Nine Lessons and Carols (A Personal Selection):
Processional Carol: Once in Royal David’s City
1&2. Readings from Genesis: Curses and Blessings on Mankind.
First Lesson: Genesis 3, vv8-19:
‘And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told you that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this thou hast done? And the woman said, the serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and from among every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put emnity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’
Carols: Adam Lay Ybounden, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
Second Lesson: Genesis 22, vv15-18:
‘And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.’
Advent (Bidding) Prayer – The Antiphons for Emmanuel
O wisdom of the Most High that spannest the universe, mightily and sweetly ordering all things; come and teach us the way of understanding. O Adonai and leader of the house of Israel, who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gavest the law on Sinai; come and deliver us with an outstretched arm. O root of Jesse, who standest for an ensign to the people, before whom kings shall shut their mouths, whom nations shall intreat; come and deliver us, tarry not. O key of David and sceptre of the house of Israel, who openest and no man shutteth, and shuttest and no man openeth; come and release the souls of men from their prison house. O dayspring, splendour of the eternal light, and sun of righteousness; come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. O king of all nations, whom they long for, the corner-stone that bindest all in one; come and save men whom thou formedst from the clay. O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver, the Saviour whom we look for; come and save us, O Lord, our God. AMEN.
Carols: O Come, O Come, Immanuel; Hark the Herald Angels Sing
3&4. Isaiah fortells the coming of the Christ-child.
Third Lesson: Isaiah 9, vv2, 6-7:
‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The might God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgement and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.’
Fourth Lesson: Isaiah 11, vv1-3a, 4a, 6-9:
‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD; and shall make him quick of understanding in the fear of the LORD:..But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth:..The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.’
From the Authorised (‘King James’) Version.
Carols: There is no Rose of Such Virtue, Candlelight Carol
Sans Day Carol (trad., Cornish, arr. Rutter):
This Carol was named after the Cornish saint St Day, whose church in the parish of Gwennap was where much of it was written down. St Day was a Breton saint whose cult was widespread in Celtic Cornwall. It was preserved by the vicar who wrote it down in an English version after hearing it sung by an old man. A Cornish version, ‘Ma gron war’n gelinen’, was published later, adding the fourth verse to the English version:
“Now the holly bears a berry, as blood it is red,
Then trust we our Saviour, who rose from the dead:
“And Mary bore Jesus Christ, our Saviour for to be,
And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly..”
5. The Birth of Jesus Announced
The Fifth lesson, Luke 1 vv 26-38:
‘In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee named Nazareth. He had a message for a girl promised in marriage to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of King David. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel came to her and said, “Peace be with you! The Lord is with you and has greatly blessed you!” Mary was deeply troubled by the angel’s message, and she wondered what his words meant. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary; God has been gracious to you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord will make him a King, as his ancestor David was, and he will be the king of the descendants of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end!”
Mary said to the angel, “I am a virgin. How, then, can this be?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the Son of God. Remember your relative Elizabeth. It is said that she cannot have children, but she herself is now six months pregnant, even though she is very old. For there is nothing that God cannot do.”
“I am the Lord’s servant” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said”. And the angel left her.
Mary’s song (in Hungarian, by Mihály Babits):
“Üdvözlégy óh Szűzek Szűze,
aki megváltónkat szülte!
Te vagy ama Tenger-Tűze,
Az élet tengere ringat;
ne engedd törni hajónkat!
Kérd érettünk Megváltónkat:
imádj Istent, Mária!…
Jézus, óh szent méh magzatja,
légy a világ áradatja
közt menekvés szabad útja,
égi révbe vezető:
tartsd a kormányt, vidd a gályát,
csillapítsd a hab dagályát,
adj kegyedben könnyü pályát!
Vár az édes kikötő…
Carols: The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy; Mary had a Baby
6. Sixth Lesson: Luke (Luc) 2, vv1, 3-7 (in Welsh):
‘Yn y dyddiau hynny aeth gorchymyn allan oddi wrth Cesar Awgwatus i gofrestru’r holl Ymerodaeth…Fe aeth pawb felly i’w cofrestru, pob un i’w dref ei hun. Oherwydd ei fod yn perthyn i dí a theulu Dafydd, aeth Joseff i fyny o dref Nasareth yng Ngalilea i Jwdea, i dref Dafydd, a elwir Bethlehem, i ymgofrestru ynghyd á Mair ei ddyweddi; ac yr oedd hi1n feichiog. Pan oeddent yno, cyflawnwyd yr amser iddi esgor, ac esgorodd ar ei mab cyntafanedig; a rhwymodd ef mewn dillad baban a’i osod mewn preseb, am nad oedd lle iddynt yn y gwesty.”
