St. Stephen’s Day
Christmas 1 – Sunday
So it’s been a crazy few days. I hope any readers of this blog have had a Merry Christmas with family, friends and loved ones and that you are now all recovering (like me) from too much food. =)
The last week has been spent mainly at home. Cleaning up the house. Apart from the one venture into the CBD on Thursday for a hair cut and to pick up my newly resoled black Florsheim Imperial dress boots that now have a new thick Topy sole on them. The cobbler that The Cloakroom uses did a great job of welting the new Topy to the sole.
Friday night was comprised of two church services that I went to. The first was at Eight Mile Plains where they did the Nine Lessons & Carols service which went off relatively well. To all who performed on the night: Excellent Work!
But somehow, in a mainly Chinese church, it doesn’t quite have the same sort of ring compared to a more diverse church. The Anglicans still pull off a Nine Lessons & Carols service the best. Nailed my solo of “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” with Sime channeling Sufjan Stevens very effectively. Sime: You rock dude.
After that, it was a rush to set up as much as possible for EMP’s Christmas Day service before heading down to the Cathedral for the First Eucharist of Christmas that started at 11pm.
At 10:13 when I arrived, it didn’t really look like there was a lot of people there.
By 11pm, the Cathedral was quite packed. The chairs in the nave side-corridors were nearly two-thirds full with all of us in pews in the centre of the nave jam packed. On a side note, the paraments (the banner hanging from the front of the altar and the curtains at the back of the Cathedral) all changed from purple to gold on 24 December. Beautiful. No more photos until after Mass was over.
The St. John’s Cathedral Choir were in fine voice as they gifted us in the congregation a selection of five carols from ages past at 10:40pm :-
- Angelus ad virginum (arranged by David Willcocks),
- Adam lay ‘ybounden (arranged by Robert Boughen, former Director of Music at St. John’s and Cathedral organist)
- The Blessed Son of God (by Ralph Vaughan Williams),
- The Shepherd’s Carol (by Bob Chilcott), and
- All In A Garden Green (by Peter Phillips).
I was as happy as a pig in mud when I looked at the service notes and found out that Abp. Aspinall was presiding and preaching. The nativity scene they had set up looked beautiful and at the beginning, it nearly brought a tear to my eye when Abp. Aspinall picked up the figure of the infant Christ that was laying on the nave altar, brought it to the crib in the scene before lighting the Christ candle in the Advent Wreath and then censing the altar, crib and nativity scene with the thurible. All this as the six verses of the processional/entrance hymn (O Come, All Ye Faithful – TiS304) were sung and split up into separate sections to facilitate this Entrance rite that brought Mass to a beginning at 11pm.
Haydn’s Missa St. Johannis de Deo formed the musical setting of the Mass and the choir did a commendable effort in singing beautifully and with joy. Some hymns which I absolutely love were included in the service. I sang my heart out when the “Sussex Carol” (On Christmas night all Christians sing, to hear the news the angels bring… – TiS300) was played as the Gradual hymn before we heard St. Luke’s gospel account of Christ’s birth and the shepherds who hastened to see the Lord in the manger.
Abp. Aspinall’s homily was beautiful. He reminded us that amid the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks, that tonight, we should remember that God, the God of love, dared to reveal himself in weakness into the world He created so as to bring his creation into a position where they could echo and reflect his love back to Him. That the Christ child helps to soften hearts of even the most ardent and toughest cynic of the Church so as to bring them into the enfolding arms of God who wants others to turn to Him but has opened his very self and being up to being rejected. For what is love if it only controls but never yields to the other? Powerful, powerful homily. It will stay with me for years. Unfortunately, Abp. Aspinall was caught up too in the moment that as soon as his homily was finished and he was back to his seat, he launched right into the Creed without even giving the choir (and Choirmaster Graeme Morton) a chance to provide the musical reflection of “Infant Holy” (a traditional Polish carol).
