Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Singing the Hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy"

The lyrics of the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy were written as a poem in 1826 by Reginald Heber, an English pastor. The music was composed in 1861 by another English pastor, John Bacchus Dykes.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

The first, third and fourth verses compose a rather intellectual meditation on the mystery of the Divine Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The third verse emphasizes the inability of humans to comprehend the Trinity's mystery -- Though the darkness hide Thee / Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see.

The second verse presents odd, dramatic, bizarre images -- saints casting down their crowns around a sea, and cherubim and seraphim falling down. This second verse is omitted from many performances of the song. Without the second verse, the hymn is rather meditative and intellectual; with the second verse, the hymn is rather esctatic and emotional.

The Trinity is emphasized lyrically by other triple concepts -- was, is and shall be -- power, love and purity -- earth, sky and sea.

Below is a conventional performance by Cristy Lane, which omits the second verse:

Below is an extremely meditative version by a choir called Master of the Chant, which sings only the first verse:

Below is an energetic performance by Mahalia Jackson, which includes the second verse:

Below the song is sung by a gospel-music group, The Kurt Carr Singers. The second verse is sung as a solo by the tallest, male singer.

The link below (I cannot embed the clip into my blog) features Judith Christie McAllister singing only the second verse as a solo. The rest of the performance is sung by her entire choir:

Judith Christie McAllister singing Holy, Holy, Holy.

Below is a zany video clip, sung by Steve Green, accompanied with a Celtic folk arrangement and illustrated with scenes from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments.

Below is an amazing clip that shows an ecstatic sermon by evangelist Reinhard Bonnke at a huge religious service in Africa -- the audience numbers in many tens of thousands. The hymn is sung at the clip's very end.

Steve Sylwester sent me the following explanation.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty was Hymn 246 in the The Lutheran Hymnal, Copyright 1941, which was used by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod while we were growing up. The lyric is based on Revelation 4:1-11:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in Heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.

Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.

Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship Him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."

The "living creatures" are the "Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee" mentioned in the hymn's second verse. See the following links:


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