In the combox to this blog about the ABC recording of Carols and Lessons in St Patrick’s Cathedral, that ubiquitous and tireless commentator “Anonymous” was incensed (?!) that we should be having a PROTESTANT form of worship in our Catholic Cathedral rather than, for eg., Pontifical Vespers. His final comment in the string was:
Wiki – that very reliable source – tells us that the order of Nine Lessons and Carols was adapted from an order drawn up by Edward White Benson, who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury, for use at a 10 pm service on Christmas Eve in 1880 that took place in a temporary wooden shed serving as his cathedral in Truro, Cornwall. Based on an idea of the future Bishop of Edinburgh, George Henry Somerset Walpole, the purpose of the service was to keep men out of pubs on Christmas Eve.
In other words, a very post-Reformation idea.
Personally, I would imagine the idea of singing carols in Church as a service is likely to go back even further, given their popular origin, but this just underlines the fact: a carol service is not inherently liturgical in the Catholic sense.
Why do we not recover what is liturgical in the Catholic sense.
As far as Pontifical vespers not being a drawing card, I would respectfully say that never have I been to a liturgical service as “charged” as the Pontifical Vespers in the Extraordinary Form at WYD. The whole service was deeply prayerful – profoundly, and matched only a few days later by the Adoration with the Holy Father – what happened as the congregation pounded out “Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat”, I’ll take to the grave.
The simple reason we fall into the trap of saying this won’t attract anyone is because we never see it in order to judge it. Like that’s a rational, really empirical approach, no?
Weeellll… its just this thing about singing carols, Anon. It’s so much more “Christmassy”. I still don’t think Pontifical Vespers would get them switching on the telly on Christmas Eve…
And, I have some information to share. Consulting with our Herr Kapellmeister, Dr Geoffrey Cox, he pointed out that in fact the form of 9 readings is taken from from the 3 nocturns of three readings in the traditional form of Matins (as I suspected, the traditional vigil form). Hence, whether Bishop Benson was aware of it or not, the form is “inherantly Catholic”.
And to cap it all off, on Wednesday night they completed the Traditional Lessons and Carols with the expositio of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.