Hymn of the Week: ‘Holy God, We Praise Thy Name’

Hymn of the Week: ‘Holy God, We Praise Thy Name’ June 30, 2018

This most familiar of Catholic hymns serves as our recessional this weekend — and I doubt there are many in the pews who don’t know it.

Its history is interesting — and it turns out its popularity in the United States owes much to immigration:

The German Catholic priest Ignaz Franz (de) wrote the original German lyrics in 1771 as a paraphrase of the Te Deum, a Christian hymn in Latin from the 4th century. It became an inherent part of major Christian ceremonial occasions, mainly as a conclusion song. Due to its memorable melody and theme it is one of the most popular hymns and prevalent in German-speaking communities.

As a result of the German emigration in the 19th century, the song became known in the United States and was translated to English by Clarence A. Walworth in 1858, except verse 7 (translated by Hugh T. Henry), which accounted for its wide spreading around the country.

On the initiative of Johann Gottfried Schicht, the hymn also became part of Protestant hymnals, but was widely neglected for a long time due to its perceived status as a “spiritual folksong” in the Age of Enlightenment. Only in the 20th century was it fully accepted by Protestants, though shorter and altered versions are often sung (occasionally two verses were completely replaced by the New Apostolic Church).

The hymn became also part of military hymnbooks where it was considered as a song of thanksgiving. The military hymnal of the Evangelical Church of 1939 added a conclusion verse which praised the Führer Adolf Hitler. The hymnal of the so-called “German Christians” (1941) was named after the song and contained a version which was “purified of Jewish elements” and adjusted to the Nazi ideology.

The content of the song can be divided into three parts: a hymnic part about God the Father (verses 1-4 in the English version, 1-5 in the German), a similar one about God the Son (verses 5-7 in English, 6-8 in German), and a series of petitions (verse 8 in English, 9-11 in German).

In the region of Upper Silesia in Poland, this hymn is performed in loose Polish translation (“Ciebie, Boże wielbimy”), replacing “Ciebie Boga wysławiamy” by Franciszek Wesołowski which is officially sanctioned as a Polish version of Te Deum (so called “Millenial Te Deum”) by Polish Episcopal Conference, and widespread in other regions of the country. It is usually performed in 4/4 metre instead of traditional 3/4 tempus perfectum.

The words of all the verses (the last few are probably unfamiliar to most people):

  1. Holy God, we praise Thy Name;
    Lord of all, we bow before Thee!
    All on earth Thy scepter claim,
    All in Heaven above adore Thee;
    Infinite Thy vast domain,
    Everlasting is Thy reign.2. Hark! the loud celestial hymn
    Angel choirs above are raising,
    Cherubim and seraphim,
    In unceasing chorus praising;
    Fill the heavens with sweet accord:
    Holy, holy, holy, Lord.3. Lo! the apostolic train
    Join the sacred Name to hallow;
    Prophets swell the loud refrain,
    And the white robed martyrs follow;
    And from morn to set of sun,
    Through the Church the song goes on.

    4. Holy Father, Holy Son,
    Holy Spirit, Three we name Thee;
    While in essence only One,
    Undivided God we claim Thee;
    And adoring bend the knee,
    While we own the mystery.

    5. Thou art King of glory, Christ:

    Son of God, yet born of Mary;
    For us sinners sacrificed,
    And to death a tributary:
    First to break the bars of death,
    Thou has opened Heaven to faith.

    6. From Thy high celestial home,
    Judge of all, again returning,
    We believe that Thou shalt come
    In the dreaded doomsday morning;
    When Thy voice shall shake the earth,
    And the startled dead come forth.

    7. Therefore do we pray Thee, Lord:
    Help Thy servants whom, redeeming
    By Thy precious blood out-poured,
    Thou hast saved from Satan’s scheming.
    Give to them eternal rest
    In the glory of the blest.

    8. Spare Thy people, Lord, we pray,
    By a thousand snares surrounded:
    Keep us without sin today,
    Never let us be confounded.
    Lo, I put my trust in Thee;
    Never, Lord, abandon me.

Check out the superb version above, performed by the Irish Philharmonic Chorus in 1996.


Browse Our Archives