The Liturgy of St. James: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

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One of my personal favourite hymns is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. This hymn is derived from the ancient Liturgy of St. James, which is based on early Christian traditions of the Church of Jerusalem, with the specific excerpt below in turn being based on Habakkuk 2:20b, “Let all the earth keep silence before him”. Most scholars date this liturgy back to the 4th century. Here is the excerpt on which this well-known hymn is based:

“Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and meditate nothing earthly within itself:—

For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God, comes forward to be sacrificed, and to be given for food to the faithful; and the bands of angels go before Him with every power and dominion, the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, and crying aloud the hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

– Liturgy of St. James, 2

The English hymn, which is still sung in many churches today, was translated in meter by Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885) in 4 stanzas:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

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