Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding….
Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion,
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
                                       Psalm 103:20, 22
This was in my reading for Epiphany this morning and it brought to mind a hymn I’ve only know for a few years, “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.”
The author of the text, John Athelstan Riley (1858-1945), participated in the publication of the “landmark” English Hymnal (1906), which provided an alternative to Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861).  The hymn’s German tune (LASST UNS ERFREUEN) was arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams.
From an essay on the hymn’s history:
[English hymnologist] Richard Watson “notes that Riley incorporated the concepts proposed by a sixth-century treatise on “a heavenly structure of threes, descending in order from the central three, the Holy Trinity.” Indeed Riley masterfully piles up three sets of threes in the first stanza: 1) Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones; 2) Dominations, Virtues and Powers; 3) Principalities, Archangels and Angels.
….Following a pattern seen in other early hymns such as “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” the witness of heavenly beings spreads to Earth via the Incarnation—“Thou Bearer of the eternal Word” (stanza two). The response on Earth resounds in stanza three with the affirmation of “Patriarchs and Prophets” and the “Holy Twelve” and “Martyrs strong” who are joined by “All Saints triumphant.” The final doxological stanza concludes with an affirmation of the Trinity as the cosmos joins in a glad song of “supernal anthems.”
Professor Watson suggests that the hymn is the sonic equivalent of a Renaissance painting where “the eye can think of the orders of the angels and saints, rank upon rank.” Raphael’s “The Crowning of the Virgin” (1502-1503) displays the connection between the sonic and visual symbolism of heaven and earth.
Text (Wikipedia):
Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphscherubim and thrones,

Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominionsprincedomspowers,
Virtuesarchangelsangels’ choirs:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,

Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of th’eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest,

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
O friends, in gladness let us sing,
Supernal anthems echoing,

Alleluia! Alleluia!
To God the FatherGod the Son,
And God the SpiritThree in One.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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