Let all mortal flesh keep silence – Happy New (Church) Year! #Advent

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Before I start my Advent calendar ‘proper’ I wanted to write a small post today by way of an introduction. I went to a beautiful Advent service at Bradford Cathedral last night which was rich in Bible readings, sacred music and liturgy. Advent marks the beginning of the Church calendar, we begin the church year with a time of reflection, repentance and focus on the coming of the Kingdom.

My friend Rolf wrote an excellent blog yesterday about the O Antiphons that make up the structure of one of my favourite carols, O come O come Emmanuel. Do read it, it’s fascinating!

In response I’d like to refer to the carol Let all mortal flesh keep silence (which we sang last night). The tune is a beautiful old French tune, but it is the words which I noticed more. They are actually adapted from the Liturgy of St James – considered to be the oldest liturgy of the Eucharist that we have and still celebrated in the original Greek by Eastern Orthodox churches. The James of said liturgy is James the Just, brother of Christ and the first bishop of Jerusalem. As all liturgy, this one is based in scripture and particularly built around Habakkuk 2:20:

“Let all the earth keep silence before him.”

 Some scholars even think the liturgy goes back to AD60 – around the same time that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans! However, most scholars think it dates back to the 4th century – that’s still early enough for me to feel an amazing connection with the early church as I pray these same words that they prayed.

Below I have reproduced the hymn as translated in Victorian times into English. Here is a nice musical setting of the hymn from YouTube. Perhaps you would like to sing or pray along with these ancient words as part of your advent devotions.

1.        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. 2.        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. 3.        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. 4.        At his feet the six-winged seraph,         cherubim, with sleepless eye,         veil their faces to the presence,         as with ceaseless voice they cry:         Alleluia, Alleluia,         Alleluia, Lord Most High!
Text:??Liturgy of St. James; trans. by Gerard Moultrie??Music:??French carol melody; harm. from The English Hymnal????Tune:??PICARDY,??Meter:??87.87.87???

 

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