A few days ago, on Christmas Eve, we put up a blogpost shortly before going to Midnight Mass, our first Midnight Mass as Catholics. In it, we talked of looking back to how we had marked Christmas in previous years, and sent our best wishes to our friends at Bourne Street. No doubt you are all dying to know how it all went, and how we felt in the new environment. Worry no more.
First of all, a couple of photos : before and after photos of the Outdoor Crib at St James's, taken upon leaving from and arriving for Midnight Mass.
The pictures may be of too poor quality for you to notice that the first one, the "after" picture, has the representation of the Infant Jesus in the manger, whereas the second one, the "before" picture does not. If you happen to be passing St James's in the next few days, do walk along George St and have a look.
Back to the comparison between this year and last. Last year was probably my favourite ever at Bourne St. One of the pleasing constants between last year and this year was the Proclamation of the Nativity. In 2010, I had the chance to chant this. It was being sung for the first time at Bourne Street (as far as anyone could remember), inspired by noting that the chanting of this text had returned at St Peter's in Rome, and had been appearing at Anglo-Catholic parishes such as St Barnabas Tunbridge Wells and St John's Sevenoaks. Here is a photo of that moment, and yes, I can confirm that reading the text and plainchant was not at all easy in the dark.
This year, after carols from the choir (including the always popular O Holy Night), and at the start of Mass one of my favourite hymns (It Came upon the Midnight Clear), Fr Irwin ascended the pulpit steps and read the same well known text from the Roman Martyrology. It was wonderful to hear those words again.
There are those who are not keen on the Proclamation of the Nativity, on the grounds that its historical accuracy is not always beyond challenge. The text is indeed very specific about its dates, but perhaps one should not get too hung up about this, otherwise why mark Christmas on 25 December, why refer to this year as being 2011? The point of the text, as it is read or chanted to us today, is to remind us that at a particular moment in our human history, God clothed Himself in human flesh, humbling Himself to be amongst us as one of us. This was something that happened at a real point in time, as tangible as the time at which Midnight Mass started last Saturday night.
St James's was packed to capacity, but with customary Spanish Place efficiency, the entire service was concluded and many hundreds communicated (to the accompaniment of the Darke setting of Rossetti's In the Bleak Midwinter) in only a little over an hour.
As so many times before, there was a huge amount that was familiar to us about this service. The Proclamation of course, but also the habit of sticking to a midnight start, and the habit of the Procession to the Crib occurring at the end (during that procession, what a pleasure it was to sing Adeste Fideles in Latin : I haven't done that since school).
It was a true joy to be there. We were delighted to have made the effort to have turned up so early, even by ten past eleven there was little seating left in the front half of the church. The only slightly negative note was that even though St James's was absolutely full, we were conscious of those who were no longer with us, ie those at Bourne St with whom we had shared many Christmas midnights. Prayer for Christian Unity must continue.
Happily, to distract us from any temptation towards such self-indulgent melancholy at this festive time of year, we are now very much throwing ourselves into the task of helping with the arrangements for the Ordinariate's "first birthday" service on Sunday 15th January, to be held at St James's. It promises to be a very exciting event, the perfect occasion on which to give thanks for the creation of the Ordinariate and its huge contribution to the increase of unity amongst Christians in this country.
At 5pm that day, we will have Solemn Evensong, followed by a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and finally Benediction. The music list is now being put together, and promises to be spectacular. Those of you who know St James's will know that the choir is of a very high standard, so we will all be able to look forward to hearing some very fine and mostly familiar pieces of Anglican choral music in a splendid new Catholic setting.
We have asked you before, and we will ask you again, do please come along on the 15th, and do please encourage all your friends to do so too, Catholics and Anglicans.
To conclude, what else but O Holy Night. Not in the choral setting in English that we all know, but in the original French : the Cantique de Noel Minuit, Chrétiens by Adolphe Adam, here sung by Robert Alagna.