For the Offertory hymn they used “Forest Green” (arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams) as the musical setting for O Little Town of Bethlehem (TiS316) which is a tune that I prefer to the one EMP uses (St Louis). Mass came and went and there were a lot of communicants. They had four bread plates and 8 chalices for all who came forward to partake of Christ’s body and blood. Two sets for the altar rail around the nave altar and one set on either side for those who were sitting in the nave side-corridors.
The motets sung by the choir during Communion were beautiful. William Mathias’ A Babe is born, Colin Brumby’s O my dear heart and my favorite of the lot, Malcolm Williamson’s This Christmas Night. We finished the night off by singing Hark, The Herald Angels Sing (TiS303) and then the organ thundered into action for the final movement of Louis Vierne’s Symphony No. 1 (opus 14) for the postlude. I couldn’t help but head straight to the Lady Chapel and give thanks again to God for a wonderful Mass, thanking Our Lady for her humble and willing obedience to God’s will with an Angelus and thanking God for what happened on that first Christmas night. After that, I snapped some photos of the nativity scene and of the three wise men: Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar. See the following photos.
I even managed to get in a few words with the Archbishop to wish him a very Merry Christmas before departing the Cathedral just before 1am. Was in bed by about 2am… only to rise at 7am to get back to EMP for the Christmas Day service. After that, came home for a Christmas Day lunch with my relatives, Uncle George and Erin. I think all of us ate too much. Couldn’t be bothered to eat dinner last night.
Service again this morning at EMP which wasn’t any sort of day at all. Though, like any good self-respecting Anglo-Catholic, I observed St. Stephen’s Day. His story in Acts 6 and 7 is a powerful reminder of what the cost of being a Christian could actually be. Had another solo to sing at EMP this morning with Sime again on the geetar (I owe you food and/or drink sometime dude). And without even knowing it, Frances decided to play camera ninja and capture it on (virtual) film…
Went out for lunch with some of the youngish peeps at Parkland Chinese Restaurant at Sunny Park. Which was followed by a failed attempt to go post-Christmas shopping at Westfield Garden City (spent 20 minutes trying to get a carpark). Ended up driving into the CBD and went walkies to David Jones and Myer. And found some good stuff on sale.
Finished off this long weekend with 5pm Mass where the regular congregation there had the pleasure of baptising an infant into the Church. I think with this little one, his godparents and parents appear to be committed Christians so here’s hoping he follows in the faith. For evensong tonight at 6pm, given that the St. John’s choir is now on recess until February 2011, the few of us who attended sat in the choir stalls for vespers.
Fr. Peter gave an inspiring homily for St. Stephen’s Day where he reminded the 6 to 7 of us in attendance for Evensong that it was our task to be “white martyrs” (as the early Christian church of the Celts called their holy men and women). Whereas St. Stephen was a “red martyr” because he witnessed for the Gospel and ultimately shed his blood (hence red martyr), the Celts didn’t have martyrs who shed blood like St. Stephen did. Their holy men and women (like St. Aidan, St. Cuthbert, etc, etc) lived holy lives (in keeping with a theme that developed from our second Evensong reading from Titus chapter 1) before they died of natural causes – hence white martyrs.
As Evensong came to a close we sang a couple of hymns acappella (TiS319 – Child in the manger, infant of Mary; TiS313 – Good Christians all, rejoice) that turned out quite well before we received the blessing from Fr. Peter. Afterwards, I had a chat with Fr. Peter and asked what the usual procedure was for those who were seeking to be confirmed. Now that I know that the procedure is tailored for each confirmand, I feel a little bit more at ease. God willing at the 2011 Easter Vigil, Abp. Aspinall will confirm and receive me formally into the Anglican Church of Australia. And the long journey into the Anglican Church and Anglican Communion will be complete. I’ll still help out at EMP with CMCA matters though. Fr. Sandy’s wife is a very wise lady. I still remember her counsel to me post one 9:30am Eucharist when we were talking about my dilemma.
After that, the weekend was over. I drove back home in the pouring rain with Gregorian Chant playing from the stereo. Had some dinner and started on this mammoth blog entry.