This is a holiday week! The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels is on Sept. 29. In preparation, here’s an angel-worthy hymn. It was written by Athelstan Riley and published in 1906 — thus proving that great hymnody could still come out of the early 20th century.
Riley modeled the hymn on two ancient anthems invoking angels and saints in heaven: the Latin Te Deum (“We Praise Thee O God”) and the Greek Axion Estin (“It is Truly Meet”).
Four more things to love about this hymn:
- It calls on all 8 traditional orders of angels.
- It invokes the “Watchers,” an ancient Jewish-Christian category of angel.
- It’s sung to the same tune as “All Creatures of Our God and King.”
- It positions Mary above the angels, and yet (to a Protestant’s satisfaction) below God. What does she do in her exalted position? What she did before: “Magnify the Lord.”
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Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, Dominions, Princedoms, Powers,
Virtues, Archangels, Angels’ choirs,
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Most blessed, lead their praises!
Thou Bearer of the eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord,
Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest,
Ye holy Twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song,
O friends, in gladness let us sing,
Supernal anthems echoing,
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
~ Athelstan Riley, 1906