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Kings Nine Lessons

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Which makes me wonder: why all the fuss about nothing....

 

There, there..

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Clearly the recession is more severe than we thought and is hitting unexpected areas. The carol serivce I am playing for tomorrow evening has only eight lessons!

 

Malcolm

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Clearly the recession is more severe than we thought and is hitting unexpected areas. The carol serivce I am playing for tomorrow evening has only eight lessons!

 

Malcolm

 

It's all too common for there to be pressure on the number/length of readings from scripture - sometimes to the extent that its presence is no more than a nod to the origin of the celebrations. And the pressure isn't only restricted to Carol Services!

 

I much prefer to do a Carol Service properly or not at all - and to call a concert just that: a Carol Concert or a Christmas Concert (if there are no carols either).

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and to call a concert just that: a Carol Concert

I have just been to "Carols for All" - a sing-along with the Oxford Bach Choir and a children's choir in the Sheldonian Theatre. It's the first time I've been in there since the ceiling was restored, and I gather the void above it is now filled with wool for insulation. This has somewhat deadened the acoustics, and as a result made the electronic organ sound even more dreadfully plastic than usual.

 

Paul

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It's all too common for there to be pressure on the number/length of readings from scripture - sometimes to the extent that its presence is no more than a nod to the origin of the celebrations. And the pressure isn't only restricted to Carol Services!

 

I much prefer to do a Carol Service properly or not at all - and to call a concert just that: a Carol Concert or a Christmas Concert (if there are no carols either).

 

Hi

 

Nine Lessons and carols isn't set in stone! It's not a "required" service! There's no reason why a carol service HAS to have 9 (or any other number) of lessons - and there are a number of alternative sets around, illustrating different aspects of the prophecies of Christ and the Christmas story. Then, do you include Epiphany readings pre-Christmas, or leave them to their rightful place in early January?

 

Our main carol service this evening has 8 lessons too.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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There's no reason why a carol service HAS to have 9 (or any other number) of lessons

True, but there is an historical reason why the service has nine lessons. There is none I know of for having eight.

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I was merely trying to inject a bit of humour into something that seemed to be getting unnecessarily serious. I personally no longer care what happens in a carol service; I suspect - and hope - that when the Ordinariat actually happens I shall no longer even have to go to them!

 

Malcolm

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There was an interesting programme about the history of carols on BBC 4 this evening with Howard Goodall: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00gb...hristmas_Carols

 

Surpsingly it completely ignores the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century art carol. I would much rather have heard an old warhorse like "There is no rose" than the bizarre theory about "O come all ye faithful". It does, however, mention the genesis of the 9 lessons and carols service at Truro and gives us a taste of the superb choir there with Christopher Gray out front.

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True, but there is an historical reason why the service has nine lessons. There is none I know of for having eight.

 

Hi

 

That may be - but we don't live in the past - and the church isn't a museum.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

That may be - but we don't live in the past - and the church isn't a museum.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

This may be true, but on the other hand, I see nothing wrong with tradition. In this ever-changing world today, I for one take comfort in the fact that some things do not change.

 

Without wishing to open the proverbial can of worms, several years ago, my own church became 'experimental' in its style of worship (although thank God, we did manage to retain most of the music) - the result? We lost whole swathes of our congregation, largely because they did not know what to expect for the Mass - anything could have happened.

 

These days, our sevices are rather more predictable and, like it or not, our congregation has stabilised and, whilst it may be growing slowly, we have regained the trust of some of our number. I realise you were referring specifically to a carol service, but the same thought appiles - what, in any case, is wrong with following a tradition of a layout of nine lessons?

 

Experimental worship (for any form of service) may work for some here - but it did not for us. Simple as that.

 

Sometimes it is good to be informed by historical reasons.

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Wiki says - The format was based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury but at that time Bishop of Truro, in Cornwall, for use on Christmas Eve (24 December) 1880. Tradition says that he organized a 10 pm service on Christmas Eve in a temporary wooden shed serving as his cathedral and that a key purpose of the service was to keep men out of pubs on Christmas Eve.

