"Hark the Herald Angels Sing"

Monday, December 12, 2016

This week I am covering another of Charles Wesley’s hymns. The angels in the picture will provide a clue, and the title of the post absolutely gives it away. Yes, I’m talking about “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

That wasn’t the original title or the original beginning. According to Hymnary.org, George Whitefield changed the first line in 1753, the refrain was added in 1782, and various other wording changes were made before the 18th century was over. The original version was also much longer, with ten stanzas rather than just the three we usually sing today.

Charles Wesley’s first two lines were:

Hark, how all the welkin rings
Glory to the King of Kings.

(According to my dictionary, “welkin” means the vault of heavens, or the sky.)

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is usually sung to the tune “Mendelssohn,” is also an anomaly. The tune is based on Felix Mendelssohn’s “Festgesang,” which the composer claimed was not fitted to a religious text. But William Cummings didn’t care what Mendelssohn thought when Cummings adapted the music in 1856 to fit “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Here are the three verses that most of us know. Again, this version comes from The Lutheran Service Book published by Concordia Publishing House.

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as Man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Immanuel. Refrain.

Hail, the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth. Refrain.

Next week I’ll discuss another Christmas hymn. Or is it a Christmas carol? I’ll cover that distinction, too.


The picture shows the indoor nativity scene at the Church of Ste. Genevieve in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. I took the photo in 2014.

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