Monday, December 10, 2007

My Favorite Advent Hymn

This year, I heard a beautiful hymn for the first time. It is now my favorite for Advent. The words are wonderful. The tune is haunting and well suited for the flow of each verse. At first, I wondered why this carol was not more popular. As a musician and singer, you would think that I would have heard this ancient song before. This song is superior in every way to many of the more popular Christmas carols. I couldn't figure out why this one fell into relative obscurity for those who are outside of the practices of the traditional western rite church.

After singing this hymn a few times, I realized the reason. There is pesky Real Presence language in verse 2 that would have make it unsuitable for memorialist Christians. They don't like to sing songs that remind them that they do not follow ancient teachings of the church. This would explain why my fundamentalist background never brought me near this piece.

If you have not heard someone sing this hymn, you have missed out on one of the treasures of Christianity. Here are the lyrics. You need to hear someone sing this hymn if you have never heard it!

Σιγησάτο παρα σαρξ βροτεία
[Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence]
Text: Liturgy of St James, 4th Century
Translated from Greek to English by Gerard Moultrie, 1864
Tune: 17th Century French Carol

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!


Christopher D. Hall said...

This is one of my favorites too. I think the real presence of Christ is even more apparent in the original:

Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and with fear and trembling stand. Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and with fear and trembling stand. Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for the King of kings and Lord of lords
advances to be slain
and given as food to the faithful. Before him go the choirs of Angels, with every rule and authority,
the many-eyed Cherubim and the six-winged Seraphim,
veiling their sight and crying out the hymn:
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Mike Baker said...

Thank you Pastor Hall,

I actually saw the original text of Liturgy of St. James prior to this post. I came across it while I was researching the origin of the hymn.

For those who do not know, this hymn is a versified adaptation of the original text that Pastor Hall provided in his comment. It reminds me of how O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is a versification of the Advent antiphons for Dec 17-23.

Thank you, Pastor, for the huge boost to my point about the Real Presence in early hymnody. The original text is even more clear about what the true doctrine of the early church was.

[Insert the "bankrupt" sound effect from Wheel Of Fortune for the memorialists who have done a bad spin.]