We kinda sorta cheat, going to the morning Mass for the fourth Sunday of Advent, then returning for the five-thirty Mass for Christmas. We’re not sure if we’re allowed to take Communion twice on one day. We ask Deacon Merella, and he assures us that we’re okay. Then we run into Monsignor, and so we get a second opinion from him, thankfully agreeing with the first.
We had trouble finding seating last year, so we arrive a full hour early this year. Or, since there’s the contemporary choir singing a chorale prelude starting at five, I guess it’s more like half an hour early. But anyway, we’re packed in by showtime, our pew built for four having five of us smooshed into it. We have a scare when the elderly genltleman at the end to our right swaps out with a younger man holding a small child. Ack! But luckily this arrangement is temporary, as the squirmy noisy urchin is taken away, and the old guy returns.
Note here that the contemporary choir is a separate entity from the schola cantorum whom we heard just this morning, or, rather, the former is a subset of the latter. Jennifer Goltz, who’s normally a member of the schola as well as usually our cantor, is director of the contemporary choir. There’s a wonderful small moment between songs where she’s quietly blowing into the pitch pipe, sort of huddled with Ellen and Heidi, who then express some sort of confusion as to why Jennifer is giving them the pitch. Jennifer realizes that the upcoming part is hers alone, rather than sung by the three of them. So she laughs and then directly launches into the song.
The entrance hymn is O Come, All Ye Faithful. Lovely, except that I never noticed how strange is the line He abhors not the Virgin’s womb. The older woman next to me to my right has a high strained and cracked voice, weirdly charming and soothing.
It’s the five-thirty Vigil Mass, and so we’re surprised when we get the readings from the Midnight Mass. How grand, getting so much of the beauty from the Midnight Mass without having to actually stay awake that late. Which we could never manage anyway. First reading is goold old Isaiah, with that old chestnut, another favorite part of Handel’s Messiah, For unto us a child is born. Or, as the NAB has it, For a child is born to us. Close enough. But it’s verses three and four from the passage that really jump out at me.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
Oh, isn’t that the best day, though? When every boot that tramped in battle will be burned!
Next is from St. Paul’s letter to Titus, where pretty much the life of the Christian is summarized quite neatly.
[T]o reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
A neat summation, surely, but actually living it, actually doing it, is so very hard.
And the Gospel, this year according to St. Luke. Some of you Peanuts fans may recognize it from A Charlie Brown Christmas, where the pedantic Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas. Some of those same fans may notice the differences between Linus’s King James and our NAB, although Linus makes one small mistake in his recitation.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Generally, during the Credo, or Profession of Faith, we bow during et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine et homo factus est, or by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. Today’s a special day, as we’re supposed to kneel during it. Monsignor reminds us before we begin the Profession of Faith. But the booklet that we’re using says that we’re to kneel “for a brief moment of prayer.” So when the time comes, all of use, the whole congregation, haul ourselves down. But then suddenly everyone’s getting up again right away. I’m confused; I thought we’d be down longer. And I stopped reciting as I was getting the kneeler out and down and getting myself down onto it. So now I feel like I’m behind, with everybody charging ahead with the He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
And then we sing O Little Town of Bethlehem during the preparation of the altar and gifts. And it’s the same a few minutes later when we sing Silent Night during communion. Both carols are lovely, in and of themselves, but I have trouble singing the higher notes while at the same time being as pianissimo as we’re supposed to be.
The usher directs us to go through the pews to our left, more towards the middle, to take communion. We have trouble getting back to our seats then, as we can’t go through the choir to the other side of our pew. We have to go back in the same way we came out. So Dawn and I have to step aside to let the people to our right go in first, and they mix up their order doing so, so I have somebody else sitting next to me now.
And communion itself takes quite a while, as there’s so many of us packed into the Cathedral. After Silent Night we have time to sing It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, even time to sing the first verse again at the end.
And finally the recessional hymn is Joy to the World, which I can usually belt out pretty well. But we’ve been singing quite a bit tonight, and I’m a little worn out. But I give it my best. And afterwards I chat with Jennifer Goltz for a minute, getting her to explain to me how she’s related to the two others named Goltz in the choir. Husband and brother-in-law, turns out. And if Heidi Scanio in the choir is related to the Heather Scanio and Alan Scanio listed as authors or arrangers in the choral prelude song listing. Same person and husband. And if the Ellen Roche in the choir is related to the Terri Roche in the song listing. No relation, as Terri Roche (actually it’s Terre Roche) is in the singing group the Roches, whom I saw at Wolf Trap once, opening for Richard Thompson.