17 December 2018

How one Christmas Carol
brought hope at a time of war

Waiting for ‘Silent Night’ … the Christmas Crib in the centre of Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

At the school carol service in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, next Friday [21 December 2018], we are going to sing a variety of carols and songs. Some are old hymns, some are new songs. Some many of us are familiar with, others are new and people are going to hear them for the first time.

What is your favourite Christmas carol?



One of the most popular Christmas carols but one we’re not going to sing next Friday, is ‘Silent Night,’ which was first heard 200 years ago on Christmas Eve 1818.

‘Silent Night’ was written in German 200 years ago by a young priest, Father Joseph Mohr (1792-1848), and a teacher, Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863), and it was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at Saint Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, a village in Austria.

Two families of folk singers from the German-speaking area in the Tyrol, the Strassers and the Rainers, included this song in their shows.

They sang it in concerts for the Austrian Emperor and the Tsar of Russia Tsar, Soon the song was well-known across Europe and America. and then 21 years after it was first performed, they sang it for the first time in the US, in New York in 1839.

But it was being sung in German, and it was translated into English for another 20 years, until 1859, when it was translated by an Episcopal priest, John Freeman Young (1820-1885) of Trinity Church, New York City. He later became Bishop of Florida.

Bishop Young’s translation into English only includes half of the original song, three of Father Mohr’s six verses.

But his English translation of Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!, under the title Silent Night, Holy Night, is now sung everywhere, in hundreds of languages.

Bishop Young died of pneumonia in New York on 15 November 1885.

Over the years, Father Mohr’s name was forgotten, and many people thought this must be the work of a famous composer, like Haydn or Mozart or Beethoven.

People forgot about Father Mohr and his friend the teacher, Franz Xaver Gruber, until 1995, about 20 years ago.

Bishop Young’s work in translating it was forgotten until over 60 years ago, in 1957.

Now they’re famous. UNESCO listed the song in 2011 … this one song is as culturally important throughout the world as Irish hurling.

But even though all these men were forgotten, 100 years after ‘Silent Night’ was written, everyone knew, and it was very popular in both English and German. So, on Christmas Eve 1914, as the guns fell silent on the eve of the first Christmas in World War, the German soldiers in the trenches in Belgian sang out the words of Stille Nacht, and the British and Irish troops responded by singing Bishop Young’s version of Silent Night.

The story is so famous that it is told in the song ‘A Silent Night Christmas 1915,’ written by Cormac MacConnell, and one of the songs Tommy Fleming included in his concert here in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, the Saturday before last Saturday [8 December 2018].

Watch this video clip to see how one song made a difference to war and peace 100 years ago:

Questions and discussion:

Why did this one Christmas carol make a difference?

Is Christmas message about peace

Silent Night, No 182, Church Hymnal (5th ed):

Silent night, holy night,
all is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
shepherds quake at the sight;
glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Saviour is born!
Christ the Saviour is born!

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,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

This reflection was prepared for a school assembly in Rathkeale on 17 December 2018

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(17): 17 December 2018

Saint Matthew in a spandrel beneath the dome of the Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary this week prays with reflections from Bangladesh, and began the week on Sunday with an article by Paul Senoy Sarkar, Programme Officer for Shalom, which is the development organisation of the Church of Bangladesh.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Monday 17 December 2018:

Pray for Pulin (see article) as he continues to train and develop his livelihood skills with the support of the Church of Bangladesh’s USPG-supported Shalom programme.

‘As you read the very mixed heredity of Jesus, think about your family, its story and background. Jesus shares our nature and the limitations we all face’ … a hassock seen in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s reflection is headed ‘O Sapientia’ (‘O Wisdom’), referring to the first of the O Antiphons in the final week of Advent.

The ‘Late Advent Weekdays,’ from 17 to 24 December, mark the singing of the Great Advent ‘O Antiphons.’ These are the antiphons for the canticle Magnificat at Evensong, Evening Prayer or Vespers, and they mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, O come, O come, Emmanuel.

These antiphons, all beginning with ‘O ...,’ were sung before and after the Canticle Magnificat at Vespers from 17 to 24 December, the seven days before Christmas. They are addressed to God, calling on him to come as teacher and deliverer, and they are woven through with scriptural titles and images describing God’s saving work in Christ.

This tradition was developed in the Sarum Rite in mediaeval England, and was reflected in The Book of Common Prayer, where the Anglican Reformers retained the title O Sapientia (‘O Wisdom’) as the designation for 16 December. It is now desgnated for 17 December:


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae


O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence

Today’s suggested reading is Matthew 1: 1-17. The reflection for today suggests:

As you read the very mixed heredity of Jesus, think about your family, its story and background. Jesus shares our nature and the limitations we all face.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Genesis 49: 2, 8-10; Psalm 72: 1-5, 18-19; Matthew 1: 1-17.

The Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.