Sunday, March 31, 2024

How John Mason Neale helps us celebrate Easter

This morning, for family reasons we ranged afar from our normal parish, worshipping at an Anglo-Catholic ACNA parish. (Yes, they exist outside of Texas). The parish doesn’t have (and, in my lifetime, rarely has had) a choir. The music was provided by the organist and congregational singing.

Of the four hymns from Hymnal 1940, two were translations byJohn Mason Neale. This made me wonder how many Easter hymns are by Neale.

When I got out of church, my library of American and English hymnals was miles away. So I started with Hymnal 1940, of which five of the 17 Easter hymns were Neale translations. Later on, I found that four were also in Hymnal 1982 and Book of Common Praise 2017:

  • 93: “Thou hallowed chosen morn of praise”
  • 94: “Come ye faithful, raise the strain” (H82: 200; BCP17: 138)
  • 96: “The day of resurrection! Earth tell it all abroad” (H82: 210; BCP17: 123)
  • 98: “That Easter day with joy was bright”  (H82: 193; BCP17: 134)
  • 99: “O sons and daughters let us sing” (H82: 203; BCP17: 142)
From my forthcoming book chapter on Neale, I know that the first four are also among of the 28 Neal translations in Hymnal 1940 that are translations from the first millennium. For H82 and BCP17, it is 3/21 and 3/15 respectively.

The first three are 8th century texts attributed to St. John of Damascus, and are among 10 from his book Hymns of the Eastern Church that were republished in Hymnal 1940. The fourth does not list Neale in the hymnal, but in The Hymnal 1940 Hymnal Companion, the editor concedes that the 1940 version is “based on that of Neale’s Hymnal Noted”. (For those not familiar with Hymnal Noted, I posted a longer article on the influential Neale-led compilation back in 2018).

The fifth hymn is a translation of a 15th century text by Franciscan monk Jean Tisserand, a translation published in Neale’s compilation Medieval Hymns and Sequences. That was our closing hymn this morning, soon after we sang “The day of resurrection” for communion.

So more than 150 years after his death, Neale’s translations are still influencing everyday worship by American Anglicans.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Cambridge Christmas Eve #106: plus ça change

Last week, the exemplar of the modern English choral sound — Kings College Cambridge — reprised their 106th annual Christmas Eve service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The recording of the live BBC broadcast is available until January 23 and the bulletin is available at KCC’s Lessons & Carols website.

The service, created in 1918 and broadcast (almost) continuously since 1928, was central to defining and promoting the distinctive “English” choral sound after World War II.

Both the service and the sound were created by the legendary Arthur Henry Mann (1850-1929), the former Norwich chorister who was appointed to lead KCC in 1876. The transformation of KCC — and English choral music — was brilliantly described by Timothy Day in I Saw Eternity the Other Night, his 2019 book about the choir, which I was fortunate to review in 2021 for the Journal of Anglican Studies.

Changed and Now Different

Although I listen every year, the last time I published a systematic analysis was for 2020’s recorded Covidtide performance. Some things are different and some are not: as the French would say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 

This year most noticeable change is the near absence of the work of Stephen Cleobury (1948-2019), who conducted more Christmas Eve broadcasts (37) than any other, with the longest tenure of any KCC music director since Mann.

In 2018 — the centennial of Lessons and Carols and Cleobury’s final Christmas Eve service — both Cleobury and KCC pulled out all the stops, with a major promotional push, a documentary and two CDs — one in anticipation of the centennial and one capturing the centennial service.

The December 2018 service included one piece arranged by Cleobury (“Seven Joys of Mary”), and one edited by him. It also (characteristically) featured three hymns with Cleobury descants: “Once in Royal David’s city,” “While shepherds watched their flocks,” and “Hark, the herald angels sing.” The first was the standard arrangement to open the KCC service for many years: it is listed as the opening descant in the oldest online program for KCC — the 1997 service recorded in the archives of KCC’s 2019 website (as well as 2000, 2010 and many services in between).

