Summary of today’s show: On our last show before Christmas, Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell count down the top 10 Christmas hymns, according to Scot. Some on the list are expected, others are unexpected, and some cause a little good-humored arguments over the relative ranking of particular favorites. Also we hear the world premiere of Cardinal Seán’s Christmas message that will be played worldwide on Vatican Radio on Christmas Day.
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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Fr. Mark O’Connell
Today’s guest(s): Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap, Archbishop of Boston
Today’s topics: Countdown of the Top 10 Christmas Hymns
1st segment: Scot Landry said this our last live show from the studio this calendar year and our last show before Christmas. Fr. Mark O’Connell said he is especially glad that the world didn’t end today. Scot said Cardinal Sean recorded a Christmas message that will be played worldwide on Vatican Radio. We hear the first broadcast today.
Cardinal Seán referred to the starry night and the angels bringing the message of God to the shepherds. The shepherds went in haste to Jesus, Mary and Joseph and went forth giving praise and glory to God. He asked what if the people didn’t believe and didn’t share the news? But they did believe and we celebrate that the Word of God became Man among us. In too many ways the darkness threatens to overshadow us. The Light of Christ shines through the darkness and sustains us in our most difficult moment. We must share our faith with those around us. We must work to dispel the darkness and help one another live lives called to holiness.
Fr. Mark said the message from Cardinal Seán is to share the faith especially in this Year of Faith. Scot said when we receive the Good News, our call is to take that Good News and share it with everybody. God allows us to participate in His plan for salvation. To whom much is given, much is expected. If we’ve been blessed with good Catholic formation, we are obligated to pass it on to others.
On today’s show, we’re going to countdown the top 10 Christmas hymns as determined by Scot.
10. Angels We Have Heard on High
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee
Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo, in excelsis Deo
Scot said other than the Gloria, there isn’t anything tremendously memorable about this song. Rick Heil said this is the song that separate the men from the boys in the choir because of the need for good breath control.
Scot said Number 9 wasn’t one he’d heard as a child growing up in Lowell. He said it’s popular at the Archdiocesan Boy’s Choir School and among others and it’s recently become one of his favorites.
9. Once in Royal David’s City
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.
Scot said it’s a beautiful poem set to a beautiful melody. Fr. Mark said it’s a song he’d forgotten about but he does love it.
Number 8 is a classic Scot has heard most of his life.
8. What Child Is This?
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Scot loves the part in which they say “this, this is Christ the King.” Fr. Mark said it makes him recall the carolers coming to his house as he was growing up. Rick said when he was in a choir, it usually came later in the program because it was so contemplative.
Scot thinks number 7 will be controversial because most will think it should be number 1.
7. Silent Night
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth
Scot said the only reason this is number 7 for him is because it always made him sleepy on Christmas Eve. Fr. Mark said it might have been played too much. He said he’s heard a nice version by Christina Aguilera when she was 11 years old. Rick said he used to sing it in German. He said it’s one of the first Christmas songs you learn, but learning to sing it in German gave him a newfound respect for it. And because it’s slower, he loves it. Fr. Mark says it should be higher on the list and the next song doesn’t beat it. Scot said that’s makes this fun.
Scot thinks Number 6 could be some people’s number 1. He thinks every Catholic parish sings this next one on Christmas Day.
6. Joy to the World
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
Joy to the earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
Fr. Mark said it’s often sung at the end of Mass. People are joyful, all dressed up and greeting one another. It’s a great way to celebrate Christmas. Rick said it’s one of the songs that the congregation knows by heart and sings heartily.
Scot said Number 5 wouldn’t have made his top 10 in the past week, but since then 4 people he respects have said this is their favorite Christmas hymn and it made him reconsider it.
5. Lo, How a Rose E’Er Blooming
To show God’s love aright
She bore to men a Saviour,
When half spent was the night.
This flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us
And lightens every load.
Scot said it’s one of the most beautiful harmonies he’s heard in church. Fr. Mark said it’s a beautiful song for a choir and so fun for them to sing. Rick said he agrees with Scot’s placement of the song on his list. Scot said there’s a lot of spiritual richness in the lyrics that are concrete and it all comes together in a way you may not expect. Fr. Mark said this was Number 3 on his list.
Number 4 is one of Scot’s favorites to sing in church. This was his favorite performed by the Archdiocesan Boys Choir School, where his son goes.
4. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
Veiled in flesh the God head see!
Hail, th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Scot said there’s no doubt this could be Number 1. Fr. Mark said people could take this as a Christmas prayer and there’s so many profound thoughts in all of these songs. Scot said one of the things he loves about this is that people sing it loud. It’s something to participate in the Christmas Mass by amping up your volume to 10. Rick said this is another one of those congregation songs, that everyone sings, and it’s a good classic. He enjoyed it as a closing hymn.
Scot said ranking the top 3 was tough for him. The next one was number 1 for a while.
3. O Come All Ye Faithful
‘Glory to God
In the highest’;
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Scot said this has been the opening hymn for 33 of the past 35 years of Christmas he remembers. Fr. Mark said this is the first of this list that he sang to himself here because it’s so familiar. Scot said it’s an appropriate song for the entire year. We come to Mass every week to worship God and adore Him at that altar. Fr. Mark said because Mass is so full at Christmas, hearing this song at full volume tells you that this is Christmas.
Now cutting to Fr. Mark’s Top 4. His Number 4 is different. It’s personal and it’s favorite because of the story connected to it.
Fr. Mark’s Number 4: Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas”
Fr. Mark said it’s number 4 because when he was a young teenager and his father was very sick in the hospital and there was a huge snowstorm at Christmas, they couldn’t have a tree. But the storm was so violent it knocked the top off their blue spruce tree which they brought into their house. The song symbolizes how Christ brings hope to those who are sad at Christmas.
Fr. Mark’s Number 3: In the Bleak Midwinter
Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
Scot said he’d never heard the song before. It would be wonderful as a Communion meditation. Fr. Mark said his number one matches Scot’s and Scot said Cardinal Seán agreed. He said his Number 2 is probably not in most people’s top 10. It’s also one of his favorite hymns of all time.
2. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
Scot said he loves the lyrics and he said it rocks on the organ, the bigger the pipes the better. Fr. Mark said he would rank this one a lot lower on his list. Rick said it’s not a difficult song to sing, but it’s a very good reflective song. You can sing it to yourself and meditate on it. Scot said the theme of knowing God was taking on flesh that we should approach that mystery in silence with awe.
And now Scot’s, Fr. Mark’s, Cardinal Seán’s favorite Christmas hymn. This version is the one recorded by Josh Groban.
1. O Holy Night
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth;
Fall on your knees, O hear the angels voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!