Christmas Messages
December 23, 2010
O Holy Night


A Reflection by Most – Rev. Robert Rivas, O.P.

This Christmas I would like to share with you the story of one of my favourite carols. In 1847 at the request of his parish priest, Placide Cappeau, a poet, artist and journalist, born in France, wrote the poem ‘O Holy Night’ which was called, in French Minuit Cretien. He then approached Adolphe Charles Adam, who was musically gifted, to write the musical score for his poem. The music and the poem together were named Cantique de Noel. On Christmas Eve 1847, ‘O Holy Night’ was sung for the first time in a Church in France.{{more}}

Legend has it that on Christmas Eve 1871, in the midst of the fierce fighting between the armies of Germany and France, during the Franco-Prussion War, a French soldier suddenly jumped out of his muddy trench. His action caused consternation on both sides. Boldly standing with no weapon in his hand or at his side, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and sang, “Minuit, Cretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle…the solemn moment when the Son of God decended among us…the beginning words of Cantique Noel. When he had completed all three verses, a German infantryman climbed out of his hiding place and answered with, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her…” the beginning of Martin Luther’s “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”

This gesture led to a ceasefire, and the fighting stopped for the next twenty-four hours, while the men on both sides observed a temporary peace in honour of Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve 1906, Reginald Fessenden – a 33-year-old university professor, Canadian, and former chief chemist for Thomas Edison took the song to another level. On that Christmas Eve, for the first time in history a human voice was broadcast over the airwaves and the first words spoken came from St. Luke’s Gospel (2:1-14), the story of the birth of Christ: ‘Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken…’ This breakthrough was a Christmas Eve miracle that captivated the world that could listen in at that time. After reading the account of Christ’s birth, Fessenden picked up his violin and played “O Holy Night,” the first song ever sent through the air via radio waves. Since that Christmas Eve, “O Holy Night” has filled the airwaves all over the world and has been performed and sung millions of times in churches and Concert Halls in every corner of the world (cf Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas or Google The Amazing Story of ‘O Holy Night’).

This Christmas I invite you to make this your Christmas carol. Ponder on the words of Luke 2:1-14 as well as the words of the carol. Share the spirit and joy of this carol with your family and friends and let the birth of Christ bring joy to your lives. May the light of Christ shine on you and the healing rays of his presence touch you and make you whole and holy. May you find a respite from your toils and peace in your heart – a peace that comes only from above. “For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”.