O Holy Night

It is tonight, of course, Christmas Eve. It is also my favorite Christmas song. Four lines in the first verse really sum up for me the meaning of Christmas:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

I have it on tapes and CDs by Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, Barbara Hendricks, and Maria Carey. Maria’s, on her 1994 “Merry Christmas” CD might be the most spectacular, showing off her four – or is it five – octave vocal range.

Curiously, it is a song I’ve never heard sung in any church I’ve ever attended. There might be a financial reason for that – stiff royalty payments for public usage or something like that. I did read somewhere that it was not performed in the South for a long time – shunned if not actually banned in some places – because of two lines in the third verse:

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.

There is a wealth of information about it on the Internet of course. Here are a few tidbits I gleaned for you just now from this one: http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/h/oholynit.htm.

The words date from 1847 and are by Pla­cide Cap­peau, (Mi­nuit, chré­tiens, c’est l’heure so­len­nelle); trans­lat­ed from French to Eng­lish by John S. Dwight (1812-1893). The music is by Adolphe C. Adam (1803-1856).

Interestingly, it is said to have been the first mu­sic ev­er broad­cast over a radio.

Recordings and performances usually include only the first verse. It is a shame that the others are ignored for they convey powerful messages too.

Here are the words from the link set forth above. You probably know the first verse by heart already. The other two though might not be familiar, and the third verse might even be surprising.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the wise men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend!
He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King; before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy Name!
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!

Merry Christmas.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC. 24-December-2013.

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2 Responses to O Holy Night

  1. Marge Stevens says:

    The Choir at St. John’s Broad Creek is singing this tonight, both the first and third verses. It is perhaps the range that prevents most choirs from singing it more often, but our arrangement seems to take care of that and we have a soprano who has the higher range. Merry Christmas from Southern Maryland! Marge Stevens

  2. Rich Turner says:

    We have sung it at the Christmas Eve service occasionally over he years. Carleen and I have both done it, but it was probably a decade ago for both of us. I admit to also having a sweet spot in my heart for it. I sang it every night when I was doing “Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush” down at the Arena Stage (more than a decade ago). I don’t recall there ever being any controversy about it when I was growing up in Montgomery, AL, but then there were lots of things that were “unwritten rules” I never knew about. We are doing some new pieces at 10:00 that have amazing lyrics – Hope there are lots of folks to hear them! One of my favorites is “Waye not his Cribb.”
    Waye not his cribb, his wooden dishe,
    nor beastes that by him feede;
    Waye not his mother’s poor attire,
    Nor Joseph’s simple weede.

    Waye not his cribb, the stable is a Prince’s court,
    The cribb his chaire of State;
    The beastes are parcell of his pompe,
    The wooden dishe his plate.

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