So we come to the final week of Advent. Our musical journey brings us to the “Yes” that led to the birth of Christ in a stable in Bethlehem.
Mary is rightly honored as the mother of the Savior. Her “yes”, her willingness to go into the great unknown, to trust the plan of God that seemed so very surprising, is the model for all Christians; may we imitate her openness to God in all things.
This beautiful hymn is based on a Basque folk carol , which in turn was based on the hymn “Angelus ad Virginem”, a 13th/14th century Latin hymn.
Let’s unravel that!
- “…a Basque folk carol” – The Basque region lies in the southern part of France and northern part of Spain. It has a language and culture unique to itself, rich in history.
- “Angelus ad Virgenem” – a Latin hymn of the 13tg or 14th century, commemorating the Annunciation, Gabriel’s message to Mary and Mary’s yes to God’s will.
- “Angelus” – a prayer, traditionally prayed at 6am, noon, and 6pm, remembering Gabriel’s visit to Mary, and Mary’s yes that brought God’s plan to fruition. The Angelus was, and is, an invitation to pause in the midst of life’s busyness and remember God’s goodness and mercy.
The hymn as we know it was translated by Sabine Baring-Gould, who had fond memories of a winter spent in Basque country as a child. Baring-Gould also wrote the well-known hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Edgar Pettman arranged the song and then published it in his 1892 Modern Christmas Carols.
The tune is a haunting, moving one. There are many good renditions out there. My favorites are the well-known Sting version and a neat, more modern take by Matt Maher. Of course, I love to sing this even just as a traditional hymn.
Enjoy “Gabriel’s Message”/”The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”!