As every year since December 2019, the service was led by Daniel Hyde (1980- ), who succeeded Cleobury as music director in October 2019, less than two months before his death. A choral scholar at KCC under Cleobury in 2000, Hyde used the Cleobury opening descant in 2019 and 2020, but not any service since. In fact, none of the hymns sung by the choir since 2021 have included one of Cleobury’s familiar descants.

Changing but the Same

While the service is world-popular for the singing, the original point was the lessons. As the 2020 booklet summarized

Wherever the service is heard and however it is adapted, whether the music is provided by choir or congregation, the pattern and strength of the service, as [Eric] Milner-White pointed out, derive from the lessons. ‘The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God ...’ seen ‘through the windows and the words of the Bible’.

Unlike the original 1918 service created by Mann and Rev. Milner-White — but like all services from 1997-2007 and since 2018 — the first reading censors God’s pronouncement from Genesis 3:16 as being offensive to modern sensibilities:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

However, consistent with KCC’s official hymnal, the 1986 New English Hymnal — and unlike (say) Hymnal 1982 — the new-born King was “born that man no more may die” and “to raise the sons of earth.”

The service also continues to introduce new music, both the annual new commissioned carol (instituted by Cleobury in 1983) and another new work in memory of Cleobury.

Congregational Hymns

This year, the congregation had a chance to sing five hymns:
  1. Once in Royal David’s City, verses 3-6
  2. O Little Town, verses 1-4. Americans are reminded that it's always Ralph Vaughan William’s Forest Green and not the St. Louis we hear on the radio.
  3. The First Nowell, verses 1,2,4,6 (and all refrains)
  4. O Come All Ye Faithful, verses 1-7
  5. Hark! the Herald-Angels Sing, verses 1-3. As in the New English Hymnal used at King’s College (but unlike Hymnal 1982) Jesus was “Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth.”

According to David Sniden’s KCC database, the first hymn and the last two are unchanged for all services since 1997, and were part of the original 1918 service (although in 1918 the choir performed a carol before the first hymn).

With Cleobury’s descants banished, #1 had a descant by Philip Ledger (who led KCC from 1974-1982) and #3, #4 and #5 descants by David Willcocks (1957-1973). For Adeste Fideleis, verse 6 uses the Willcocks descant while the refrain to verse 7 was reharmonized by Hyde.

A pleasant surprise was the descant by Thomas Armstrong to #2 (“O Little Town”), which seems quite traditional (if not retro) compared to the more flowery descants of the past two or three decades. This descant was previously sung by KCC (under Cleobury) in 2016 and captured on this KCC audio recording among several found on YouTube. 

Armstrong is a common name, but the liner from a 2015 Christmas CD from Queen’s College Oxford helpfully notes that the descant is by “Thomas Armstrong (1898 – 1994)”. Armstrong was the organist at Christ Church, Oxford from 1933-1955. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

[I]n 1923 he … pursue[d] composition studies at the Royal College of Music with Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, and R. O. Morris. …As a composer, Armstrong belonged to the gentle English tradition of Parry, Vaughan Williams, Howells, and Finzi; …. His own compositions are unjustly neglected, many remaining unpublished. One aspect of his music, however, is more familiar than people realize, for some of the striking descants sung in Christmas carol services and concerts were written by him. He acknowledged Vaughan Williams to be the greatest influence of anybody on his life.

This Year’s Carols

Beyond the hymns, there were only a handful of choral pieces that (if (s)he were just listening without a program) the average listener would say “that is a carol.” Two are familiar carols: “The angel Gabriel” and “Come ye faithful Christians” (aka Hereford Carol).

Another is Cleobury’s 2012 arrangement of “King Jesus hath a garden.” It’s not one I’ve heard before, but it sounds like a traditional carol — perhaps because the tune has been sung by the Dutch for nearly 400 years. A third is Ledger’s “A spotless rose is blooming,” written by Ledger in 2002 for KCC using a German text translated by Catherine Winkworth. All seem consistent with Percy Dearmer’s 1931 explanation of the role of a carol of expressing the joy of the season:
The typical carol gives voice to the common emotions of healthy people in language that can be understood and music that can be shared by all. Because it is popular it is therefore genial as well as simple; it dances because it is so Christian, echoing St. Paul’s conception of the fruits of the Spirit in its challenge to be merry — ‘Love and joy come to you’. (Dearmer, 1931, p. v-vi)
Two pieces are more like what one scholar termed an “anthem carol” — although not strophic, they (mostly) have the feel of a traditional Christmas carol — both because of the texts and also because they are written by well-known sacred composers.

