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Folk Religion of the Epiphany.

2011 January 7
by Gordon Reid

What fun yesterday evening was! And, as it drew to an end around 11 p.m. I reflected that this was the Christian Faith at its best, or at least one important aspect of that Faith.

We started at 7 p.m. with the High Mass of the Epiphany. But not just the Mass. First there was the procession round the church, incense swirling in the air, to the hymn “From the eastern mountains” to the tune Cuddesdon (my old Theological College). Then a Station at the Crib, now full of the statues of the Three Kings, for the blessing of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and then the blessing of the Chalk for the purpose “that those who inscribe with it the names of thy Saints, Gaspard, Melchior and Balthazar, upon the doors of their homes, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul”. This blessed chalk was given to everyone as they left church so that they could go and do that.

Then, with our organist, Peter Conte, producing a wild, evocative  mixture of trumpets sounding and Eastern bagpipes playing, off we went round the rest of the church to “We three Kings of Orient are”.

The next highlight followed the Epiphany Gospel, when one of our cantors, in a cope of red and gold, mounted the pulpit and sang “The Solemn Announcements of the Moveable Feast Days”, an ancient ceremony which I am sure is no longer common in many churches, in these days of electronic diaries. I am usually against long blog entries (because nobody with a real life will read them), but I cannot help quoting the whole Proclamation (sung to solemn tones):

“Know ye, beloved brethren, that as by God’s favour we rejoiced in the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, so too we announce to you the glad tidings of the Resurrection of our Saviour. The Sunday of Septuagesima will fall on the Twentieth Day of February; Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the most holy Lenten fast on the  Ninth Day of March. On the Twenty-fourth Day of April you shall celebrate with greatest joy the holy Pasch of our Lord  Jesus Christ. The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ will occur on the Second Day of June; the Feast of Pentecost on the Twelfth Day of June; the Feast of Corpus Christi on the Twenty-third Day of June. The Twenty-seventh Day of November will usher in the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and honour eternally. Amen.”

As the Cantor descended the pulpit and I ascended to take his place for the Sermon, all I could think to say was “Follow that!” But I soon recovered and mused a little on the three revelations of the Epiphany: the Visit of the Magi; the Baptism of Jesus in Jordan; and the miracle of Jesus changing water into wine at Cana of Galilee. And half the time, my mind was still reeling from the announcement that Easter was not till April 24!

The rest of the Mass was as usual, except that it was sung to the haunting melodies of George Malcolm’s Hollywood-influenced “Missa ad Praesepe” and the Choir sang the deep wisdom of Paul Edwards’ Motet “Small wonder the star” which, since I am launched on a longer-than-usual posting anyway, I’ll quote – and you will thank me.

“Small wonder the star, small wonder the light,

the angels in chorus, the shepherds in fright;

but stable and manger for God – no small wonder!

Small wonder the kings, small wonder they bore

the gold and the incense, the myrrh, to adore;

but God gives his life on a cross – no small wonder!

Small wonder the love, small wonder the grace,

the power, the glory, the light of his face;

but all to redeem my poor heart – no small wonder!”

See – I told you!

We left – except that we didn’t leave; we sat entranced till it was finished – to the Fugue on the Hour Chime at Soissons Cathedral played by Bernie Kunkel, our second organist. And went straight into the Rectory to do what Christians should do on Feasts of the Church – feast.

And so to bed.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. EDM permalink
    January 7, 2011

    Sounds perfectly wonderful, Father. A blessed Epiphanytide to you and safe traveling.

  2. David O'Rourke permalink
    January 9, 2011

    Wonderful post Father! I wonder if how I could get a copy of the Proclamation of the Feasts set to the proper tone.

  3. +Peter Robinson permalink
    January 10, 2011

    Sounds just the sort of Epiphany ‘blow out’ every decent size parish should have! We read the Epiphany proclaimation at St. Paul’s, not as impressive as chanting it, for sure, better than omission.

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