Wednesday, December 17, 2008

And Saints and Angels Sing! Trivial Changes in Mormon Hymns

You know how those anti's are constantly publishing comparisons of different editions of the Book of Mormon and the temple ceremony and lamenting over the wording changes? Well, I'd like to highlight some changes in those old familiar hymns and ponder on their meanings. My consternation over these alterations commenced as a brand-new, three-month-old convert. At a Sacrament meeting around Christmas-time I was very embarrassed while singing a familiar carol to be looking up from my hymnal right when the words changed to

And Saints and angels sing

and I was caught singing
And heaven and nature sing!

I'm still pondering why W.W. Phelps felt this was a needed change. In the Isaac Watts version, "heaven" denotes the angelic hosts singing while "nature" clearly points to earthly beings joining in. Wouldn't that be the same as "saints and angels," only in a different order? Or do you see a subtle message here that out of all earthly praisers, only members of the Church ("saints") can join the heavenly beings in song?

Talk about embarrassing. But you don't have to be a convert to experience the pain of singing the wrong words when you thought you knew the song by heart. Some of us "oldies" took a while to remember to sing
"who unto the Savior"

instead of
"you who unto Jesus for refuge have fled"

in the first verse of How Firm A Foundation when it was changed in 1985. I imagine that this change might have been made to avoid the too frequent use of the Lord's name. But if this is the case, we might better teach our children and youth to say "in the name of the Savior" at the end of prayers, instead of "nameajesuschristamen."

This is not the only hymn where we notice incomprehensible changes. When "How Great Thou Art" was added to the 1985 hymnal it was familiar to me from my pre-Mormon days. But I wondered why, in the first verse, the words "works" and "mighty" were changed to
...consider all the *worlds thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the *rolling thunder...

I can't even think of a possible reason for this revision, and, although the change is noted, an author or perpetrator is not.

In the case of Hymn #68, I wonder if the music committee simply couldn't let the words of that great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, rest unchallenged. Luther's words were "adapted" as follows: (scroll down)
A mighty fortress is our God, A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing; A tower of strength ne'er failing.
our helper he amid the flood A helper mighty is our God
of mortal ills prevaling. O'er ills of life prevailing.
For still our ancient foe He overcometh all.
doth seek to work us woe; He saveth from the Fall.
his craft and power are great, His might and power are great.
and armed with cruel hate, He all things did create.
on earth is not his equal. And he shall reign forever more.

Now, there are some changes which, though small or trivial, can be well understood. Before 1985 LDS congregations on the last week of December used to sing The Wint'ry Day, Descending to its Close with these words:
...where roamed at will the savage Indian band, the templed cities of the Saints now stand.

The word "savage" has now been changed to "fearless." I'm actually surprised that some sixteenth notes weren't added, along with the words "the fearless Native American band!"

For more info on word changes in hymns, go here!


Zillah said...

I never realized that Joy to the World was changed until this past week, when I was singing carols out of an Anglican hymnal. Saints and angels are great and all, but I love the picture of all creation--the heavens and the earth--rejoicing over Christ's birth.

Mormon Heretic said...

There is a song in the LDS church that we sing titled, "Israel, Israel, God is Calling." Baptists use the same song, but it is called "We All Have a Friend in Jesus."

I like the words to both songs, but it is interesting that the words aren't remotely similar, even though the tune is the same.

Kaimi said...

It's a good question, Cheryl. Clearly, there are some silly changes in the hymnbook. Mighty thunder and Saints and Angels are among them.

I don't know if I'd put A Mighty Fortress into the same category, though.

Martin Luther's original text was in German. There are a variety of English translations. The most widely used, as far as I'm aware, is the bulwark one you mentioned. But there are others as well. See, e.g., this translation from another Lutheran hymnal: .

bwebster said...

I've never been happy with the Phelps version of "Joy to the World", which he rewrote to be a Millennial hymn rather than a Christmas hymn. He made changes to every verse and rewrote the last verse entirely. If you compare the two texts, you'll see just how significant the changes are; you'll also see that he's talking about the Restoration and the Second Coming rather than Christmas. ..bruce..

Michelle Glauser said...

Very interesting. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Sorry if this ends up a little long, but it's such a fascinating subject to me!

As has been mentioned, W.W. Phelps changed Joy to the World to a song about the second coming. Here are his 1835 words, which have only been slightly altered in our modern hymnal:

Joy to the world! the Lord will come!
And earth receive her King;
Let ev'ry heart prepare him room,
And saints and angels sing.

Rejoice! rejoice! when Jesus reigns,
And saints their songs employ:
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more will sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He'll come and make the blessing flow
Far as the curse was found.

Rejoice! Rejoice! in the Most High,
While Israel spreads abroad,
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God.

As you can see, Phelps' words really have nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas! I'd personally be happy with returning to the original non-LDS Christmas-y version.

Regarding How Great Thou Art, it appears in all modern hymnals of all denominations just like it is in our LDS hymnal, including the note about the author's original words being works and mighty. Manna Music (the holder of the copyright on the words) keeps a very tight reign on the use of the words and requires it to be printed exactly as it is in our hymnal, so the "change" has absolutely nothing to do with our hymnal.

Regarding How Firm a Foundation, most modern hymnals have changed the phrase "you, who unto Jesus." It just always sounded like "Yoo-hoo! unto Jesus!" Most modern hymnals have changed it to "to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled" in order to avoid the "yoo-hoo."

As was already mentioned about "A Mighty Fortress", different hymnals use different translations of foreign hymns. Another example: we use the same words to "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" that the Episcopalians use, but most others use a different translation that renders it this way:

Praise ye the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, Now to His temple draw near;
Join me in glad adoration!

