With milk was fed the Lord of all, Who feeds the ravens when they call.
With beautiful juxtaposition, the mystery of the incarnation is captured in the ENTRANCE HYMN, “Now Praise We Christ, the Holy One,” (The Lutheran Hymnal 104) a Christmas hymn of Dr. Martin Luther (1483-1546). The Lord who created and sustains all things is Himself fed by His mother.
The original Latin hymn upon which Luther based his translation was written by Coelius Sedulius in the fifth century, originally in twenty-three stanzas. It was called “Paean Alphabeticus de Christo,” written according to the letters of the alphabet. The tune, “Christum wir sollen loben schon,” is based on the ancient plainsong melody associated with this text. The Latin hymn was part of the Daily Office of Lauds for Christmas Day. Though some German translations had been made previously, Luther translated it anew for Christmas 1523.
As we sing this hymn, so beautiful and rich in poetry for our day, we are joined together with this ancient text and tune to Sedulius and the medieval church who sang it in Latin; to Luther and the Reformation church who sang it in German; and with all faithful Christians who have sung it in every time and place.
The English translation is by Richard Massie (1800-1887) in 1854. Omitted is the original stanza four:
The holy maid became the abode, And temple of the living God,
And she, who knew not man, was blest, With God’s own Word made manifest.
A Child is Born in Bethlehem Today’s CHORAL VOLUNTARY is a setting of the fourteenth-century Latin hymn, “Puer natus in Bethlehem.” The first stanza is a simple setting by Lucas Osiander (1534-1604), a pastor and composer in Stuttgart. The remaining stanzas are more elaborate settings by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), who served as a musician in Wolfenbüttel. Today we hear three of the nine settings of this chorale by Praetorius.