‘O Holy Night,’ ‘Silent Night’ top Christmas hymn favorites

By: By Jennifer Willems

Many meaningful Christmas songs were submitted when The Catholic Post asked readers for their favorites, but in the end it was two about the night when Christ was born that proved to be the most popular.

“O Holy Night” was mentioned most often, with “Silent Night” coming in second. Other carols that will be heard with joy at Masses during the Christmas Season are “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Barbara Bunch of St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington, however, made a pitch to continue to wait a few more days by nominating a treasured Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

“It makes us stand out because we are waiting until Jesus’ birth to sing joyously and it depicts the long wait,” she wrote to The Post.

“O Holy Night” has been Bobbi Hynes’ favorite song since the first time she sang it in her high school choir in the Chicago suburbs.

“It had such an impact on me then and still to this day does because it tells the wondrous story of the birth of Christ. It’s just a beautiful way to remind us in song of the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place,” said Hynes, who is a member of St. Mary Parish in Bloomington.

She continues to sing it every year, either as a member of the choir or from the pew and says it’s important to her celebration of Christmas. “It warms my heart,” Hynes said.

“It sings the truth that it is Christ who transcends friendship and family, life and death, and all things . . . to show us our true worth,” wrote Kimberly Lange of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton. “The night Jesus chose to live as flesh among us was indeed the night our souls felt their worth.”

“That God would choose to become incarnate through the birth of His son in the most humble of earthly circumstances holds me in total and absolute awe,” said TC Peulausk, also of Blessed Sacrament Parish. “I want to have been there to watch the birth, to behold Mary herself with the Christ Child, to hear the sounds, to smell the odors, to give reverence due.”

“O Holy Night” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” are two of the songs that evoke those thoughts and emotions for Peulausk “because of the wondrous intertwining of their lyrics, music and movement.”

Mary Ann Manning of Champaign has loved “O Holy Night” since she was a fourth-grader at Mahomet Grade School more than 50 years ago. “Our class not only sang that song for the school’s Christmas program, but we got to ‘fall on our knees’ during the performance,” she wrote to The Post.

“My favorite live performance of this song will always be when Father Steve Willard sang it as a gift to his Holy Cross congregation before Mass on Christmas Eve,” she said. “Josh Groban could not have done better — and what an absolutely beautiful and moving way to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus!”

Father James DeBisschop, pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Coal Valley and Mary, Our Lady of Peace Parish in Orion, said “Silent Night” is his favorite hymn because “it taught me to sing and pray twice!”

A member of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Leonore as a child, Marge Killian remembers the procession at the early morning Christmas Mass when the children would bring the baby Jesus forward and place him in the manger. They sang “Silent Night” as they walked.

“One very special year, my sister and I were angels in the procession,” she told The Post. “What a wonderful Christmas memory.”

When Killian started teaching at St. Mary’s School in Streator in 1979, she made “Silent Night” the first song she taught her first-graders at Christmas.

“As I told them, when you sing ‘Silent Night,’ you sing of the true meaning of Christmas,” said Killian, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish.
With its focus on attaining peace, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is the favorite carol for Mary Monical, a member of St. Mary Parish in Pontiac. She felt the need for that especially during World War II, when her brother signed up for the Navy.

“My uncle had been a soldier during the First World War. There was a lot to think about,” Monical recalled. “Once I asked my mother, ‘Was there ever a time when there was peace all over the world?'”

“Yes, once,” her mother said. “When Jesus was born.”

“Since then there has been war after war. When will it end? It is so useless, so destructive, so sad, so opposite of what all of us want and need, so antithetical to the song the angels sang on that first Christmas,” Monical told The Post, adding “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” expresses how she feels and “holds out promise.”

A hymn that was remembered in a special way, along with the pastor who used to prepare the choir at St. Mary Church in Rock Island to sing it, was “Transeamus Usque Bethlehem.”

“It was the offertory hymn sung by the adult choir for a good many years,” Carol Danek shared. “Father George Schroeder, longtime pastor, also served as choir director along with his many other duties.”

Danek, a 67-year member of St. Mary, said “Transeamus Usque Bethlehem” was one of their “signature pieces.”

“Father practiced it with us for a month and a half before Christmas so that we had the timing just right,” she wrote. “He told us it was the shepherds speaking of going over to Bethlehem to see what great event had taken place there. It is a beautiful hymn that never fails to remind me of the good old days at St. Mary’s.

“To Father’s credit, every choir practice broadened our knowledge of the Catholic faith and tradition,” she said.

Filipino Catholics, influenced by the Spaniards who ruled the Philippines for more than 200 years, have an extended celebration of Christmas, according to Laura Corpuz, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Peoria. It starts with a novena of Masses called “Simbang Gabi” or “misa de gallo” that take place early in the morning, starting Dec. 16.

“Why so early? Many of the Filipinos are farmers, so holding Masses before dawn would give them time to welcome the baby Jesus by attending Mass before going to the fields,” she said. “The Christmas Eve Mass ends the novena and that’s also the time Mary and Joseph find a place for the Savior to be born.”

Corpuz said one of the best-known songs — and her favorite — is “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit.” Lively and upbeat, the song asks the faithful to be joyful for Jesus is born. They are also invited to be happy for God is love.

“At the new year we can start a new life to bring hope to the people, and strive to achieve prosperity and be glad because the day of the infant Jesus that came from heaven has arrived,” she said, adding that the song also emphasizes the “Golden Rule.” “That way we can continue to love and share, even if it’s not Christmas anymore.”

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