Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Nine Lessons and Carols in Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral in the lights of a December night a few nights ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

In the last few days, I overheard someone moan that he is all-shopped-out, all-mincepied-out and all carol-ed-out, already.

The poor man. He really is in a bleak mid-winter.

This afternoon I hope to join other clergy in the Black Santa Appeal Charity Sit-Out at Saint Ann’s Church in Dawson Street in Dublin’s city centre. Last night , I was at my third carol service of the season when I took part in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Christ Church Cathedral.

We had the traditional bidding prayers, readings, collects, carols and hymns. But we also had some interesting pieces from John Rutter, Herbert Howells, David Willcocks, John Tavener and the Liturgy of Saint Basil.

Sitting in the chapter stalls behind the choir, I found a broad beam coming to my face as I listened to one of my true favourites, the carol Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus by Bob Chilcott.

This was such an appropriate choice for the choir immediately after the Third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete Sunday.

During Advent some years ago, I wrote of this song, which was popular in the early 1970s, and how I was first heard it around the same time as I was introduced to English folk rock while I was in the English Midlands and writing for the Lichfield Mercury. After listening to it again last night, I think the story of the song is worth telling once more.

After Bob Johnson heard Gaudete at a folk carol service at his father-in-law’s church in Cambridge, Steeleye Span recorded Gaudete in 1972 on their album Below the Salt. The record sleeve notes said:

Mist takes the morning path to wreath the willows -
Rejoice, rejoice -
small birds sing as the early rising monk takes to his sandals -
Christ is born of the Virgin Mary -
cloistered, the Benedictine dawn threads timelessly the needle’s eye -
rejoice.


Steeleye Span was formed in 1969, and they often performed as the opening act for Jethro Tull. A year after recording Below the Salt, it came as a surprise to many when they had a Christmas hit single with Gaudete, when it made No 14 in the British charts in 1973.

This a capella motet, sung entirely in Latin, is neither representative of Steeleye Span’s repertoire nor of the album. Yet this was their first big breakthrough and it brought them onto Top of the Pops for the first time.

The reference in verse 3, which puzzled many fans at the time, is to the eastern gate of the city in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 44: 2). The gate is a traditional symbol of Mary as virgin.

Since the mid-1970s, despite the change in their line-up and the loss of names like Maddy Prior and Gay and Terry Woods at different times, they often include Gaudete as a concert encore, and it was published in 1992 in the New Oxford Book of Carols.

The original is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN9AJj9rtlk&feature=related But there are some more recent recordings at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBZ8v9L8444 and at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDc2FD-vy8M&feature=related

Let us rejoice in good memories, let us rejoice that Christmas is coming, and in the midst of the present gloom let us rejoice that the coming of Christ holds out the promise of hope, the promise of his Kingdom, the promise that even in darkness the light of Christ shines on us all.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætiticiæ
Devote reddamus.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde Lux est orta
Salus invenitur.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete!

Ergo nostra contio
Psallat jam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virginae, gaudete.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

The time of grace has come
that we have desired;
let us devoutly return
joyful verses.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

God has become man,
and nature marvels;
the world has been renewed
by Christ who is King.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

The closed gate of Ezekiel
has been passed through;
whence the light is born,
salvation is found.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!

Therefore let our gathering
now sing in brightness,
let it give praise to the Lord:
Greetings to our King.

Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
of the Virgin Mary, rejoice!


Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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