Few hymns sung today are steeped in as much tradition as Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Its roots are ancient, tracing back to the fourth century, and the hymn’s cryptic lyrics summon the singer to take part in the Incarnation and experience the sense of going into the Holy of Holies.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is based on the Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn, which is found within the Liturgy of Saint James. The original hymn was used to prepare members of the church for the practice of communion. In those ancient days, communion was taken with extreme sincerity, for the people believed Christ’s body was truly present in the form of bread and wine. Spiritual preparation was certainly needed before partaking, and this is where the hymn found its purpose. Prior to the singing of the hymn, the following would be said to give further meaning to it:
“We remember the sky, the earth and the sea, the sun and the moon, the stars and all creation both rational and irrational, the angels and archangels, powers, mights, dominations, principalities, thrones, the many-eyed Cherubim who say those words of David: ‘Praise the Lord with me.’ We remember the Seraphim, whom Isaias saw in spirit standing around the throne of God, who with two wings cover their faces, with two their feet and with two fly; who say: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth.’ We also say these divine words of the Seraphim, so as to take part in the hymns of the heavenly host.”
The Oxford Movement, a period when ancient Christian texts were translated from Greek and Latin to English, is when the hymn was brought into the modern age. Modern times have changed how we view the Christian faith. It is less somber, as people see the religion as a freedom from sorrow. Freedom and joy are certainly important aspects within Christianity, but it is still vital to remember the weight of the burden Christ took on for us. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is a tool we can use to remember this, and, like the people of old, put us in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate the freedom we have.
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