It is a hymn that sings like a creed. It seems to follow the outline of the Apostles' Creed while also drawing upon the vision of the heavenly liturgy from Revelation. The hymn begins with an affirmation of faith -- we praise Thee, O Lord, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord. But it quickly proceeds to name the faithful who praise and venerate God -- the whole company of heavenly creatures to those Christian faithful already in heaven to the Church throughout the world. The creedal structure of the hymn returns to sing of Christ -- recalling His birth, suffering and death, His resurrection and glorification. Then the hymn returns to those the theme of praise, petitions for mercy, protection amid temptation, and for the long awaited reconciliation of the Church on earth and the Church in heaven.
If I ever got a chance to Pastor another congregation (hopefully smaller than my current parish), I might start by establishing a parish schedule of Matins at 8 am, the Divine Service at 9 am, Breakfast and Sunday School at 10:30 am. This fond wish is, in part, moved by the desire to see the Sunday experience to be more fully expressive of the liturgies of the hours, and to establish a greater sense of community by the restoration of a normal expectation of fasting prior to the Mass and a common meal (I remember the smell of the Orthodox cooking for their common meal after the twelve hour fast before the Divine Liturgy). But I digress...
Of all the hymns of Matins I miss most, the Te Deum ranks highest (closely followed by the Venite). I lament that our return to a weekly Eucharist has left this hymn more on the fringes of our life together than part of our common core of hymnody and song. It is not that we never use it but that we use it far less frequently than we should. On occasion, I have, now you liturgical purists should take a deep breath here, substituted the sung Te Deum for the Creed. I love the hymn paraphrases of the Te Deum but find them not a fair substitute for the singing of the Te Deum itself. I love the TLH setting in the Office of Matins but I especially love the Healy Willan setting for that Te Deum (at least for congregational song). I have too many favorite choral settings of the Te Deum to name them all here (or to list the YouTube places where you can hear them).
Our familiar words are but a modernized version of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Those words are as follows:
We praise the, O God, we knowlage thee to be the Lorde.
All the earth doeth wurship thee, the father everlastyng.
To thee al Angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therin.
To thee Cherubin, and Seraphin continually doe crye.
Holy, holy, holy, Lorde God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are replenyshed with the majestie of thy glory,
The gloryous company of the Apostles, praise thee.
The goodly felowshyp of the Prophetes, praise thee.
The noble armie of Martyrs, praise thee.
The holy churche throughout all the worlde doeth knowlage thee.
The father of an infinite majestie.
Thy honourable, true, and onely sonne.
The holy gost also beeying the coumforter.
Thou art the kyng of glory, O Christe.
Thou art the everlastyng sonne of the father.
Whan thou tookest upon thee to delyver manne, thou dyddest not abhorre the virgins wombe.
Whan thou haddest overcomed the sharpenesse of death, thou diddest open the kyngdome of heaven to all belevers.
Thou sittest on the ryght hande of God, in the glory of the father.
We beleve that thou shalt come to be our judge.
We therfore praye thee, helpe thy servauntes, whom thou haste redemed with thy precious bloud.
Make them to be noumbred with thy sainctes, in glory everlastyng.
O Lorde, save thy people: and blesse thyne heritage.
Governe them, and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnifie thee.
And we wurship thy name ever world without ende.
Vouchsafe, O Lorde, to kepe us this daye without synne.
O Lorde, have mercy upon us: have mercy upon us.
O Lorde, let thy mercy lighten upon us: as our trust is in thee.
O Lorde, in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.