 

The first Kings' service was in 1918 and revised in 1919.

 

Is having one fewer lesson really going to upset anyone enough to cause them to leave the church? Why does a format drawn up 80 years ago have any more validity than something drawn up today? Buses have been red for longer than that, and yet I don't see people boycotting green or yellow ones.

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Is having one fewer lesson really going to upset anyone enough to cause them to leave the church? Why does a format drawn up 80 years ago have any more validity than something drawn up today? Buses have been red for longer than that, and yet I don't see people boycotting green or yellow ones.

 

As I wrote, experimenting may well work in some churches - it did not in ours. This is fact, not an opinion, David.

 

With regard to your specific point, no I doubt that one fewer lesson would make any difference (your analogy with buses is an over-simplification, I feel) - but neither would retaining nine lessons. The point I was trying to make was that tradition is not necessarily wrong, neither is it always off-putting to potential churchgoers.

 

As I also wrote, some of us like tradition - does this make us wrong or un-Christian?

 

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Possibly - apart from that which he wrote for Once in Royal David's City, which I find to be repetitive, dull, foursquare and greatly inferior to the excellent arrangement by Stephen Cleobury.

 

I think it's an fine descant which suits both the words (a children's poem) and the simple tune. It's repetitive - nothing wrong with that per se (and matches the tune) and simple, so that wonderful, gentle clash for "stars" as the descant creeps above the melodic horizon is particularly effective.

 

The Willcocks one that I don't think works is the one for While Shepherds watched - unless perhaps it's sung much more slowly than is the current taste.

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I think it's an fine descant which suits both the words (a children's poem) and the simple tune. It's repetitive - nothing wrong with that per se (and matches the tune) and simple, so that wonderful, gentle clash for "stars" as the descant creeps above the melodic horizon is particularly effective.

 

Fair enough - but, having had to play the Willcocks version again last night, I still prefer greatly the Cleobury. Each to his own.

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We had only SEVEN lessons (as, indeed we do every year) with 5 congregational carols/hymns and 7 choir carols. Left enough time for a mince pie and mulled wine before dinner. As far as I am concerned, nine is just a notional number.

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The Willcocks one that I don't think works is the one for While Shepherds watched - unless perhaps it's sung much more slowly than is the current taste.

The best one I know for While Shepherds is the simple, no-nonsense, but extremely effective one by Alan Gray. Can't remember in which hymn book I found it. Possibly Hymns for Church & School?

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As far as I am concerned, nine is just a notional number.

Does it matter how many lessons you have? Is having seven or eight going to cause the collapse of civilisation as we know it? No, of course not.

 

However, having nine lessons was far from an arbitrary decision. Whose idea it was neither Wiki nor the King's College site says, but Benson developed the service from an idea by George Henry Somerset Walpole and at a shrewd guess I would point the finger at him. We should remember that this was an era when there was a good deal of lively interest and research into the traditional English liturgies. This was the generation of the great liturgical scholars like Walter Howard Frere, Christopher Wordsworth, Tolhurst, Proctor, Maskell and others who engaged themselves heavily in editing and publishing the old liturgical texts from the Uses of Sarum, York, Hereford and the monastic liturgies - and incorporating elements of Sarum Use into the Anglican ceremonial.

 

To anyone aware of this and with eyes to see, there is no possible doubt that Benson's service is loosely based on the service of Matins as it would have been performed on major feast days in the Sarum rite. That is why it has nine lessons, why they are read in ascending order of rank from chorister to bishop/dean and why each lesson is followed by a musical response (the carol taking the place of the Respond/Responsory).

 

Whether you think this matters is a purely personal decision, just as is incense and other liturgical ceremonial. Low and free church members probably won't care a fig, but those who like a bit of liturgical tradition may well value the sense of continuity.

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Does it matter how many lessons you have? Is having seven or eight going to cause the collapse of civilisation as we know it? No, of course not.

