STLT#231, Angels We Have Heard on High

Note: There’s some business at the end of the post. Good stuff.

God bless our Hymnal Commission.

They worked very hard to ensure the music contained in this collection reflects our theologies, with an eye to expansiveness. I appreciate their hard work – and as I reflected in O Come Emmanuel, I think they often hit the mark.

I’m not just saying that because a member of the commission reads this regularly. (waves hi.) It is true – there are some marvelous choices they make. And from an expansively theological viewpoint, the edits in this beloved hymn are also marvelous.

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.
Gloria, in excelsis Deo.

Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why these songs of happy cheer?
What great brightness did you see? What glad tidings did you hear?


See him in a manger laid whom the angels praise above;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid, while we raise our hearts in love.



I’m not sure why verse two needed to be changed at all; it’s not like we don’t mention heaven elsewhere in the hymnal. Here’s the original verse two:

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
which inspire your heavenly song? [Chorus]

But what I’m really a little sad about is that we had to lose the original verse three, rather than simply include the new verse three; they’re not that similar and then congregations would have had the option to sing the higher Christology v. lower Christology verse. I mean, this is the verse we all grew up on (if you grew up on Christmas carols):

Come to Bethlehem and see
him whose birth the angels sing;
come, adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord, the new-born King. [Chorus]

I mean, I get it – in an effort to remove the language of empire, we needed to get rid of “King” and “Lord” – so I don’t fault the Hymnal Commission really. On the other hand, there’s a wishy-washy-ness here, an approach that says we don’t want to bother anybody with a briefly strong statement of theology, especially when it’s Christian in nature. (I doubt this is what the Commission had in mind – although I suspect they also were wrestling with non-Christians about making these songs accessible.)

So I don’t know. I could – and probably should – let it go. After all, we’ve got a SLEW of these carols to go, many of which have reconfigured lyrics. Some of them are not to my taste, but some of them are. The good news is that we didn’t shy away from including them.

Finally, I should mention that this is one of my favorite traditional carols. I love singing it and have a blast adding harmonies and descants. I don’t mind singing this one on a mid-May morning at all!

Two quick bits of business:

  1. A huge pile of thanks to regular reader and colleague Oscar Sinclair, who saw that I bemoaned the empty spot on my bookshelf where the last of the Seaburg collections should be – a copy of Celebrating Christmas was in my mailbox yesterday!
  2. Because folks are already making appointments and planning events for General Assembly, and because I already had a lot of people sign up to sing with me at GA, I have chosen the winners and am scheduling the days! If you still want to get together while there, send me a note here or on Facebook and we’ll see what we can do.

    Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be spending my mornings with Monica Dobbins, Lyn Cox, Karen Eng, Marcia Stanard, Katy Carpman, Katie Kandarian-Morris, and Rachael Hayes. I’ll also be catching up with Debra Boyd, Suzanne Fast, and Oscar Sinclair. WHEE!!

3 responses to “STLT#231, Angels We Have Heard on High”

  1. Heather Petit Avatar
    Heather Petit

    I will see you there somewhere. I just can’t schedule anything until I know the youth group schedule…

    1. Fantastic! Let’s stay in touch.

  2. Not sure why the original lyrics from the traditional French version weren’t used. They’re lovely and refer to Jesus only as “Liberator of Israel” which I think would be fabulous for the U.U.

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