Monday, November 8, 2010

Angels We Have Heard On High

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hots praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men! Luke 2:13-14

"Les Anges dans nos Capagnes" was a French carol dating from the 1700s, which appeared in several different versions. It was published in English in 1862, the words saying:

Angels we have heard on high / Sweetly singing o'er the plains,
And the mountains in reply / Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

An older version had the title "Harken All! What Holy Singing!" The words, translated in English said:

Harken, all! What holy singing / Tell us when the seraphy bright
"Tis a hymn with grandeur ringing, / Sung by voices clear and high.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Still another primitive version speaks from the shepherd's vantage point, sayhing:

Shepherds in the field abiding, / Tell us when the seraph bright
Greeted you with wondrous tiding, / What you saw and heard that night.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Hymns are usually authored by human beings like us, but in this case obscure verses by unknown French poets were coupled with a refrain that was literally composed by angels in heaven: Gloria, in excelsis Deo. That's the latin wording for the angelic anthem "Glory to God in the highest!" It comes from Luke 2:14 in the Vulgate, the latin version of the Bible. The Latin word Gloria means "glory," and in excelsis is the phrase "in the highest." Our english words excel and excellent come from the same root, meaning "to rise" or "to ascend" or "to be high." The Latin word Deo means "God."

This was the song proclaimed by the angels over Shepherd's Field the night Christ was born. The musical score stretches out and emphasizes the words in a way that is uniquely fun to sing and deeply stirring, as we lift our voices to proclaim Jesus has come! Hope has arrived on earth! A Savior is born! Glory to God on High!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Excerpt from Then Sings My Soul, special edition by Robert J. Morgan

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