Angels We Have Heard on High

By

December 23, 2013

AngelsWeHaveHeardonHighAnd suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men! —Luke 2:13-14 (NKJV)

“Les Anges dans nos Campagnes” was a French carol dating from the 1700s, which appeared in several different versions. It was published in English in 1862, the words saying:

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!

 …Another primitive version speaks from the shepherd’s vantage point, saying:

Shepherds in the field abiding

Tell us when the seraph bright

Greeted you with wondrous tiding

What you saw and heard that night.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Hymns are usually authored by human beings like us, but in this case obscure verses by unknown French poets were coupled with a refrain that was literally composed by angels in heaven: Gloria, in excelsis Deo. That’s the Latin wording for the angelic anthem, “Glory to God in the highest!” It comes from Luke 2:14 in the Vulgate, the Latin version of the bible. The Latin word Gloria means Glory, and in excelsis del is the phrase for in the highest. Our English words excel and excellent come from the same root, meaning  to rise or to ascend or to be high. The Latin word Deo means God.

This was the song proclaimed by the angels over Shepherds’ Field the night Christ was born. The musical score stretches out and emphasizes the words in a way that is uniquely fun to sing and deeply stirring, as we lift our voices to proclaim:

Jesus has come!

Hope has arrived on earth!

A Savior is born!

Glory to God on High!

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Excerpted from Then Sings My Soul: Book 2 ©2004 Robert J. Morgan (Thomas Nelson) Used by permission.

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