(The other two verses are also vastly different.)

Some other changes in our hymnal are to make the hymns more in line with Mormon doctrine. For example, one of my favorites is "For All the Saints" - which in other hymnals is about dead Saints, not living believers. We changed the second verse to "Thou are our rock, our fortress and our might" from the original "Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might" and so on. We also leave out three verses, which generally praise the dead, give thanks for the rest of death, and look forward to the resurrection of the Saints.

Some changes make no sense: "All Creatures of our God and King (aside from losing three verses in our hymnal!) has the chorus changed from the original "O praise him, O praise him, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!" to "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Oh, praise him! Alleluia!" Makes no sense to me!

Some changes are just interesting: the original version of "Faith of Our Fathers" was about turning England from Anglicanism back to Roman Catholicism. (These days we use the same words that other churches use.) The current third verse goes like this:

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach Thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.

The original third verse went like this:

Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.

Just one last "change" - it isn't really a change, just a much-needed omission: the original version of "The Spirit of God" had six verses. The four verses we sing today were originally verses 1, 2, 5, & 6. The original verses 4 and 5 are as follows (and I'm so glad they got left on the cutting-room floor!):

We'll wash, and be wash'd, and with oil be anointed
Withal not omitting the washing of feet:
For he that receiveth his PENNY appointed,
Must surely be at the harvest of wheat.
(Chorus - We'll sing & we'll shout, etc.)

Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom,
Must come with the cloud and the pillar, amain:
A'Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua lead him,
And feed him on manna from heaven again.

Unknown said...

While we're complaining about hymns, I really dislike the version of "Away in a Manger" in the primary hymnal. It's terrible.

Anonymous said...

There is a song in the LDS church that we sing titled, "Israel, Israel, God is Calling." Baptists use the same song, but it is called "We All Have a Friend in Jesus."

U. Utah Phillips released a song called "Dump the Bosses" to the same tune. Gotta love those lyrics too.

M said...

My mom had a hard time singing the old version of "How Firm a Foundation" when she was a kid; she had been told never to "yoo-hoo" someone as it was terribly rude and yet it church she was supposed to "yoo-hoo" Jesus. Didn't make sense to her.

bwebster said...

Since we've veered away from Christmas hymns, I'll also note that the 1985 hymnal dropped the 3rd verse from the Star-Spangled Banner. It's understandable since that verse is a bit blood-thirsty and (as originally written) was talking about the British who have been our good friends for some time now. :-) However, post-9/11, that verse takes on new meaning:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Anonymous said...

I second the comment about the "yoo-hoo" effect of the prior lyrics in Praise to the Man. That was my understanding of the rationale for the change.

Michael Hicks has done a lot of work on Phelps' tinkering with hymn texts. I don't recall whether there is a specific article on the subject, but certainly details are available in his Mormonism and Music.

This was a fun post, BiV.

Scott B. said...

"Before 1985 LDS congregations on the last week of December used to sing The Wint'ry Day, Descending to its Close..."

Whether the words were changed or not is not nearly as important as changing the tradition of singing that hymn. It's the only hymn in the entire current Hymns that contains four distinct verses spanning two full pages (others have choruses), and it's supposed to be sung "Expressively" or in other fashion which should be read as "Slower than your grandmother walks."

I remember having that song as our ward's "practice hymn" (does anyone else remember those?) after Sac meeting...I think Sunday school was essentially canceled that day.

Ryan said...

Back in the area of Christmas hymns, I was surprised to discover two verses left out of "I heard the bells" though I understand why.

Even more surprising, however, was that there was no reference to these verses in last Sunday's Special Music & Spoken Word. The guest narrator told the fascinating back-story to the song, highlighting Longfellow's trials and forlorn-ness during the War and his eventual healing through hope in Christ (see for replay, available for a couple weeks).

Honestly, I think those verses would have been a very nice complement to the narration, given that they mirror Longfellow's own experience (surprise!):

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I can almost hear Herrmann spitting the words of verse four...

Anonymous said...

What a fun post to read! I grinned all the way through it.
I have often had the same experience of being the lone voice singing the pre-Moromon or pre-1985 version of a hymn! I personally still sing the Yoo-Hoo version of How Firm A Foundation, under my breath. Too much fun!

My daughter at age 3 announced her favorite hymn to be "Lori Lori, Lala Loola", which took us some time to figure out was The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Glory Glory Halleluia). Only the angels know how many children sing that version.

Re: "How Great thou Art", I was at an evangelical Christian church for a funeral, and was surprised to see the very same words for "How Great Thou Art" sung, with the same asterisk and footnotes referring to the original words...
All the WORLDS thy hands have made??? How DO they understand those words?

Elizabeth-W said...

I miss the old You Who Days.

CatherineWO said...

I read this post a few days ago but had to come back today to comment, because the Tabernacle Choir sang Joy to the World on their broadcast this morning with the words, "Heaven and Nature".
Thanks for making me listen more closely.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you about "heaven and nature" sounding more inclusive than "saints and angels", BiV. And it's so interesting to hear about these other hymn variations.

Wouldn't it be fun if we did (openly) fiddle with our scriptures as much as our hymns?

Th. said...


I remember when the 1985 hymnal first came out and some changes were made. I was, um, eight I guess, but some of them caught me off guard all the same.

Duke of Earl Grey said...

I see no one's pointed out the pre-1985 "Have I Done Any Good?":

It now goes:
Only he who does something helps others to live,
To God each good work will be known.

It previously said:
Only he who does something is worthy to live,
The world has no use for the drone.