Creation’s praise of God endures unceasingly

Creation’s praise of God endures unceasingly Kites in the form of birds are flown by environmental activists in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo: CNS

During the Easter Octave we friars here in St Saviour’s in Dublin sang lauds each day in our little oratory. It’s a quiet spot, certainly quieter than our church, whose doors open to a busy street. One morning as we sang I noticed a bright, delicate voice combining with our own chant: a bird in the alley outside was joining her praises to ours.

That might seem like a strange thing to say. Birds are not rational animals, after all, as we are. They’re not capable of knowing and loving God in the way we do. But there is indeed a sense in which they – and all living things – give praise to God. The scriptures speak often of this, as, for example, in the Song of the Three Young Men (Book of Daniel 3). Sung in the Divine Office every Sunday morning, it calls on all of creation to bless the Lord: “creatures of the sea, wild beasts and tame, every bird in the sky, bless the Lord”.


All living things are – after all – God’s creatures: “I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine” (Psalm 50:11). Simply by existing, by living, and, yes, by singing, God’s creatures give glory to him. Their praise of God is not conscious, as ours is, but is magnificent in its own way. It was a song already ancient when our first parents were given immortal souls, and whereas our praise sometimes falters, creation’s praise of God endures unceasingly. Whenever we consciously turn our minds and hearts to God in worship, we are simply joining this deep, omnipresent music.

Of all living things, birds are perhaps most conspicuous in their praise. Like the Church at worship, birds sing in gorgeous abundance, not sparingly. And just as our hearts are lifted up in praise, so the flight of birds lifts them to the heights. Again and again, the Scriptures name these flying beasts with the wonderful name, “the birds of the heavens”.


A second-century writer from North Africa, Tertullian, encouraging his fellow Christians to pray, pointed them to the example of birds: “All creation prays…  The birds taking flight lift themselves up to heaven and instead of hands spread out their wings, while singing what sounds to us like prayer.”

In Ireland too, the birds of the heavens feature in the Christian imagination. The legend of St Brendan’s sea-journey to the Land of Promise of the Saints, read throughout Europe, includes a wonderful account of the ‘Paradise of the Birds’. At Easter, Brendan and his monks arrive at an island, “well-wooded and covered with flowers”. They find on the island a tree with an enormous flock of snow-white birds perched silently on its branches. One of the birds flies down to Brendan – its wings tinkling like bells – and explains that the Irish monks are to rest and praise God with them throughout the Easter Octave.


The monks wait, and at the hour of vespers, the birds suddenly all clap their wings together and begin to sing the hymns and psalms which the monks know and love so well. At every hour of the Divine Office the birds praise God “with voice and wing”, and the monks pray with them in “mutual joy”. On that island, the monks never grew tired of praise: the singing of the birds “was a delight ever new to them”.

The story of St Brendan’s voyage might be fantastical, but it tells the truth: the birds of the heavens, with all creation, are continually praising their maker. In this season of Easter, with voice and wing the birds of heaven invite us to delight anew in the worship of God at the heart of his world.


Keeping our gaze fixed on Christ…

Do you know what an aviary is? I don’t mean the kind of aviary in which birds are enclosed, but a genre of literature, popular in the Middle Ages, describing the appearance and behaviour of birds, as well as their moral and spiritual meanings. They were popular with preachers, who would pepper their sermons with exhortations drawing on our feathered friends. Don’t be like the vulture, they would say, hanging around the deathly stench of sin. Don’t be like the jay, chattering your gossip everywhere. Don’t be like the goose, over-anxious about your safety. Instead, be chaste like the turtledove, penitent like the raven, intelligent like the rooster. And keep your eyes always on the risen Christ, the phoenix who rises from the ashes.