Music for Advent and Christmas at Trinity Anglican Church
The seasons of Advent and Christmastide are times of particular richness in our Anglican liturgical and
music traditions. The Advent themes of watchfulness and expectation find their fulfillment in the Nativity story
of the Incarnation, with all its diverse components. The joyous proclamation of the angels, the stillness of the
holy night, and the adoration of the shepherds at the crèche are all part of the familiar story, in which we are
invited to participate: “O come, let us adore Him”.
Although the narration is well known, our tradition lets us focus on the individual parts as they unfold
throughout the entire Christmas season, and not just on Christmas Eve, which leads to a greater understanding
of the deeper message. Musically, while the commercial world may be hearing the familiar carols starting
before Thanksgiving (although these days the onslaught seems to begin at some point around Labour Day!), our
Christmas celebration begins on December 24th. This being the case, what do we sing in Advent?
The dual nature of Advent (the coming birth of Christ, and His return at the end of time) is proclaimed in our
Advent hymns. “Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding” and “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” call upon the
worshipper to prepare for Christ’s birth, and to prepare a place in one’s heart to receive Him. Charles Wesley’s
hymn “Lo, He comes with clouds descending” foretells the Second Advent, with its many references to imagery
from the book of Revelation. The words are stern, and serve as a reminder to get one’s spiritual house in order
before receiving the Saviour. What a wonderful and meaningful alternative to the sentimentality of much
popular Christmas music, and also so appropriate as a true preparation for the joy of Christmas!
The Nativity itself is celebrated with various emphases, all appropriate to the moment. The hymns of
Christmas Eve speak of the nighttime announcement of the angels, and of the miraculous birth itself: “It came
upon a midnight clear”, “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”, “O little town of Bethlehem, how still
we see thee lie”, and “Hark! the herald angels sing (it seems that herald angels, like herald trumpets, are there to
directly proclaim). This latter carol, also by Charles Wesley, was written for his Hymns and Sacred Poems of
1739, and was later joined to music of Felix Mendelssohn, music originally composed for a text in celebration
of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type! Perhaps the most beloved carol, the Austrian “Silent Night”, was
written in great haste on Christmas Eve of 1818, a collaboration between priest Joseph Mohr and his organist
Franz Grueber. The church’s organ had broken down, and a hymn was needed that had the feel of an Austrian
folksong, and which could be accompanied by two guitars; necessity in this case was not only the mother of
invention, but the creator of a miniature masterpiece. Christmas Day focuses on the joy of the Incarnation, so it
is fitting that we sing “Good Christian men, rejoice”, with its refrain “Christ is born today!” “The First Nowell”
is a compact summary of the Nativity events from Christmas Eve right through to the Epiphany visit of the
Wise Men, and Christina Rossetti’s “In the bleak midwinter”, a text that evokes a message of warmth in the
midst of winter’s cold, and is sung to Gustav Holst’s soothing and poignant music.
The organ music selected for Advent and Christmas provides an elegant and appropriate framework for the
hymns and service music, and further reflect the emphasis of each individual season. Advent is a time of
introspection and expectation, so the organ works contribute to a mood of reflection, culminating in the joyous
arrival of Christmas Eve and Day. Music from the great masters of organ composition such as Bach,
Buxtehude, Brahms, and others all serve to magnify the various moods and themes of our Christmas hymns, and
help to amplify the liturgies themselves.
Advent expectation, Christmas Eve contemplation, and Christmas Day exuberance are all brought forth in
our hymns and organ music for the season. All are welcome to experience and participate in these rich seasons
of worship at Trinity Anglican Church.
November is a month of great richness in our liturgical calendar. The celebrations of All Saints Day, Thanksgiving Day, and the Sunday before Advent, all serve as a fitting conclusion to the church year, as well as lending variety and focus to our worship. This year we also begin our Advent season on the final Sunday of the month, and more will be said about our Advent music in next month’s column.
The celebration on Thanksgiving Eve provides a special opportunity to experience the “beauty of holiness” at Trinity Church. The hymn “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” analogizes the autumn harvest with the gathering of God’s people at the end of time, with reference to St. Mark 4: 26-9, and St. Matthew 13: 24-30. The composer George Elvey named his tune St. George’s Windsor after the royal chapel where Elvey served as music director for many years. Although the Reformation-era hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” is not particular to an American Thanksgiving service, it seems to gain greater meaning when sung as a final hymn at that liturgy, as we will do. Martin Rinckhart’s words are an example of perseverance amidst adversity: he penned this inspiring text during the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century, and after his village had been sacked three times by invading forces. In spite of this disaster, Rinckhart turns to God in thanks and praise for his deliverance. Finally, on Thanksgiving Eve be sure to listen for this hymn’s great Reformation tune as the basis of the organ postlude by Bach, in an arrangement by the American concert organist Virgil Fox; a great twentieth-century virtuoso paying tribute to the greatest organist of the eighteenth-century!
All are warmly invited to partake of this harvest of liturgical riches at Trinity Anglican Church, and to join us as we move into Advent and Christmas.
September is a month of beginnings: Fall arrives, the weather changes (slowly, it seems),
football season is launched, and schools and colleges have already begun. The church year at
this time also contains a number of holy days that serve as markers as it moves to its conclusion
in late November. The secular world often refers to the pre-Christmas period as “the holiday
season”, but perhaps its true title should be “the Holy-day season”! Liturgically, this is a very
rich time in the church calendar, and it starts in September.
The new month is ushered in at Trinity Anglican Church with a service of Evensong, to be
held on Friday 9 September at 5:00PM. Originally a conflation of the monastic evening rituals
into one service, Evensong eventually became the most characteristic form of worship in the
Church of England, and was the most well-attended, be it on Sunday or weekday. Hearing a
fully choral Evensong in one of the great cathedrals or collegiate chapels in England, with their
superb choirs and repertoire, is truly an unforgettable experience. Our own celebration at Trinity
will be more intimate, with hymns and canticles taken from the 1940 Hymnal and full
participation of the congregation.
The many Sundays after Trinity continue from their start in June, and by September we have
reached beyond the halfway point. After the many holy days of September and October, we reach the two commemorations that serve to unofficially divide the four months between September and December, namely the feast of All Saints and commemoration of All Souls, on 31 October and 1 November respectively. Perhaps we need to keep in mind, when in the midst of Halloween preparations, that the name of the day is a contraction of All Hallow’s Eve, or the eve of All Saints! This great and exuberant feast celebrating the many historical saints of the church is contrasted with the solemn (not somber; there is a difference!) observance of the commemoration of All Souls, or all faithful departed, held on the following day. Such a dramatic contrast provides great focus as the procession towards Thanksgiving and Christmas resumes.
November is a month of great richness in our liturgical calendar. The celebrations of All Saints Day, Thanksgiving Day, and the Sunday before Advent, all serve as a fitting conclusion to the church year, as well as lending variety and focus to our worship. That, however, is a subject that will be discussed in a future music column. In the meantime, please do plan on coming to Trinity Anglican Church on Friday 9 September at 5:00 PM for Evensong, followed by snacks and fellowship.
Steven McDonald, music director
Adult Education Classes
Gospel of John
Renewal of Faith (Alpha Program)
1928 Book of Common Prayer
Faith & Practice (Frank Wilson)
Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis)
The Truth Project
1928 Book of Common Prayer
Bible Study Classes
Acts of the Apostles Epistles to the Corinthians
Epistle to the Hebrews Gospel of John
Romans Epistle to Titus