Few Christmas carol refrains have been sung more than the one from “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” You’re recalling it, right? You know, the simple, repeated call to worship—“O come let us adore him” sung three times, followed by the recognition of Christ’s kingship? Yes, that one. In fact, that refrain has become more than a Christmas jingle; it is sung year round in many churches as a regular chorus.
How did the simple chorus and carol come to be? According to Kenneth Osbeck,
“For many years this hymn was known as an anonymous Latin hymn. Recent research, however, has revealed manuscripts that indicate that it was written in 1744 by an English layman named John Wade and set to music by him in much the same style as used today. The hymn first appeared in his collection, Cantus Diversi, published in England in 1751. One hundred years later the carol was translated into its present English form by an Anglican minister, Frederick Oakeley, who desired to use it for his congregation. The tune name, ‘Adeste Fideles,’ is taken from the first words of the original Latin text, and translated literally means ‘be present or near, ye faithful.’”
In all fairness, some historians have credited the words to various people, such as an order of monks (German, Portuguese and Spanish all being mentioned), St. Bonaventure in the 13th century, or even King John IV of Portugal in the 17th century.
Humorously, this holiday tune that calls the faithful to come and worship is also nowadays spontaneously used in mainly British areas with the lyrics, “Why are we waiting?” It is apparently, based on Rupert Christensen’s observation, a song of frustration wherever lines form and delays create impatience.[NOTE: A more detailed and historical account of this Christmas hymn’s development can be found here. I found this information quite intriguing.]