“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is one of the oldest, if not the oldest Christian hymn still in common use today.
Adapted from the fourth-century Liturgy of St. James, which is still used by Eastern Orthodox churches today, this hymn text was translated into English in 1864 by Gerald Moutrie. The text is part of the Eucharistic prayer, as you can see with references to Christ being our “heavenly food,” yet it focuses on Christ’s incarnation, his descent to earth as a virgin-born infant, “Lord of lords in human vesture.” The hymn calls us to approach him with silence and reverence, mimicking the angels who revered him in heaven.
The melody, PICARDY, is newer (17th-century), but carries a reverent, chant-like sentiment fitting for this ancient text.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture –
in the body and the blood.
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the pow’rs of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia, Lord most high!”