Te Deum.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 October

One of Christendom’s better-known rote prayers.

Te Deum /teɪ 'deɪ.əm/ is a rote prayer. Really it’s a hymn which dates back to the late 300s. It’s named for its first words, Te Deum laudamus/“To God we praise.” Traditions say it was written by St. Ambrose when he baptized St. Augustine. Or St. Hiliary or St. Nicetas of Remesiana wrote it. Meh; who cares how we got it. It’s been a popular prayer for the past 17 centuries, and has been set to music many times in many ways.

The Presbyterian Church’s Book of Common Worship translates it like so.

We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord,
all creation worships you,
Father everlasting.
To you, all angels, all the powers of heaven,
the cherubim and seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.
Throughout the world the holy church acclaims you;
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all praise,
the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.
You, Christ, are the king of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you took our flesh to set us free
you humbly chose the Virgin’s womb.
You overcame the sting of death
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come, and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting. BCW 570-571

The Roman Catholic version includes a call-and-response bit at the end, which was added later from various psalms.

O God we praise thee, and acknowledge thee to be the supreme Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth worships thee.
All the angels, the heavens and all angelic powers,
All the cherubim and seraphim, continuously cry to thee:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.
The glorious choir of the apostles,
The wonderful company of prophets,
The white-robed army of martyrs, praise thee.
Holy church throughout the world acknowledges thee:
The Father of infinite majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
Also the Holy Spirit, the comforter.
O Christ, thou art the king of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
When thou tookest it upon thyself to deliver man,
Thou didst not disdain the virgin's womb.
Having overcome the sting of death,
Thou opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou willst come to be our judge.
We therefore beg thee to help thy servants whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Let them be numbered with thy saints in everlasting glory.
Call. Save thy people, O Lord, and bless thy inheritance!
Response. Govern them, and raise them up forever.
Call. Every day we thank thee.
Response. And we praise thy name forever, yes, forever and ever.
Call. O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
Response. Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.
Call. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in thee.
Response. O Lord, in thee I have put my trust; let me never be put to shame.

If you prefer it rhyme, possibly so you can sing it, there are about 25 different ways people have converted it into hymns or metrical psalms. Probably the best-known version of it is Ignaz Franz and Charles Walworth’s “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.” Maybe your church sings it (and might even sing the third verse). It’s longer, though easier to memorize with the music. But if you’re not familiar with it, it goes like so.

Holy God, we praise thy name. Lord of all, we bow before thee.
All on earth thy scepter claim. All in heaven above adore thee.
Infinite thy vast domain. Everlasting is thy reign.
Hark! the loud celestial hymn angel choirs above are raising.
Cherubim and seraphim in unceasing chorus praising.
Fill the heavens with sweet accord. Holy, holy, holy, Lord.
Lo! the apostolic train join the sacred name to hallow.
Prophets swell the loud refrain, and the white-robed martyrs follow.
And from morn to set of sun, through the church the song goes on.
Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name thee,
While in essence only one, undivided God we claim thee.
And adoring bend the knee, while we own the mystery.
Thou art king of glory, Christ: Son of God, yet born of Mary.
For us sinners sacrificed, and to death a tributary.
First to break the bars of death, thou has opened heaven to faith.
From thy high celestial home, judge of all, again returning,
We believe that thou shalt come in the dreaded doomsday morning,
When thy voice shall shake the earth, and the startled dead come forth.
Therefore do we pray thee, Lord: Help thy servants whom, redeeming
By thy precious blood outpoured, thou hast saved from Satan’s scheming.
Give to them eternal rest in the glory of the blessed.
Spare thy people Lord, we pray, by a thousand snares surrounded.
Keep us without sin today, never let us be confounded.
Lo, I put my trust in thee. Never, Lord, abandon me.

Because it has the main ideas of the creeds embedded in it, loads of Christian teachers have encouraged people to learn it. Traditionally it was recited at every nighttime service, though Anglicans recite it in the morning.

Like all rote prayers, pray it if you mean it; if you don’t mean it yet, ask God to help you mean it. Pray it when you don’t know what else to pray, or when you’re not sure how to get started. Use it to help you meditate. Use it to help others pray. And all the other usual reasons we do rote prayers.