The first was the KCC debut of “And all the stars looked down,” premiered at the 2022 Christmas concert of the Lord’s Taverners: John Rutter adapted a Chesterton poem to new music written in Cleobury’s memory. The other was “O radiant dawn,” written by James MacMillan using the text for Dec. 21 from the Advent “O Antiphons” (also verse 5 of the Veni Emmanuel Advent hymn).

Other “Carols”

In one way or another, the other pieces don’t quite sound like carols. Perhaps the closest was this year’s carol commissioned by KCC — “He smiles within his cradle” by Cheryl Frances-Hoad — which uses dynamics and other familiar carol techniques, even if the harmony is not what most listeners would expect.

Two other ones were also close. One is “Benedicamus Domino,” a 1924 carol by Peter Warlock. Listening to it again, there were two reasons that I didn’t care for it. First, with the unfamiliar Latin words racing by, I had no idea what they were singing (the program includes an English translation). Second, the texture of the BBC broadcast seemed muddy — whether due to my home stereo, the chapel’s notorious acoustics or the BBC audio mixing, I can’t really say. With the same speakers, another YouTube recording captures joyous sentiment of the refrain translated “Hurrah, this is our year!”, with a Dec. 23 performance by Magdalene College, Oxford.

The other is the 2006 setting of “Adam lay ybounden” by Matthew Martin, former music director of Keble College, Oxford. As with the YouTube Covidtide performance by Pembroke College Cambridge, it has an atmospheric feel to it rather the rigid stanzas of the more familiar carol by (former KCC music director) Boris Ord. But to me, that feel means that the sound and texture pre-empt the teaching value of the text — and thus (IMHO) the Ord rendition is more suitable for a services of Lessons & Carols, where historically the carols has taught as much (or more) than the lessons.

The remaining three, written in the last 40 years, feel out of place at a celebration of the birth of baby Jesus. They may be a triumph for modern music, but not something I would expect earn a lasting spot in the (vast) Christmas repertoire (but then I have a strong bias against modern tonality).

This Year’s Sung Service

For the record, here is the full list of this year’s choral and congregational music (with composition dates where available). Past and present KCC music directors are shown in italics.
  1. (Hymn) Once in Royal David's city: C.F. Alexander; music by Henry Gauntlett, arranged by A.H. Mann, descant by Philip Ledger
  2. Out of your sleep: 15th century; music by Robin Nelson (1999)
  3. Adam lay ybounden: 15th century; music by Matthew Martin (2006)
  4. Illuminare Jerusalem: 16th century; music by Judith Weir (1985). Commissioned by KCC.
  5. O radiant dawn: Liber Usalis; music by James MacMillan (2007)
  6. (Hymn) O Little Town of Bethlehem: Phillips Brooks; traditional English tune arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, descant by Thomas Armstrong
  7. King Jesus hath a garden: 17th century Dutch (Heer Jesus beeft een Hofken) translated by G.R. Woodward; traditional Dutch tune adapted by Charles Wood, arranged by Stephen Cleobury
  8. A spotless rose is blowing: 14th century German (trans. Catherine Winkworth); music by Philip Ledger (2002), originally composed for Stephen Cleobury and KCC.
  9. The Angel Gabriel: Sabine Baring-Gould; Basque carol, arranged by David Willcocks
  10. Come ye faithful Christians (Hereford Carol): traditional English; English folk tune, arranged by Christopher Robinson (2012)
  11. Who is there that singeth so (Sir Christèmas): 15th century English; music by William Mathias (1971)
  12. (Hymn) The First Nowell: traditional Cornish; traditional Cornish tune, arranged by David Willcocks (1961)
  13. He smiles within his cradle (The Cradle): 17th century Austrian; music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad (2023). Commissioned by KCC.
  14. And all the stars looked down: G.K. Chesterton; music by John Rutter (2022), composed in Cleobury’s memory
  15. Benedicamus Domino: 15th century English; music by Peter Warlock (1924)
  16. (Hymn) O come all ye faithful: J.F. Wade translated by Frederick Oakley et al; music by J.F. Wade, arranged by David Willcocks and Daniel Hyde
  17. (Hymn) Hark! the herald-angels sing: Charles Wesley et al; music by Felix Mendelssohn, descant by David Willcocks