A Carol in Welsh: Tua Bethlehem Dref; Suo Gán
7. Seventh Lesson: Luke (Lukács Evangéliuma) 2, vv8-16 (in Hungarian):
The visit of the shepherds:
‘Pasztorok tanyáztak azon a vidéken a szabad ég alatt, és őrködtek éjsaka a nyájuk mellett. És az Úr angyala megjelent nekik, körülragyogta őket az Úr dicsőseége, és nagy fegelem vett erőt rajtuk. Az angyal pedig ezt monta nekik:
“Ne féljetek, mert ime, hirdetek nagy örömet, amely az egész nép öröme lesZ: Üdvözitő született ma nektek, aki az Úr Krisztus, a Dávid városában. A jel pedig ez lesz számotokra: találtok egy kisgyermeket, aki bepólyálva fekszik a jászollban.”
És hirtelen mennyei seregek sokasága jelent meg az angyallal, akik dicsérték az Istent, és ezt mondták:
“Dicsőség a magassában Istennek, és a földön békesség, és az emberekhez jóakarat.”
Miután elmentek tőlük az angyalok a mennybe, a pásztorok igy szóltak egymáshoz:
“Menjünk el egészen Betlehemig, és nézzük meg: hogyan is történt mindaz, amiről üzent nekünk az Úr.”
Elmentek tehát sietve, és megtalátak Máriát, Józsefet és a jászolban fekvő kisgyermeket.’
Carols in Hungarian: Pastorok, Pasztorok; Áldott Éj (Soha nem volt még..)
8. Eighth Lesson: Matthew 2, vv1-12: Visitors from the East
Eighth Lesson: Matthew 2, vv1-12:
‘Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem in Judea, during the time when Herod was king. Soon afterward, some men who studied the stars came from the East to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east, and we have come to worhip him. When King Herod heard about this, he was upset, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the teachers of the Law and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?” “In the town of Bethlehem in Judea” they replied, “For this is what the prophet wrote:
‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
you are by no means the least of
the leading cities of Judah;
for from you will come a leader
who will guide my people Israel.’ “
‘So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem with these instructions: “Go and make a careful search for the child; and when you find him, let me know, so that I too may go and worship him.”
‘And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshipped him. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and presented them to him. Then they returned to their country by another road, since God had warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.”
Carols: Out of the Orient Crystal Skies:
‘Out of the Orient Crystal Skies, a blazing star did shine, showing the place where poorly lies, a blessed babe divine, born of a maid of royal blood, who Mary hight by name, a sacred rose which once did bud, by grace of heavenly flame’. It goes on to describe how the star guided the ‘three kings’ to the ‘silly poor manger’ and how the shepherds ‘came singing all even in a rout, ‘Falan-tiding-dido!’.
I don’t have a recording of ‘Falan-Tiding’ sung to Tyrolean tune, ‘Ihr Hirten, stehet alle auf’ of about 1610. The contemporary five-part madrigal setting by Richard Zgdova is frequently sung by madrigal choirs in the US, and I have found an early English tune by William Byr
The Coventry Carol (trad., English):
This is probably the oldest carol in English, dating from at least the time Chaucer was writing his ‘Canterbury Tales’. When the Pope banned drama from church services in the thirteenth century, the Guilds gradually developed pageants, or mystery plays for performance in the market places outside, and the Coventry plays ran from 1400 to 1450, and have been more recently revived on the new Cathedral steps. This tradition led to the writing of religious songs in the venacular, gradually substituting folk-song and dance-tunes for the liturgical Latin music sung inside. The text of the carol was first printed in 1534, but the plays were witnessed by Margaret, Henry VI’s Queen, in 1456, by Richard III in 1484 and Henry VII in 1492. The Carol was for the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, probably performed on Holy Innocents’ Day, hence the contrast between the lullaby and Herod’s massacre of the children in the second verse, followed by the departure for Egypt in the third. The tune dates from 1591, in its recorded form, but the Smith’s play was still being performed in 1584, so it is probably much older if not original.
9. The Ninth Lesson: Jn 1 vv 1-4: The Gospel is Proclaimed.
Carols: In The Bleak Midwinter; O Little Town of Bethlehem
Recessional Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles).