This Advent perennial is being sung as the entrance hymn at my parish this week—aligning perfectly with the arrival of John the Baptist on Jordan’s Bank in Mark’s Gospel.
I love this arrangement, in the video above, that builds to something triumphal in the last powerfully-harmonized verse.
About the hymn:
Charles Coffin wrote this text in Latin for the Paris Breviary, published in 1736. In 1837 it was translated into English by John Chandler for his Hymns of the Primitive Church
(Chandler mistakenly thought it was a medieval text). The text has since undergone many revisions, and today it is hard to find two hymnals in which the text is the same. Almost all hymnals include the same five verses (most modern hymnals leave out the original second stanza), but the wording changes quite significantly between texts.
The overall theme of the verses, however, is evident regardless of the version used. Stanzas one and two are a message to us, instructing us to prepare the way of the Lord today. In stanza three, we confess our need for salvation, in stanza four we pray for healing and love, and stanza five acts as a doxology.
Almost as broad as the spectrum of words used in the text is the spectrum of tunes that accompany this hymn. Originally, the text was paired with an anonymous tune that has undergone many alterations and adaptations into what is today called WINCHESTER NEW. This is the most common tune, but another option is PUER NOBIS, particularly beautiful when done in a Celtic style. Or, try the tune DEO GRACIAS, a tune more commonly associated with “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High.” Try singing this tune a cappella using just a hand drum in a medieval style. With an 184.108.40.206 meter, there are a number of tunes to pick from – these are just a few of the favorites.