  • Day, Timothy. I Saw Eternity the Other Night: King's College, Cambridge, and an English Singing Style. Penguin UK, 2018.
  • Dearmer, Percy, “Preface”. In Percy Dearmer, Martin Shaw, and Ralph Vaughan Williams (eds.) The Oxford Book of Carols, Oxford University Press, 1931, pp. v-xxvi.
  • Stoker, Richard. “Armstrong, Sir Thomas Henry Waitunlocked (1898–1994),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography." (2004), 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

ACNA now plans 2029 music resources before hymnal

While its September announcement promised to have a hymnal ready by 2029, the new Hymnal Commission this week announced it will have "music resources" in 2029 and a hymnal after that.


Nov 20, 2023

The twelve-member Hymnal Commission, which was chartered at the June 2023 Meeting of the College of Bishops, met at St. Mark’s Church in Arlington, Texas, from November 13-15. Our task was to develop a process that would produce a Hymnal for the Anglican Church in North America. We considered the rich musical gifts of our Church, as well as the many diverse contexts and needs of the congregations our work must serve. We desired to produce a Hymnal that would bless and unify our young Province.

Deliberations on how to proceed were thoughtful, prayerful, and eventually inspired.

What emerged was a path forward that surprised us all.

The purpose of a Hymnal is to support congregational worship through song. But a Hymnal alone is not enough. While our Province has several churches of varying sizes with well-established music programs and resources, it also has many small congregations and pioneering missions. Our task is to serve everyone, from the established church with organ and choir to the start-up church plant meeting in a living room. Many church leaders have limited time and resources. They need something that can help them prepare for weekly worship, finding music that is not only appropriate for that particular week’s biblical readings and themes, but also theologically sound, spiritually powerful, and musically excellent.

This realization led to a true paradigm shift.

Rather than beginning with the final product (a finished Hymnal), we discerned a need for a more immediately accessible resource, available in both electronic and print form, following the three-year lectionary of the Church Year (Book of Common Prayer, 2019) and providing a wide range of suitable hymns and songs for each Sunday’s or occasion’s Lectionary readings.

These resources will allow congregations to explore our rich Anglican musical heritage and to discover the best of new and ecumenical music. As churches use the books and online repository, they can provide feedback, as well as suggestions for additional songs. Songwriters and composers can offer their work for consideration. Brothers and sisters who have come to the ACNA from other parts of the Anglican world can share their own musical traditions. And we can revise the collection based on the way the Church actually uses it.

The result of our meeting was to propose re-forming the commission as a Music Resources Task Force, which can undertake this project, with a goal of presenting a final version for approval at the quinquennial Provincial Assembly in 2029.

These materials, in turn, can serve as the foundation for an official Provincial Hymnal.

We propose this approach to creating a Hymnal for two reasons. First, it acknowledges the current realities and needs of our Province, and it allows the whole Province to participate in the process as fully as possible. Second, this approach is deeply Anglican, rooted in our encounter with Holy Scripture in the liturgy. It moves from common prayer to shared song.

As we begin our work, we entreat your prayers. We also invite your suggestions and contributions! If possible, please indicate which specific Sunday lectionary reading(s) or themes the song relates to. Suggestions and feedback can be sent to

