years that will follow, and what it might look like for you, the child and the family into which it is being born. These hopes, fears, anxieties and joys are spontaneous and come without an active consciousness. I wonder if this is the case for those who attended this session of the Plenary Council and also for those of us watching and waiting.

With this imagery in mind, like with the birth of any child into a family, life will not be the same. Change is inevitable and we just don’t know what that change will be. We can plan, but like the Second Vatican Council, the short-term and long-term effects cannot be known. That is the work of the Holy Spirit, that same Holy Spirit we prayed to in the Plenary Council Prayer, Come Holy Spirit of Pentecost.

While engaged in the ‘events’ of the week of the Plenary Council, I could not but help think of our own Diocesan Synod, and as I listened to the reporting back from the small groups,at the beginning of each day, I thought that our Diocese was a micro-expression of their conversations. I reflected that it is faith that must drive all that we do – parishes, outreach, schools, social services, health, aged-care, early childhood, etc. Our faith, in a God who loves us and is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, is what sets us apart from any other organisations which may be involved in these endeavours. Our synodal journey is embodied in the enacting of it. There are no magical formulae for the Plenary Council, our Diocesan Synod or the Synod on Synodality - we will discover what we are being called to in the doing.

In my recent teaching on a unit on the Church, in the Christian Formation Course, I broke open for the participants two terms from the Second Vatican – ressourcement and aggiornamento. Ressourcement calls us to go back to our authoritative sources of Christian faith for the purpose of rediscovering their truth, while aggiornamento invites us to read the signs of the times. Almost sixty years on from Vatican II, this is still our journey. It is these two terms, along with synodality that will continue to drive our renewal.

On Friday, the following reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians (3:14 – 19) formed the prayer and reflection for the Plenary Council Members. I have added in verses 20 and 21:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

I think that this reading could sum up the hopes of so many for the Plenary Council. We are being invited to be filled with the fullness of God, not for ourselves but for the world in which we find ourselves.

On another day during the week, the prayer included the words to the Canticle of the Turning. Once again, these words spoke powerfully to me of our journey with each other and our hopes. I thought I would provide you with my research about where these words originated and also a link to the song as well as the words for you to ponder and pray.

The song the Canticle of the Turning, based on the Magnificat (Song of Mary), was written by Rory Cooney in 1988, at the beginning of the Year of Luke. The melody is the popular Irish tune "Star of the County Down" which first appeared as the song "Gilderoy" from Pills to Purge Melancholy by Thomas d'Urfey, published between 1698 and 1720. This version is sung by Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney & Theresa Donohoo from the album "Safety Harbor". Canticle

It reflects Mary’s song and the Song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. God takes action in the world on behalf of the powerless, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry, tearing the mighty from their thrones. The words reflect lament and hope, and I found the music version to be one of joy and excitement.

I think it invites us to a metanoia, a repentance and change of self and a change of heart. This interior beginning will hopefully lead to a collective and visible renewal. This canticle invites us to sing around the fire of darkness while we wait for the dawning of a new world. I invite you to imagine Mary and her cousin Elizabeth dancing with delight as they recognise their joint pregnancy and their collective expectation. I hope this might be us!!!!

Canticle of the Turning – Rory Cooney

My soul cries out with a joyful shout
That the God of my heart is great
And my spirit sings of the Wondrous things
That you bring to the ones who wait
You fixed your sight on your servant's plight
And my weakness you did not spurn
So from east to west shall my name be blest
Could the world be about to turn?

Chorus: My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn!

Though I am small, my God, my all, you
Work great things in me
And your mercy will last from the Depths
Of the past to the end of the age to be
Your very name puts the proud to shame
And to those who would for you yearn
You will show your might
Put the strong to flight
For the world is about to turn


From the halls of power to the fortress tower
Not a stone will be left on stone
Let the king beware for your
Justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne
The hungry poor shall weep no more
For the food they can never earn
There are tables spread, ev'ry
Mouth be fed
For the world is about to turn.


Though the nations rage from age to age
We remember
Who holds us fast
God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing grasp
This saving word that our forebears
Heard is the promise which holds us bound
'Til the spear and rod can be
Crushed by God
Who is turning the world around


May the chorus also give you hope as we journey synodally in our Diocese, in the Church of Australia and now in the Universal Church:

My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears
For the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn!


Teresa Brierley
Director Pastoral Ministries
12 October 2021

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Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.