O Magnum Mysterium

  • Dec. 4, 2015
  • #8765

During this hectic Christmas season, take a few moments to quiet your soul and listen to this ancient, beautiful chant.

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada and I want you to listen to something. This beautiful Christmas classic has been a favorite of mine since I grew up in the Reformed Episcopal Church. When I first heard it so long ago, well, I cried. So just listen:

This chant in Latin, it was written in 1572 and it is so heartbreakingly beautiful. The words in Latin mean: “O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!”

When I first heard this as a child, I didn’t know what the words meant in Latin. But there was something about the beautiful harmonies – so complex and intertwined – there was something about just the “sound” of this music that reached deep into my heart. And I think I cried because it was so beautiful. Have you ever had that happen? Have you seen or heard something so lovely that it just breaks the human container and outpours a flow of tears? Not tears of sadness, but tears of wonder and joy. Well, that’s what happened to me when I was a kid listening to this ancient chant from the 1500s.

And every Christmas – actually, I do this more often than just on Christmas – but every holiday season I always like to take about 7 or 8 minutes to sit and let this haunting music wash over me. Because Christmas is so busy, so hectic, harried and hurried; so full of things to do and places to go; Christmas has become so contemporary, so fast-paced and frenetic. How many of us just actually stop and listen to the real sounds of the season: the sound of a crackling fire or a cold wind whispering through the pine trees. I remember once being in a big field when it was snowing, I stood so still and just listened to the flakes falling (it felt so heavy and quiet, just what my soul needed to hear).  And “O Magnum Mysterium” (this chant that is playing) calls me to hush my soul, center my thoughts, be rid of fear and worry, empty myself, calm my spirit and be still and know that Christ is the Lord.  

The music of the Christmas season is so rich and varied, and O Magnum Mysterium is part of the tradition of what makes this month unlike any other. So may I encourage you to go to my radio page today at joniandfriends.org and click on a link I’ve provided to this ancient song of the season. You’ll see a video of the Anglican Boys Choir at King’s College at Cambridge University in England. Just take a few minutes – actually it runs a little over 7 minutes – and enjoy this beautiful rendition of this seasonal chant written so long ago.

And while you’re on my radio page, enjoy even more music by asking for your free CD of “Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart.” Again, it’s right there on my radio page at joniandfriends.org. And please, share this beautiful “O Magnum Mysterium” with your facebook friends – it’ll help them slow down and yield to the quiet, serene beauty of the Christmas season. Because the Bible says, “O sing a new song to the Lord,” even if that new song is a very old song like this one.

© Joni and Friends


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