18 December 2011

‘Rejoice! ... the time of grace has come’

With the Precentor of Christ Church Cathedral, Canon Peter Campion, and the Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, in the Chapter House before this afternoon’s Festival of Five Lessons and Carols

Patrick Comerford

No, it’s not true. I’m not ‘all-carolled-out’ and I’m nowhere near that state either.

We’re now into the last week before Christmas. The Gospel reading this morning [18 December 2011] was Saint Luke’s account of the annunciation and the Virgin Mary’s response, which was a mixture of obedience and shock, followed by her visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

Before the Gospel reading we lit the fourth and last candle on the Advent Wreath, which recalls the Virgin Mary. The preacher at the Sung Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, was my colleague, the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott, Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Over coffee in the crypt afterwards, there was much talk of Friday’s fundraising auction for the cathedral in Durrow, and the post-auction Reception, Dinner and Ball in Castle Durrow. Final figures have yet to be confirmed, but some sources say up to €100,000 may have been raised at the auction.

Five us went to lunch in the Larder in Parliament Street, and after a short walk around the Temple Bar area, rummaging in second-hand bookshops, I returned to Christ Church Cathedral for the Festival of Five Lessons and Carols.

The cathedral was packed with over 200 people at this traditional service this afternoon.

The processional hymn was Cecil Frances Alexander’s ‘Once in royal David’s city,’ with a solo opening verse, and the opening prayer by the Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, was an adaptation of the Bidding Prayer written by Eric Milner-White while he was Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, for the Service of Nine Lessons with Carols there.

The other carols and hymns included ‘Born in a stable so bare’ by John Rutter; ‘Gaudete, Gaudete’ (to a setting by by Bob Chilcott); ‘When he is king we will give him the king’s gifts’ by Bruce Blunt and Peter Warlock; ‘Good people all, this Christmas time’ by Timothy Noone; ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ by Phillips Brooks; ‘On Christmas night all Christians sing’ (the Sussex Carol), ‘Unto us is born a son’ (translated by George R. Woodward and arranged by David Wilcocks), ‘Ding Dong! Merrily on high’ (also written by George R. Woodward); and ‘Hark! The herald angels sing’ by Charles Wesley.

There were five readings, and I was asked as a chapter member to read the fifth reading, the opening of Saint John’s Gospel (John 1: 1-14).

‘Gaudete’ probably dates from the 16th century. The song was published in Piae Cantiones in 1582, but no music was given for the verses, and the standard tune comes from older liturgical books.

The version I have come to love became popular in the early 1970s, when I was also first introduced to English folk rock while I was in the English Midlands and writing for the Lichfield Mercury.

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.

Steeleye Span was formed in 1969, and they often performed as the opening act for Jethro Tull. A year after recording Below the Salt, they had a Christmas hit single with Gaudete, when it made No 14 in the British charts in 1973. 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 at different times of names like Maddy Pryor and Gay and Terry Woods, Steeleye Span continues to 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

I hope to be at the Service of Nine Lessons with Carls in Christ Church Cathedral at 8 p.m. tomorrow evening [Monday 19 December 2011]. Meanwhile, let us rejoice in good memories, let us rejoice that Christmas is coming, and in the midst of the present economic gloom let us rejoice that the coming of Christ holds out the promise of hope, the promise of his Kingdom, 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 lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.

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

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

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

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

The time of grace has come
that we had prayed;
Hymns of joy
let us sing devoutly.

God is made man,
while nature wonders;
the world is made new
by Christ’s kingship.

Ezekiel’s doorway
once closed has been traversed;
whence the Light is come,
salvation has been found.

Therefore our assembly
must sing for purification,
Blessed be the Lord:
For our King’s salvation.

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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