The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

An Angel This Night

First On Christ's Nativity

For Christmas Day

Author: Luke Waddinge

To the tune of “Neen Major Neal”

One of the "Carols for the Several Days of Christmas"

From

Luke Waddinge, A Small Garland of Pious & Godly Songs, 1684

Christmas Carols of Waddinge and Devereux

Source: Thomas Wall, A Pious Garland Being the December Letter and Christmas Carols of Luke Wadding (Dublin: M.H. Gill and Son, 1960).

An angel this night doth to the shepherds bring
Most rare and joyful news to move all hearts to sing:
A Saviour from heaven unto the world is come,
And God is now made Man for man’s redemption.

The shepherds in haste unto the stable run
To see this precious Child, the eternal Father’s Son;
Without a father born, His Mother a pure maid,
By whom this heavenly Babe is in a manger laid.

Now let us with the shepherds unto the stable go,
Those miracles and wonders for to adore and know,
With humble wit and will and open eyes of faith,
We shall believe and see all that the angel saith.

But wits of men and angels cannot conceive this bliss,
No heart can full resent it, no tongue tell what it is,
Wits must admire and marvel and hearts astonished be,
And tongues with joy be silent in this great mystery.

Here all the hopes of earth and the delights of heaven,
The joy of all the angels and the great price of man,
The ransom of all sinners, all captives to set free,
How can we but rejoice and all must merry be.

How can we but rejoice to hear what now is done,
The Son of God made man andrnan made God’s true Son:
God doth appear on earth for to raise earth to heaven,
What cause of greater joy could ever happen men?

Now infinite height is low and infinite depth is shallow,
The greatest length is short, the greatest largeness narrow,
Eternity by time is measured and closed up,
Immensity confined and in a stable shut.1

The increated Person is now created Man,
The Creator made Creature, who shall these secrets scan?
Who made all things of nothing, a nothing is become,
Our God most high and great is a poor Virgin’s son.

His greatness is made humble and all His might is weak,
His glory is obscured, His wisdom doth not speak,
His pleasures do suffer, His treasures are in want.
He made and rules the world and yet He’s bare and scant:

But ‘tis to strengthen us His might is made so weak,
‘Tis for our faults and folly His wisdom doth not speak;
For to correct our pride in humble sort He lies,
And for to make us rich, most poor He lives and dies.

The angels may admire how these strange things can be,
And all the devils may tremble, their terrors for to see;
But sinners all on earth may well rejoice and sing,
To thank and praise and glorify their Saviour and their King.

Then glory unto the Father Who ordered all things thus,
Glory unto the Son Who gave Himself for us,
Glory to the Holy Ghost Who did this work of heaven,
Glory unto Them now and evermore. Amen.

Footnote:

1. This is probably an echo of Dr. Donne’s lines addressed to Our Lady,

“Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloistered in thy dear womb.”

This stanza, perhaps because its theology is vague, is omitted from the carol as it was traditionally sung in various parts of Co. Wexford.

For the traditional music see The Past, no. 5 (1949), p. 88.

Editor's Note:

The reference in the footnote concerning traditional music is to the "Song for New Year's Day," (First Carol for New Year's Day), Number IX of "The Kilmore Carols," from The Past, no. 5 (1949), p. 88. First line: "The first day of the year | Jesus to us doth give".

Sheet Music “Neen Major Neal” from Ranson, "The Kilmore Carols", p. 88.

song for new years day.jpeg (112844 bytes)

Also found in Joseph Ranson, “The Kilmore Carols” from The Past, no. 5 (1949), pp. 79-80, who had this note:

This carol is no longer sung. It is not included in Rev. Thomas O’Byine’s composite collection of Kilmore and Tacumshane Carols. I found it in a modern copy made by John Devereux in 1944.

The Carol is to be found in the 1728 edition of Dr. Luke Wadding’s “Pious Garland,” where direction given that it is to be sung to the tune of “Neen Major Neal.” One stanza given in the “Garland” is omitted in the Kilmore copy. It is the seventh, and is as follows:—

Now infinite Highth is Low and Infinite Depth is shallow.
The greatest length is short, the greatest largeness narrow.
Eternity by time is measured and closed up;
Immensity confined and in a stable shut.”

As noted, Dr. Wadding directed that the Carol be sung to the tune of “Need Major Neal.” To the same air he set the words of his Song for New Year's Day – “This First Day of the Year.” Below is given the Kilmore air for Dr. Wadding's New Year's Day Carol which, as Mr. G. M. Palmer points out, “is in the Dorian mode and obviously very old.” I do not know if the Kilmore air and “Need Major Neal” can be equated.

There then arises the question who was Need Major Neal – Major Neale's Daughter? It is not unlikely that she was the Wexford maiden. “Onor nyn Neale (Honor O'Neal) of Old Ross who in 1602, July 2nd, was pardoned for having broken the peace (Flants. Eliz. 6660). If our surmise is true, Miss O'Neal was something of a local patriotic heroine who provided matter for a ballad the air of which was popular in Dr. Wadding's time.

In "The Kilmore Carols" this is the Fourth Carol for Christ's Nativity.

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