To God be the glory!
  • The Most Rev. Robert Duncan, D.D., Archbishop Emeritus, Meeting Chair
  • The Rt. Rev. Andrew Williams, Bishop in New England, Music Resources Task Force, Chair
  • The Rt. Rev. Chip Edgar, Bishop of South Carolina, Liturgy Task Force, Chair
  • The Rev. Jonathan Kanary, Ph.D,, Christ Church and Brazos Fellows, Waco, TX, Music Resources Task Force, Vice-Chair
  • The Ven. Darrell Critch, M.Mus., D.Min., Archdeacon of Eastern Canada
  • The Rev, Rick Milliorn, Principal Musician, St. Clement’s, El Paso, TX
  • Mr. Simon Dixon, M.A., Director of Music and Worship, The Falls Church Anglican, Falls Church, VA
  • Mrs. Dixie Hall, M.Mus., Principal Musician, St. David’s Church, Post Falls, ID
  • Dr. Terry Fullerton, Principal Musician (Retired), St. John’s Vancouver, Vancouver, BC
  • Mrs. Kathy Fox Powell, Choirmaster, St. Mark’s Church, Arlington, TX
  • Mr. Mark Snow, Canon for Cathedral Music, Christ Church Pro-Cathedral, Plano, TX
  • Mr. Chris Walchesky, Director of Music and Choirmaster, St. Philip’s Church, Charleston, SC

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

ACNA plans new hymnal in 2030

The Episcopal Church hymnals of 1940 and 1982 have been the main hymnals for most U.S. Anglican churches outside TEC. Longtime readers know that I've long been interested in what sort of hymnal these latter Anglicans will come up with. Now there are two (and someday perhaps three):
  1. The Book of Common Praise 2017 was the first such hymnal, from the Reformed Episcopal Church (with its unique history and structure within the ACNA). The publisher released a version with a different title (Magnify the Lord) but later withdrew it to make room 
  2. This spring, I learned of a second hymnal, Sing Unto the Lord, being organized by the music director of Christ Church Anglican, an ACNA parish in Savannah Georgia. The the hymnal is in production and will be in print in October. I plan to review this later this fall for North American Anglican.
  3. As #2 began to send out promotional materials, the ACNA's on-again, off-again efforts to make an official hymnal warmed up with a decision out of the June 2023 House of Bishops meeting. This week the ACNA sent an email blast announcing their new hymnal (below) — also on their website.
I’ll follow up on this more down the road, but what is interesting to me about the latter email are two things. First, the new hymnal is not until 2030. Second, the tone of the email seems to be "don’t buy that bad hymnal while you’re waiting seven years for our new hymnal.”

Needless to say, I'll have more to say on all of these topics later on.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Loyal Lutheran Listeners Love Christmas Carols

On Friday, @IssuesEtc repeated their annual listener poll of favorite Christmas hymns and carols. Here I analyze in detail how the 20 songs selected map onto #Lutheran (and #Anglican) hymnody, as well as how this relates to the availability of recordings (a topic I discussed this month for Advent hymns).

The December 23 show demonstrated the skill of the show’s host, Pastor Todd Wilken, who soon begins his 25th year behind the microphone. He expertly merged 41 votes (from phone calls, email, Tweets and Facebook comments) for these pieces. But more generally, this episode is a masterful use of the radio (or MP3-delayed podcast) format, with brief (and mostly interesting) listener suggestions interspersed with playing recordings of the crowd favorites.

The Nominees

Formally entitled “What Is Your Favorite Christmas Hymn, and Why?” Friday’s two-hour show played 20 musical pieces. I looked each one up on Hymnary: Hymnary’s total of hymnals using the hymn (listed below) includes alternate translations. 

In alphabetical order (with the start times indicated), these 20 pieces were:

  1. “All my heart this night rejoices” [01:26:40]: translated from “Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen” by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676); 267 hymnals. 

  2. “Angels we have heard on high” [00:39:10]: translated from “Les Anges dans nos Campagnes”, an 18th century French carol; 213 hymnals. Performed by Solo Deo Cantorum.

  3. “Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light” [00:52:40]: by Johann Rist (1607-1667); 55 hymnals. Performed by Robert Shaw Chamber Singers.

  4. “For unto us a child is born” [01:13:55]: by G.F. Händel (1685-1759).  Performed by Bach Collegium Japan.

  5. “From heaven above to earth I come” [00:58:30]: translated from “Vom himmel hoch” by Martin Luther (1483-1546); 147 hymnals. 

