Easter 2024

30 December 2018
A Practical Christmastide Lessons and Carols

On the First Sunday after Christmas, we sang a service of Lessons and Carols with Holy Eucharist at the parish where I serve as organist and director of music.

I'm not breaking new ground here. Drop me a line (comment below) and let me know what lessons are used at your service. I'd love to know more about what the church is up to here.

I want to share some thoughts on this with you today for several reasons.

I hope this will be useful to many Episcopal (and other churches) that may wish to imitate what we have done.

Some background: St. Peter's, St. Louis, the parish where I work, had a long custom of Morning Prayer, but has in recent years moved to a near-weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist at the principal liturgy. When we conducted this service on Sunday morning three years ago, we were able to use the full nine lessons in a "Morning Prayer" mode. But, with the addition of Holy Eucharist, this was untenable.

Can I just pause here to say how much I admire (and envy) the custom of Christmas Lessons and Carols at Church of the Advent, Boston on New Year's Eve?

St. Peter's has full choral Lessons and Carols services for Advent and Epiphany, so this Christmas service is not as important as it may be in some places. It seemed good to us to be slightly experimental with this liturgy in that it does attempt to fully reconcile a service of Lessons and Carols with a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and the result – I think – was very successful.

Here's a play-by-play of the service, which was preceded by the Prelude on "Irby" by David Willcocks (found in the Oxford Book of Christmas Organ Music).

Final thoughts: we did not incorporate the Epistle Lesson for the First Sunday after Christmas. This is a very short lesson, and this would be easy to do. It does not seem desireable, however, to incorporate the proper Psalm in a service of this type.

I'm also aware that this activity flies in the face of the perscription NOT to replace the Word of God with a service of Lessons and Carols in the Book of Occasional Services. I think that guidance is, well, misguided.

As promised, here are the full details for the Service of Lessons and Carols and Holy Eucharist sung on the First Sunday after Christmas at St. Peter's, St. Louis.

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12 December 2018
Routley, Erik - on the popularity of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge

It is only speculation, but I venture the opinion that the immense popularity of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College Chapel, Cambridge, (when compared with the popularity of sung evensong anywhere) arose from the fact that the invention of this service aroused a response through its paradoxical quality. Here was a cathedral foundation singing not Stanford in C or Wood in the Phrygian mode but the earthy, secular, cheerful, friendly songs of Christmas. The collision of this earthiness and familiarity with cathedral remoteness and beauty caused a minor explosion in the affections of the British public. It is interesting to observe how, with the gradual rising of the standard of that choir to something as near perfection in its own line as mortals dare approach, there has been, over the fifty years of its acceptance as a national institution, a gradual de-sacralizing of the music. One by one the vestiges of cathedral romanticism have been pared away—Walford Davies's "O little town," for example, gave place to a Bach recitative and chorale, and this in turn gave place to the austere medieval hymn "Corde natus." Carols of the F-sharp major Pettman school have gradually made way for the fresh simplicity of Berkeley's "I sing of a maiden," the good-humored asperities of Mathias' "Nowell," and the gaunt medieval coolness of "There is no rose." King's College Chapel will remain romantic as long as it stands; even Thomas Tallis will sound romantic there as long as people think of the place with the affection they show at present.

Routley, Erik. Church Music and the Christian Faith. Agape, 1978, pp. 47-48.


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