What we did on our Holydays…

Christmastide, and especially Epiphany, offer a rich treasury of liturgical music and practices. In Oxford, we were able to take advantage of these in different ways:

1. ‘Christmas Prose’ and ‘Epiphany Prose’

The strophic hymn ‘Puer natus in Bethlehem’, which is printed in the Liber Cantualis, draws on ‘Puer natus est nobis’, the Christmas Day introit. In its full version, it tells the Nativity story over more than a dozen verses. We found that, for Mary, Mother of God and Epiphany, singing selected verses worked well as a kind of gradual hymn, sung between the Epistle and the Alleluia. The plainchant melody has a built-in refrain, but we found that, using the other melody (which is of German origin and was set by Pretorius, among others), the ‘Alleluias’ which punctuate the verses functioned as a hearty congregational response. The tune and harmony may be found here. The Mass booklet for the day contained the tune, the Latin text and the English translation.

2. Proclamation of Moveable Feasts

The Noveritis, the chanted text which informs the faithful about the dates of the movable feasts in the coming calendar year, has recently been covered in depth by the New Liturgical Movement. Using the material provided by ICEL, available here, this was proclaimed by the Deacon after the Gospel, and before the homily.

3. Blessing of chalk

Blessing chalk, in order to write 20+C+M+B+21 (and variants thereof) above the entrance to the home, is a venerable Epiphany custom. We did this between the post-communion prayer and the blessing and dismissal, with a brief account of the custom, directions and prayers contained in the Mass booklet.

4. Music

Having the Newman Consort as our in-house choir means that we are able to perform music which fits the liturgy well. For Epiphany, the Mass setting was Victoria’s Missa O magnum Mysterium (except for the creed – Credo III in Latin). As well as the introit, offertory and communion antiphons, the choir sang Peter Cornelius’s Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar as a communion motet, and led the singing of the Epiphany Prose (see above). The hymnody was as follows: for the processional (which we sing while the altar party moves from sacristy to sanctuary), ‘How brightly shines the morning star’ (on which Three Kings is based); the offertory hymn was ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’; the hymn after communion was ‘As with gladness men of old’. It is not our custom to sing a recessional, so we had an organ improvisation on the ‘Marche des Rois Mages’ – not quite Cochereau, but one manual and eight stops rose to the occasion.

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