Lyrics: Gerard Moultrie from a 4th century text.
Music: PICARDY from a French folk tune, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Theme: [Jesus said:] I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. John 6:51
Here is a Greek Orthodox version of this ancient hymn (not your more accessible PICARDY) that derives from what is called the Liturgy of St. James.
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.
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.
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.
At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
The words to this hymn are taken from a prayer written in the fourth century, used by the Orthodox church in Constantinople and still recited by Orthodox Christians to this day. The tune is based on a French carol melody and harmonized by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I’m especially pleased that this sort-of Christmas-y hymn made the list, because it has become one of my favorites since I was introduced to it just a few years ago.
And here’s the Picardy tune:
Such powerful images! And the music somehow intensifies the drama. I love singing this hymn with and before the “host of heaven” in a congregation “with fear and trembling” standing.