Today's first reading inspired the Battle Hymn of the Republic.



Tuesday, 11/27/12

 The First Reading puts all Americans in mind of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. As a seventeen year-old seminarian I was singing it while doing yard work, and a priest jokingly told me it was a Protestant song, and I shouldn’t be singing it. I now beg to differ with that good Father. The song was composed as a prayer for God’s help in freeing American’s slaves, and as such we Catholics should find common cause with it.

In 1856 William Steffe composed the tune as a hymn with different lyrics. Then, with the Civil War coming on, soldiers used it as a marching song, making up their own words.

In 1961 Julia Ward Stowe, a forty-two year old published author, and wife of a doctor who had established a school for the blind, had accompanied her husband to Washington. After meeting with Lincoln and discussing the need to regard the dignity of black people, they had stood by the road watching a troop from Wisconsin march by.

The soldiers had worked up their own words that made fun of a short little Scotch soldier named John Brown. Julia went to bed with the tune ringing in her ears, and she fell asleep reviewing the image of Jesus collecting the grapes of wrath. In the dark before dawn she awoke, and with a scratchy old pen she wrote six verses of the hymn. Here are the first two.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
(Chorus)
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

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