I've sung (and loved) these hymns for years. Yet only in the past 3-4 years have I really taken notice of what I've sung. But, I would guess, that is not so unusual. Otherwise familiar stories (like the Good Samaritan) would not cause us "ah-ha" moments when we see something we hadn't seen before--even though we could recite the story verbatim.
Two hymns, in particular, have intrigued me recently. I'm intrigued not as much by the particular words as by who is addressed by those words. These hymns are "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" and "Oh, How Blest Are Ye Whose Toils Are Ended."
What's intriguing is found when I ask this question: "To whom are we speaking when we sing the words in these hymns." For "Ye Watchers," the answer is that we are not addressing God at all. Rather, we are speaking to the angels (stanza 1); the Blessed Virgin Mary (stanza 2); the Old & New Testament saints (stanza 3); and then either the "friends" standing next to us or the "friends" who have preceded us in death (stanza 4). In either case, we're not speaking to any member of the Holy Trinity. Rather, in at least three if not four of the stanzas, we're speaking to "dead folks"--those who are alive in the Lord even though their years on earth have ended. And throughout the hymn, we are entreating or praying for them to reamain faithful in their prayers to the Holy Blessed Trinity.
In "Oh, How Blest," we are likewise speaking to "dead folks"--in this case, those dear to us who have preceded us in death (i.e., the Faithful Departed)--until we reach the final stanza. In the first five stanzas, we are not asking anything of the Blessed Dead as much as we are rejoicing at their heavenly repose while bemoaning our continued mortality. In the last stanza we finally address Our Lord Jesus, begging Him to come soon to release us since in Him alone do we receive the "joy and rest appointed."
In both of these fine hymns, we are addressing the blessed dead. In the first, we pray to the saints asking them to continue their intercessions to God. In the second, we proclaim to the Faithful Departed our joy that they are released from the cares of this life, and our desire to be reunited with them quickly.