December 8. “Angels We Have Heard on High” – French carol
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 your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be Which inspire yoru heavenly song? Refrain.
Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King. Refrain.
The author of this wonderful Christmas song is unknown. The first people remembered to have sung "Angels We Have Heard on High" were the French of the 19th century. The use of Latin in the song's chorus gives the assumption that perhaps it was a Catholic monk or priest who was knowledgeable in both the Scriptures and the Latin language. And its chant-like melody gives us a hint that perhaps a monk wrote the tune. But if this was a chant, it was more joyous than most ever sung those many years ago!
Many mysteries surround the carol, though. It is attributed to the French, but there is historical evidence that at least portions of the song were sung in early Christian churches before Rome declared Christianity the state religion. It's chorus, "Gloria in excelsis Deo" means “Glory to God in the Highest!” and was a phrase commonly used in church masses from as early as 130 A.D. Pope Telesphorus at that time issued a decree that on the Lord’s birthday, churches should hold special evening services with “Gloria in excelsis Deo” sung at the end of prayers or Scripture readings.