  6. “God rest ye merry gentlemen” [01:29:50]:, an 18th century English carol; 116 hymnals. Performed by King's College Choir.

  7. “Hark the herald angels sing” [00:17:20]: by Charles Wesley (1707-1788); 1350 hymnals. Performed by King's College Choir.

  8. “Joy to the world” [00:02:35]: by Isaac Watts (1674-1748); 1814 hymnals. Performed by John Rutter & Cambridge Singers.

  9. “Let our gladness have no end” [00:24:50]: translated from “Narodil se Kristus Pán”, 15th century Bohemian carol; 10 hymnals. Performed by Children's Choirs of St. Paul Lutheran Church (Fort Wayne).

  10. “Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming” [01:36:20]: translated from “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”, 16th century German carol; 106 hymnals. Performed by LPR Choir.

  11. “O come, all ye faithful” [01:05:25]: translated from “Adeste Fidelis” by James Frances Wade (1711-1786); 924 hymnals. Performed by King's College Choir.

  12. “O Holy Night” [00:21:50]: translated from “Cantique de Noël” by Placide Cappeau (1808-1877); 45 hymnals. Performed by Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

  13. “O how Joyfully” [01:33:40]: translated from “O du Fröhliche” by Johann Daniel Falk (1728-1826); 129 hymnals. Performed by Kapelle of Concordia University Chicago.

  14. “O Jesus Christ, thy manager is” [00:47:55]: translated from “O Jesu Christ, Dein Kripplein Ist” by Paul Gerhardt; 7 hymnals. 

  15. “Of the father's love begotten” [00:31:50]: translated from “Corde natus ex Parentis” by Prudentius (348-405+); 218 hymnals. Performed by Cantorei of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.

  16. “Praise God the Lord ye sons of men” [00:06:15]: translated from “Lobt Gott Ihr Christen” by Nikolaus Herman (c.1500-1561); 115 hymnals. Performed by LPR Choir.

  17. “Silent Night” [01:18:25]: translated from “Stille Nacht” by Joseph Mohr (1792-1848); 749 hymnals. Performed by Musica Sacra.

  18. “What child is this” [00:44:45]: by W. Chatterton Dix (1837-1898); 197 hymnals. Performed by Richard Proulx & The Cathedral Singers.

  19. “What sweeter music” [01:44:15]: by Robert Herrick (1591-1674).  Performed by John Rutter & Cambridge Singers.

  20. “Where shepherds lately knelt” [00:10:30]: by Jaroslav Vajda (1919-2008); 9 hymnals. 

Note that two are not actually hymns (and don’t appear in hymnals). One is “For until us a child is born,” the 12th movement from Part I (the Advent section) of Händel’s. The other is “What sweeter music,” a carol written by John Rutter (based on a 16th century poem) for the 1987 King’s College Cambridge Lessons & Carols service.

Of the 18 hymns, 7 were originally in German — perhaps not surprising for a radio show serving the main Lutheran denomination established by German immigrants to the U.S. Meanwhile, 2 were from French and 2 from Latin — all four of these are popular American carols, as are two of the German ones.


Some performers were announced, while in other cases Shazam identified the recording for me.

Not surprisingly, six familiar pieces were performed by professional caliber English choirs: King’s College Cambridge (3), John Rutter and his Cambridge Singers (2) and Richard Proulx and The Cathedral Singers (1). Four came from similar caliber American choirs, with one each by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Musica Sacra, Robert Shaw Chamber Singers and Solo Deo Gloria Cantroum, and one Japanese group (Bach Collegium Japan).

Five of the German Lutheran hymns were credited to US Lutheran performers, including elite choirs from Concordia Chicago and the Fort Wayne seminary. Three German hymns and one 20th century LCMS hymn were uncredited, but some sounded like the LPR Choir (credited with two performances).

Singing these Hymns at Christmas

To see how much these hymns could be sung by congregations — and to judge how “Lutheran” these hymns are — I looked at the latest hymnal of the largest U.S. Lutheran jurisdictions:

  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006)
  • Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod: Lutheran Service Book (2006)
  • Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod: Christian Worship (1993)
  • Evangelical Lutheran Synod: Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996)

For Anglican comparison, also searched the latest Church of England hymnal used in most English choral recordings (New English Hymnal), The Episcopal Church hymnal also used by ACNA parishes (Hymnal 1982), and the main hymnal of Continuing Anglicans (Hymnal 1940). (Note I am ignoring variations in tunes and text, which were a big deal for Advent hymns I examined earlier).

