The Feast of All Saints is possibly my favorite holiday, next to Christmas and Easter. And it is never complete without the following hymn, penned by William W. How in 1864 and harmonized by Ralph Vaughan Williams around 1906. I’ve included the unabridged version below. One thing I’ve noticed for saints’ hymns is that they like to indulge in categorization: the Apostles get a verse, the Evangelists get a verse, the Prophets and Martyrs get their own verses, and so on. Unfortunately, this variety tends to get trimmed down in the hymnals (our church skipped all three of the Apostle-Evangelist-Martyr verses today). But I’m all for baroque proliferation, so I’ve included all the extra verses below.
Pull out your sheet music for “Sine Nomine” (the tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams), or play it on Youtube, and just try to resist singing along.
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For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
For Martyrs, who with rapture-kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
~ William W. How (1864)