Wherever the service is heard and however it is adapted, whether the music is provided by choir or congregation, the pattern and strength of the service, as Dean Milner-White pointed out, derive from the lessons and not the music. ‘The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God …’ seen ‘through the windows and the words of the Bible’. Local interests appear, as they do here, in the Bidding Prayer; and personal circumstances give point to different parts of the service. Many of those who took part in the first service must have recalled those killed in the Great War when it came to the famous passage ‘all those who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light’. The centre of the service is still found by those who ‘go in heart and mind’ and who consent to follow where the story leads. (From the program of the 2013 service)
Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this Chapel, dedicated to Mary, his most blessèd Mother, glad with our carols of praise. (From the program for the 2013 service)
Though the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols as celebrated at King’s College, Cambridge is an elaborate feast of sight and sound, its pattern is clear to anyone familiar with the Daily Office.
After an opening prayer, the main body of the Lessons and Carols service consists of nine readings from Scripture carefully chosen to tell “the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious redemption brought us by the Holy Child.”
Interspersed between the lessons are musical responses — carols and hymns — in place of the canticles we use in the Offices day by day.
The service of Lessons and Carols, like the Daily Offices, concludes with collects appropriate for the season.
Though the Festival of Lessons and Carols was planned in 1918 out of Dean Eric Milner-White’s felt need for “more imaginative worship,” its roots in the Prayer Book pattern of Morning and Evening Prayer are deep and nourishing.
The collects which conclude the service of Lessons and Carols, like the collects in the Daily Office, rehearse our “sure and certain hope” in the resurrection:
O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only son, Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him, when he shall come to be our judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
O God, who by his incarnation gathered into one things earthly and heavenly, grant you the fullness of inward peace and goodwill, and make you partakers of the divine nature; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.
In the strength of Christ we find not only rest but nourishment for service.
I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ, the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ, the apple tree.