25 December 2011

Some Stray Liturgy Thoughts on Christmas

There is such a totally different atmosphere between the first and (technically) the third liturgy of the Nativity - and each is absolutely wonderful and neither is the whole.  I can't imagine for the life of me attending only Midnight or only the Christmas Day service.  They each hold forth the Christmas gem in different ways; the one holds it up to candlelight and the marvel of shepherds and angels, singing above a manger.  But the Day liturgy?  It is the radiant Sun coming out of His chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run His race - the glories of the Word Made Flesh, who came to give us new birth, imparting to us by grace all that is His by nature.

Now I have a confession to make:  I used to try to make the Christmas liturgies "special."  You know, substitute "Angels We Have Heard on High" for the Gloria in Excelsis (even though we haven't sung the Gloria all Advent, and are aching to let it ring out again!); moving the collect for the Midnight service to post-communion so it was prayed in the candle-light; things like that.  But many years ago now, I totally stopped trying to make anything "special" out of the liturgies and just let them be.  All creative juices, if you will, were to be poured forth into proclamation and into the musical presentation of the hymnody and such.  Wow.  What a difference it has made!  So very, very many folks commented on the beauty of the services (just as they frequently do each year), and yet the liturgy was simply straight out of the book.  The only "addition" if you will was reading the Kalends before the Divine Service actually began.  The liturgy doesn't need to be made special; it just begs to be prayed.

Don't misunderstand me - the festive tone rang out at every turn!  Thinking of this morning's liturgy, Carlo's stunning preludes and postlude, the sound of the full organ with timpani for "O Come All Ye Faithful," the use of the torches with the Cross, the choir singing the Introit and Gradual, the bells playing during the Offering, and the extra pieces during distribution - especially the choir's anthem "A Virgin Most Pure" and Rachel and Cindy Gleason's duet on "He is Born the Child Divine" and the last triumphant "Now Sing We, Now Rejoice!" But all that was accomplished with leaving the liturgy INTACT.

And while I'm mentioning it, consider it too for the funerals, dear pastors!  Your big job is the sermon there.  Pour your heart and soul into it, but let the funeral liturgy stand as it is - for every idiosyncratic change you make actually diminishes that masterpiece.  Do not take the prayers away from the people of God; them open their hymnals and follow right along.  After festival liturgies, the services that I receive most kind comments on are our funerals, of all things!  And we simply do them exactly as they are printed in our Hymnal.  Perfection shouldn't be monkeyed with!

A blessed and joyous first day of Christmas to you, one and all!


Pr Mark Henderson said...

A blessed Chrstmas, Pr Weedon.
Christ is born - glorify him!

Pastor Peters said...

I admit to being caught here. When I restored Advent to the two congregations I have served (who had begun singing Christmas carols the first Sunday in Advent), one of the complaints I got was that Christmas was too short and they would miss singing the many, familiar carols. So, in deference to their willingness to support me and restore Advent, I do exchange the Gloria with Angels We Have Heard on High or one of the other appropriate substitutes. Living now in South for nearly 20 years, I can tell you that it is an uphill battle to keep the Church Year (esp Christmas). Last year I overheard a comment from one of the prominent Baptist family members shopping for Christmas cards. They had picked up an Advent calendar and thought it was the strangest and most curious thing they had ever seen. "What could it be?" they said. So Advent sticks out like a sore thumb here. But not on Sunday morning when we sing the full Divine Service as it should be.

Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr Weedon a blessed Christmas season to you. As a lay person I endorse your plea that Pastors stop tinkering with the liturgy-- and not just at Christmas/Advent -- so that it’s more participatory (or with the times.) I believe as a church we have forgotten what liturgy is all about. I find comfort in re-reading Ernest Koenker’s “Worship in Word and Sacrament“.