The Epiphany Season
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).
I do think it's good to begin this service with this hymn, though I have been known to use a different hymn. And I think it's good to have at least two stanzas sung from the choir where possible.
I had toyed with the idea of the full soprano section singing the first verse in unison, but without the aid of a conductor, this proved unwise. There's nothing wrong with a solo voice, it seems!
To add a bit of originality, I wrote my own descant for this tune.
The textual differences between the Hymnal 1982 and the version found in Carols for Choirs 2 are maddening. Pick one and stick with it. (Note to self: take this advice next year.) When in doubt have the congregation sing one version and the choir another (haha! This is a joke!).
Here is where "local interests" may appear, but seldom do. We added in the full name of our Diocese and made a couple other minor changes to eliminate gendered language.
It is important to omit the Lord's Prayer from the Bidding, as it will be prayed during the service of Holy Communion.
Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmastide our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make St. Peter’s Church glad with our carols of praise: But first let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and
brotherhoodconcord within the Church he came to build, and especially in this Diocese of Missouri.
And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.
Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no
manone can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.
The Almighty God bless us with his grace; Christ give us the joys of everlasting life; and to the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all. Amen.
This Invitatory Carol after the Bidding Prayer should be considered optional, I think. I had planned on one initially. But in the late stages of putting the service together, I decided to cut it.
I'll note the full specifics of the music we used below.
I referred to this as our "just add water" Lessons and Carols, since it was mainly music we had sung on Christmas Eve.
But obviously the choice of music can make the service anywhere from exceedingly simple to ridiculously complex. A very satisfying order could be made of all hymns from the Hymnal 1982. One or two pieces should be sung after every lesson (one of which could be a hymn).
This is the First Lesson in the King's service.
In our service, these Lessons are read very much as they are every Sunday. They were from the NRSV, as they are every Sunday of the year. They were introduced with "A lesson from..." and concluded with "The Word of the Lord / Thanks be to God."
This Lesson is the Old Testament Lesson for the First Sunday after Christmas in the Revised Common Lectionary. (It is the same set of lessons in all years, A, B and C!)
This is the Fifth Lesson at King's.
This is the Sixth Lesson at King's.
This is the Seventh Lesson at King's. We felt especially justified not including the Eighth Lesson since we get a hefty dose of it next Sunday when we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. (Our feelings on this might change when we don't celebrate Epiphany on Sunday.)
Not only is this the Ninth Lesson at King's, but it is also the Gospel Lesson for the First Sunday after Christmas. (Note that this lection is four verses longer than King's.)
We had a Gospel procession during the hymn preceeding, and read this Gospel in the usual way for a service of Holy Eucharist. (Note: there is no sermon or creed.)
In this case, the Collect for the First Sunday after Christmas.
After which, the service procceds like a standard Holy Eucharist.
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.
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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