Hymns of the Season: Silent Night
Writing about the continuing influence of "Silent Night" Ian Bradley remarks: "This almost certainly deserves the accolade of the world's favorite carol. It has been translated into 230 languages and is the only carol that I know of to have its own home page on the World Wide Web."
Joseph Mohr was 24 years old and serving as a curate in a Roman Catholic Church in Mariapfarr, Austria, when he wrote this six-verse carol inspired by an evening walk from his grandfather's house to the church. In 1817, he was appointed assistant priest for St. Nicholas Church in the village of Oberndorf, Austria, and the following year he began planning the 1818 Christmas Eve midnight mass weeks in advance. When he discovered the organ was broken, Mohr began looking for a new song. He took his six-verse carol to the organist, Franz Gruber, and asked him to write a tune. Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber sang this Christmas carol together at the midnight mass to the accompaniment of Gruber's guitar.
Reflecting on this dramatic scene, Ace Collins writes: "Just after midnight, Mohr and Gruber stood in front of the main altar and introduced their simple little song. As they sang, they could not have guessed that "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" would be remembered not only the next Christmas in their small village, but two hundred years later around the world."
The Church of St. Nicholas was demolished in 1905, and today a small chapel called "Silent Night Chapel" adorns the site. Every year thousands of pilgrims journey to this historic site to hear the carol sung or to sing it themselves. On one occasion, I led a 35-member tour group to Oberndorf, Austria, and we sang this carol in "Silent Night Chapel" on the site where it was first sung. I recommend this experience!
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 savior is born! Christ the savior 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.
Sing along to "Silent Night" with worshippers of First Christian Church, Milton-Freewater, Oregon.