So (or Hwaet), let us now praise famous men
The fathers of our faith
The saints who from their labours rest
Now full of Truth and Grace
(This section, and the two that follow, are mostly based on Ecclesiasticus 44. Also, I have included a send-up to the hymn "For All the Saints." As an aside, I highly recommend the Indelible Grace rendering of the hymn. The "truth and grace" line is meant to show that we are to "become by grace what Christ is by nature" as St. Athanasius says in "On the Incarnation.")
The Lord, by them, great glory wrought
Through prophet, priest and king
Through virgin pure and martyr meek
The poor in spirit, silent, weak,
Through Roman, Hebrew, Celt and Greek
And golden-tongues that sing.
And there are some that we forget
As though they'd never been
Yet, God remembers each one still
And still, they are our kin.
(This stanza comes from Ecclesiasticus 44 as well, but is unnecessary.)
They filled the earth with holiness
As bread is filled with leaven
As the Word of God once, with His birth
In weakness laid aside His worth
Thus dragging heaven down to earth
And earth, with Him, to heaven.
(This sets the theme for the whole poem. Following the kenotic ... if that's a word ..., self-emptying Way of Christ is how we become Christians and, thus, saints. But this path is not about acting holy or even about becoming holy. It's about transformation participating in the transformation of the world, the redemption of the world. Guthlac doesn't just become holy. He makes the world around him holy.)
O! Ubi sunt sancti Dei
The blessed by God who bless
The soldiers of the risen Son
Who waged the war of faith and won (or fought the fight of faith)
Is there not left on earth just one?
O! Sancte, ubi es?
(This section is based on the excellent and somewhat ironic lament of St. Ephrem the Syrian.)
Though vulgar Cretins here, behold! (or "ornery orphans")
Their cloud surrounds us still
From prayers raised in Ninian's cave
To Mary Hazel's holy grave
And Brendan's mass at Whale-on-wave
All following God's will
(The second line is a reference to Hebrews 12:1. When I went to Scotland, I was blessed to visit St. Ninian's Cave. It made an impression on me. St. Mary Hazel of Sleep Hollow is from the Celtic Catholic Church. The line regarding St. Brendan references his celebration of the Eucharist on the back of a whale and the penchant for English towns to be named "Something-on-Something". English nerd humour. It doesn't get more obscure than that.)
The holy ones and watchers come
As we, on Christ, are fed
Iona's monks the dead-paths race
While six-winged seraphs hide their face
And singing, "Sanctus," join in praise
When God becomes the bread.
The throne of God descends to earth
The temple veil is furled
All heav'n surrounds us as we sup
Prostrate before the holy cup
With wine and blood and God filled up
The center of the world