9 Lessons, a few carols and a shed in Truro

“With regard to religion, finally, it may be briefly said that she believed in God in much the same way as she believed in Australia. For she had no doubts whatever as to the existence of either; she went to church on Sunday in much the same spirit as she would look at a kangaroo in the zoological gardens; for kangaroos came from Australia.”  These immortal words of Edward Frederick Benson in Queen Lucia sum up perhaps the views held by many when it comes to religion. And let us not forget that Christmas is still a religious festival, despite the commercialism which surrounds it nowadays.

For me, the highlight of Christmas is the service of 9 lessons and carols. A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols was first held on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White, who at the age of thirty-four had just been appointed Dean of King’s after experience as an army chaplain which had convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship. A revision of the Order of Service was made in 1919, involving rearrangement of the lessons, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn ‘Once in royal David’s city’.

The original service was, in fact, adapted from an Order drawn up in 1880 by Edward White Benson who had recently been appointed as the first Bishop for Truro.  The only slight snag was that Truro Cathedral had not yet been built and in fact wasn’t completed until 1910.  As a result Benson devised a service that was held in a wooden shed in Truro at 10pm on Christmas Eve in 1880.

AC Benson recalled: ‘My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve – nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop.’ The suggestion had come from GHS. Walpole, later Bishop of Edinburgh.

One day I hope to get to Midnight Mass at Truro Cathedral to celebrate this marvellous concept.  This year I will get to Truro, but not until lunchtime on Christmas day, by which time Joseph Wicks is likely to have finished playing Carillon-Sorti by Mulet.

So all that remains is for me to thank you dear reader for glancing through these words of mine and to wish you all a very Happy Christmas.

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