1 All my heart this night rejoices 32 545   273 360 37 115
2 Angels we have heard on high 42 96   289 368 63 116
3 Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light 25 91     378 44  
5 From heaven above to earth I come       268 358 38 123 & 124
6 God rest ye merry gentlemen 40 105         126
7 Hark the herald angels sing 27 87 26 270 380 61 125
8 Joy to the world 775 100   267 387 62 138
9 Let our gladness have no end       291 381    
10 Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming 17 81   272 359    
11 O come, all ye faithful 12 93 30 283 379 55 133
14 O Jesus Christ, thy manager is         372 40 161
15 Of the Father's love begotten 20 82 33 295 384 35 181
16 Praise God the Lord ye sons of men             148
17 Silent Night 33 111 34   363   140
18 What child is this 36 115 40 296 37067 145
20 Where shepherds lately knelt         369 54  

No surprise that the Händel (#4) and Rutter (#19) choral pieces were not in hymnals, and only a small surprise that “O Holy Night” (#12) is not.

The big surprise was the absence of two German Lutheran hymns in the German hymnal: “O du Fröhliche” (#13) was not in any current hymnal, while “Lobt Gott Ihr Christen” (#16) was only in the hymnal of the (historically Norwegian) ELS (although both tunes were used elsewhere in recent Lutheran hymnals). Also, the hymn by 17th century Lutheran Pastor Jacob Rist (#3) with its Bach harmonization seems more popular among Episcopalians than Lutherans.

The Winner: a Favorite for 16 Centuries

Thirteen of the hymns were nominated by only one caller (or correspondent), including such perennial favorites such as “Angels we have heard on high” and “Silent night.” Three received two votes; those with more were

  • 3 votes: ”Joy to the world” and “O come, all the faithful”
  • 5 votes: “Hark the herald angels sing”

Most of the reasons for the votes were either because of what the text teaches, or strong personal memories or sentiments associated with the hymn.

With 11 votes, the landslide winner was “Of the Father’s love begotten,” a 4th century hymn by Prudentius that I blogged about in 2008 (based on an Issues Etc. discussion of the hymn by a LCMS seminary Professor Arthur Just) and 2010. Of course, I’m particularly excited because the hymn was introduced into the English-language repertoire by John Mason Neale, the great hymn translator of the 19th century.

What was particularly interesting were many of the comments by those who wrote to nominate the hymn. I tried to transcribe all 11 comments, but here are some excerpts:

  • Elaine: “because of the transcendent beauty of the music and the lyrics”
  • Joshua: “text and tune are beautiful, and a long part of the church’s history”
  • Janet: “because I have always loved ancient melodies and texts”
  • David: “it’s been sung by Christians since the fourth century”
  • Jennifer: “the simplicity of the plainchant makes you focus on the fabulous lyrics which take you from the beginning of time to the end, full of the gospel message combined that with the age of the hymn and I love thinking about all the saints before who have sung the same words”
  • Brandon: “I love the beautiful simplicity of that ancient hymn. It’s a joy to hear or sing — with or without accompaniment — yet the majesty of the lyrics can still awe.  And given its age I like how by singing it, the church unites across time and space in language to honor the birth of our savior.”

To me, this is the epitome of the argument for what I call “timeless hymns” and this hymn’s place at the front of the panoply of such hymns.

I realize that those who call and nominate a hymn are not a cross-section of a parish or denomination. Still, I think it suggests that the arguments that we have to dumb down worship to reach Christian worshippers are giving up much too easily.


  • Joint Commission on the Revision of the Hymnal, The Hymnal 1940 Companion, 3rd ed. (New York: Church Pension Fund, 1951).
  • Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrot, The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)
  • Joel W. West, “Singing Together for the Advent of our Lord,” North American Anglican, December 22, 2022, URL: