24 December 2022

‘Gaudete’ … celebrating Christmas and
Christ’s coming in carols and Latin verse

Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, during last night’s Service of Nine Lessons and Carols

Patrick Comerford

We were in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, last night for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, and hope to be back there tonight, Christmas Eve, for Midnight Mass.

The church was bursting at the seams last night for Nine Lessons and Carols. It was a joyful service and raised £500 for Milton Keynes Food Bank.

During the service, the Holy Trinity singers, conducted by Daniel Collins, sang the carol, Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus.

This carol Gaudete! reached No 14 in the charts in England with Steeleye Span in the early 1970s. I first heard this song in the early 1970s, 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. I have told the story of this carol before. But, perhaps it is worth telling once more.

‘Gaudete’ was recorded by Steeleye Span on ‘Below the Salt’ in 1973 and became a Christmas hit in 1974

The notes on the record sleeve say:

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 -

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.

The guitarist Bob Johnson had heard the song when he attended a folk-carol service with his father-in-law in Cambridge, and brought it to the attention of the rest of the band.

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.

It is one of only three top 50 British hits to be sung in Latin. The others are two recordings of Pie Jesu from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem by Sarah Brightman and Paul Miles-Kingston in 1986, and by the then 12-year-old Charlotte Church in 1998.

Gaudete may have been composed in the 16th century, but may date from the late mediaeval period. The song was published in Piae Cantiones, a collection of Finnish and Swedish sacred songs published in 1582.

The Latin text is a typical mediaeval song of praise, following the standard pattern for the time – a uniform series of four-line stanzas, each preceded by a two-line refrain (in the early English carol this was known as the burden).

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 the Virgin Mary.

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, Steeleye Span often include Gaudete as a concert encore, and it was published in 1992 in the New Oxford Book of Carols.

Their latest album, The Essential Steeleye Span – Catch Up, was released earlier this year. This double CD looks back at their recent history, including their collaboration with the late Sir Terry Pratchett, and features some of the most memorable moments in their long career, a number of new recordings of their most famous songs, rare and unreleased material, and, of course, Gaudete, from the album Present, which is Track 5 on the first CD.

The original is here: Gaudete by Steeleye Span.

A more recent recording is available here from the ‘World Tour’ 35th Anniversary DVD.

There are other arrangements by Michel McGlynn, recorded by Anuna, and an arrangement by Bob Chilcott which is part of the Advent and Christmas repertoire of the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Let us rejoice in good memories, let us rejoice that Christmas is here, 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!

• The first Communion of Christmas is celebrated in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, at 11:30 tonight (24 December 2022). The Christmas Mass is in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, at 9:30 and there is a Family Communion in Saint George’s Church, Wolverton, at 10 am.

The Irish Times view on Christmas:
seeking light in the darkness

Christmas lights in Ramelton, Co Donegal (Photograph: Ciaran Cunningham / The Irish Times)

He’s making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is comin’ to town

The most successful Christmas song ever, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, was written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie for Christmas 1934, at the height of the Great Depression. Since it was first heard on Eddie Cantor’s show, the song has been a hit for innumerable artists, from Bing Crosbie, the Andrews Sisters and Frank Sinatra to the Jackson Five, Slade, Barry Manilow, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Bublé. Recent recordings have kept the words about being “naughty and nice” but have dropped some of the lines in Cantor’s original performance, including verses no longer heard encouraging people to be charitable at Christmas and to help the less fortunate.

Christmas Eve marks the end of the Church season of Advent. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, Advent is as long as possible, lasting for a full four weeks. It is a season of waiting and longing, preparation and anticipation, turning to hope from despair, seeking light in the darkness, longing for peace in a troubled, war-torn and impoverished world.

The English hymn-writer and Catholic social activist Bernadette Farrell brings those Advent themes together in her hymn Christ Be Our Light, one of the most popular hymns in all churches in recent decades:

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
light for the world to see.
Christ be our light! Shine out through the darkness.
Christ be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.

