Christmas Songs #6: Angels we have heard on high

This next song is from France, as are many of the great Christmas songs. Each verse ends with one of the only Latin phrases that I can remember, “GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO!” It sounds almost as good in English; it means “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST!” This is part of the praises the angels sang to the shepherds, recorded in Luke 2.14. Who can say what it sounded like to hear angels saying this, but I’ll take this song as a good substitute!

The original French version had 8 verses, and the editor of the New Oxford Book of Carols gives a translation of all of them:

[Shepherds] The angels have sung the celestial hymn on our plains, and the echo of our mountains repeats this melodious song: Glory to God in the highest!
[Women of Bethlehem] Shepherds, what do you celebrate? Why all these songs? What victor, what conquest, inspires these triumphant cries? Glory to God in the highest!
[Shepherds] They announce the birth of the Savior of Israel; and, full of gratitude, they sing on this solemn day: Glory to God in the highest!
[Women] Let us seek the fortunate village which has seen him born beneath its roofs! Let us offer to him the loving homage of both our hearts and our voices! Glory …
[All] In the deep humility in which you appear to our eyes, to praise you, God of all the world, we repeat this joyful song: Glory …
[Shepherds] Already, from the mouth of the angel, from the hymns of the cherubim, men know the praises which are sung in the courts of heaven. Glory …
[Women] Shepherds, forsake your haunts: join with these concerts, and let your sweet bagpipes make melodies resound! Glory …
[All] Obedient to their example, O Lord, we shall come henceforth into the midst of your temple, to sing with them your blessings. Glory to God in the highest!

(To hear the song, click the link or paste into your browser. Finally, where it says “Don’t have a Rhapsody account?”, push “Play Now.”)

Lyrics (

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains,
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains.

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be
Which inspire your heavenly song?


Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.


See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.


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