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CNP Feedback - Lessons & Carols

by Gary D. Penkala

Q. Dear CNP:

I want to plan a mini Lessons and Carols for midnight Mass. It can only be one half hour long. I have never done this and don't know where to begin. I want the congregation to join in singing well known carols. Do you have any suggestions for this?

-- Parish Caroler

A. Dear Parish Caroler:

It's great that you're planning a short Service of Lessons and Carols prior to Midnight Mass. Let me offer some background and some practical suggestions that may be helpful.

The Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is of British origin, usually consisting of nine lessons (beginning with the Old Testament and working through to the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John) each followed by a carol. There is great pomp and ceremony surrounding the service (think "High Anglican" cathedral). In much the same way that we might break out the fine china for Christmas dinner, the British embellish this service with everything they've got, to make it worthy of so noble a festival. The readings (lessons) are normally proclaimed in a strict order, and by a hierarchy of readers, beginning with the humblest reader (perhaps a young chorister) and progressing through the bishop (if done in a cathedral), who always reads from Saint John's Gospel.

There is much pageantry, with processions, banners, decorum, propriety, good organ music, incense ... in other words, particular care is taken that it be done well. I would sincerely try to include the choir(s) in the service. This is definitely the tradition, where certain carols were sung by the congregation and other carols (or meditations) were offered by choirs or even soloists. The closer you can come to this ideal, the more authentic will be the result. A word of warning, however. If your parish is lax in attention to proper solemnity, ritual and ceremony at the Midnight Mass, be very careful about what you do prior to it. Nothing should detract from the major celebration of Christ's Mass, which is the Eucharistic Liturgy. If it be the case that the parish is not liturgically solid, then your Lessons and Carols may need to be toned down.

I'll offer you a "full-blown" setting first, then a shortened version that might be more workable.

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