Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas: Mass during the Night

24/25 December 2010

Carols & Readings
Once in royal David's city
A boy was born (Gesius/JS Bach)
While shepherds watched
There is no rose (Medieval)
O little town of Bethlehem
On the lips of an angel (Bach/Gounod/Scott Soper
EntranceO come all ye faithful
Penitential RiteSt Gabriel (mtgf)
GloriaChristmas Gloria (Paul Gibson)
Psalm 95Today a Saviour has been born (Bernadette Farrell)
Gospel AcclamationSalisbury (Christopher Walker)
Preparation of GiftsWhat can we give (Catalan, arr. Dean)
Eucharistic PrayerMass of Creation (Marty Haugen)
Lamb of GodChristmas (Ebeling arr. mtgf)
Communion Night of Silence (Daniel Kantor)
Silent Night
FinalHark the herald angels

For the carols before midnight the slashes mean different things. A boy was born 4 verses were sung to the spirited harmonisation of Bartolomaus Gesius and the last verse, more steadily, to a more chromatic harmonisation of Bach's. On the lip of an angel always reminds of a recipe by Sophie Grigson fro a triple cream vanilla mousse written for the weekend before Ash Wednesday. She argued that if that you clearing the larder of foodstuffs before Lent and could only manage pancakes it was a sorry larder. The mousse piled excess on excess and so to Gounod's confection of Bach Scott Soper adds another layer. I m not sure it is necessarily more cream rather an additional ingredient that adds flavour and meaning. To some Gounod is already an iconoclast let us just say that Soper is as successful as Gounod.

The choir carols before Mass were the changes this year the rest, as usually the case with solemn occasions, was unchanged or at least changes slowly. But I was aware that this time next year we were likely to using the new translation. Some settings you hope the composer will revise. I have a fondness for Paul Gibson's Christmas Gloria. It might be thought slightly naff, with the Gloria in excelsis refrain but it's effective naff. The greater loss maybe having a sung Eucharistic Prayer or at least a change that would require careful preparation. It is obvious that people are especially attentive when the prayer is sung and singing it at Christmas heightens the solemnity. We shall see how we manage next year. My suspicion is that Missal tones are not an adequate replacement. My experience is that 2-3 notes of the chant do not have enough character to engage a celebrant who sings well but does not read well.

One other change has already been made and has so far gone by without remark. In previous years we have always sung John Bell's Behold the Lamb of God as a Lamb of God from the end of November until first couple of weeks of Ordinary Time. It did bind together the season from the Lamb on the throne to the Lamb so long expected through to the acclamation of John the Baptist. However its seems to me that the forthcoming translation is an opportunity to reflect on our practice and it ain't a Lamb of God, arguably an acclamation rather than an invocation, a text addressed to one another rather than to the Lamb. Hence an Advent Lamb of God referring to Rorate Caeli and Veni Emmanuel and a Christmas Lamb of God adapted from a hymn tune from Ebeling (cf. Carols for Choirs 2). The leaflets were printed before the Christmas was adapted and so a broad rubric of repeat have mercy on us etc. was included. We will use it for the coming two Sundays and maybe try a combination English and Latin response. I am thinking next year that the congregation might be invited to sing the whole thing through. Though it is not that long it is still longer than the Breaking of Bread - an action which contrary to some is rarely over emphasised.

There seems a certain expectation of O coime all ye faithful and Hark the herald angels at beginning and end. O come all ye faithful works well with a pause before the last verse as the crib blessed and baby placed in the manger. Over the years we have tried alternatives for the final hymn but Mendelssohn has returned. What I find interesting is the popularity of texts which speak in the language of late 18th/early 19th century piety/theology.

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