Her hymn is a practical yet challenging reminder to carol-lovers and hymn-singers in the run-up to Christmas that in preparing for the incarnation, the coming of God among humanity, the Church must be concerned with the reality of the world into which Christ comes and the relevance of the circumstances:

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair …
Make us your living voice.

Bernadette Farrell writes of a world where “longing for food, many are hungry”, a world where “longing for water, many still thirst.”

The song was first written in 1994, 60 years after Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. But it has become more relevant as an Advent song in recent years, calling on the Church to respond to poverty and homelessness, refugees and asylum seekers, to address the humanitarian crises created by climate change, to speak out against prejudice, hatred and war.

For Christians, Advent is a time of preparing not just for the coming of Christ as a vulnerable child at Christmas, but for the second coming of Christ, with the anticipation and hope of justice for all creation and the condemnation of all that has sought to destroy life and creation.

If Santa Claus is making a list and checking it twice, then the naughty list this year must be headed by climate-change deniers; by all who ignore refugees caught on the high seas or held in inhumane conditions; by Donald Trump, who shows no signs of remorse or repentance for four corrupt years as he seeks to run for office again; and - perhaps at the very top of the list – Vladimir Putin: for the war he has waged on Ukraine; for attacks on civilians in flagrant war crimes; for creating hundreds of thousands of refugees; for striking fear into the hearts of people across Europe in a way unknown since the Cold War. The despair of the world today could easily be transposed to become the setting for the first Christmas, when the Christ Child is born in a bleak, harsh climate to an impoverished family on the move and about to become refugees, harried and pursued by a cruel and capricious dictator.

Christmas ought to be a time for the churches to come together with one voice to proclaim the message of peace brought by the Christ Child into a broken and fear-filled world. A sad consequence of the war in Ukraine is that the Churches in Ukraine and Russia cannot proclaim that message of peace together. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has blessed and sanctified Russia’s war and is Putin’s greatest champion. Indeed, Christmas is celebrated on different days in Ukraine and Russia.

Christmas is about to dawn on a world where, in Bernadette Farrell’s hymn, “longing for shelter, many are homeless, longing for warmth, many are cold.” The churches and churchgoers this Christmas could take to heart her closing words: ‘Let us be servants to one another, making your kingdom come.’

This full-length editorial is published in The Irish Times on Christmas Eve, 24 December 2022

Praying in Advent with Lichfield Cathedral
and USPG: Saturday 24 December 2022

The Nativity depicted in the reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We have arrived at the end of Advent and have come to Christmas Eve.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

During Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, The reading suggested in the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced by Lichfield Cathedral this year;

2, praying with the Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘The Nativity of Christ’ by Francesco Bassano (1549-1592) in the Church of Il Redentore in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 2: 1-14 (NRSVA):

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

The Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar:

As we begin the celebrations, pray for the people with whom we will share Christmas: give thanks for the story of Jesus’s birth, the tenderness and humility of it all, casting its light on all human pomposity and ideas of power. Pray for everyone you love, cherish them before God.


Almighty God,
you make us glad with the yearly remembrance
of the birth of your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as we joyfully receive him as our redeemer,
so we may with sure confidence behold him
when he shall come to be our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal God, for whom we wait,
you have fed us with the bread of eternal life:
keep us ever watchful,
that we may be ready to stand before the Son of man,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Almighty God,
as we prepare with joy
to celebrate the gift of the Christ–child,
embrace the earth with your glory
and be for us a living hope
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week has been ‘International Migrants Day.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a reflection on International Migrants Day by Bishop Antonio Ablon, Co-ordinator of the Filipino Chaplaincy in Europe, part of the Philippine Independent Church.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us give thanks for the work of the Filipino Chaplaincy amongst migrants. May their example of hosting the vulnerable and befriending the stranger inspire us to do likewise.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org