 

However, having nine lessons was far from an arbitrary decision. Whose idea it was neither Wiki nor the King's College site says, but Benson developed the service from an idea by George Henry Somerset Walpole and at a shrewd guess I would point the finger at him. We should remember that this was an era when there was a good deal of lively interest and research into the traditional English liturgies. This was the generation of the great liturgical scholars like Walter Howard Frere, Christopher Wordsworth, Tolhurst, Proctor, Maskell and others who engaged themselves heavily in editing and publishing the old liturgical texts from the Use of Sarum, York, Hereford and the monastic liturgies - and incorporating elements of it into the Anglican ceremonial.

 

To anyone aware of this and with eyes to see, there is no possible doubt that Benson's service is loosely based on the service of Matins as it would have been performed on major feast days in the Sarum rite. That is why it has nine lessons, why they are read in ascending order of rank from chorister to bishop/dean and why each lesson is followed by a musical response (the carol taking the place of the Respond/Responsory).

 

Whether you think this matters is a purely personal decision, just as is incense and other liturgical ceremonial. Low and free church members probably won't care a fig, but those who like a bit of liturgical tradition may well value the sense of continuity.

 

Vox, thank you for this informative post. I concur heartily with your conclusion.

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Vox, thank you for this informative post. I concur heartily with your conclusion.

 

Seconded. Some may know I have spent the last couple of weeks fighting tooth and nail for maintaining a weekly tradition. I'm afraid I don't have enough energy for the annual ones too!

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To anyone aware of this and with eyes to see, there is no possible doubt that Benson's service is loosely based on the service of Matins as it would have been performed on major feast days in the Sarum rite. That is why it has nine lessons, why they are read in ascending order of rank from chorister to bishop/dean and why each lesson is followed by a musical response (the carol taking the place of the Respond/Responsory).

Ah, I didn't know that matins had 9 lessons.

 

A. C. Benson said, "My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve — nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop." The service also included a sermon.

 

So can I then assume that you have a sermon at your carol service?

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The pre-Vatican 2 Office of Matins (now called the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours) has 3, 6 or 9 readings according to the status of the day - double of 2nd class or whatever. It's all much simpler now. An obvious example of this is the readings at the Office of Matins (known as Tenebrae) celebrated during the Triduum in Holy Week and now much revived in a certain style of Anglican Church. One has to say that some of the readings in the old pre-Vatican 2 office are rather more inspiring than those in the more modern (post Vatican 2) Liturgy of the Hours, some of which are quite dire - as are some of the office hymns (notably that for St David's day!).

 

Perhaps we're drifting far too far from the ethos of carol services though. (Those of us who enjoy intricate liturgical discussion do so on Fr Hunwicke's marvellous Anglican blog or on the RC ones of Frs Sean Finnegan and Ray Blake.) In a funny sort of way I quite enjoyed having two non-Biblican readings amongst the eight at the service I played for yesterday. I'd never heard Scrooge being quoted as saying "Bah, humbug" in a reading at a service before and I thought it worked rather well.

 

Malcolm

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My good friend David Owen Norris did rather an unusual carol service for the (very many) children at his church - an outrageous baboon puppet with a tiara on, known as Good King Wenceslas, narrated the nativity story. They all sang Baa baa black sheep to the shepherds, Three blind mice to the animals in the stable (the donkey being much overrated) and Twinkle, twinkle little star as the three kings came along.

 

If you're going to water down a formula, you may as well do so with verve, style, panache and still have a superb end product!

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Guest Patrick Coleman
If you're going to water down a formula, you may as well do so with verve, style, panache and still have a superb end product!

 

:lol:

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Ah, I didn't know that matins had 9 lessons.

In the Use of Sarum, which was the point of reference for these early Anglican liturgiologists, Matins ordinarily had only three lessons and three responds - that is to say on ferias, simple feasts and throughout the whole of Eastertide. On simple feasts of nine lessons and on Sundays and double feasts outside Eastertide it had nine. Sarum had no Matins with only six lessons. The monastic liturgies could run to twelve lessons in three groups of four. The number of lessons was one of the many different features used to distinguish the rank of the day. But I had better desist from boring further on this subject!

 

So can I then assume that you have a sermon at your carol service?

I don't have a church job, but I wouldn't necessarily be against the idea - so long as it was short!

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