Lessons & Carols at 100

The Lessons and Carols service the whole world knows, i.e. the version performed by—and broadcast from—King’s College Cambridge, celebrates its centenary this year.

It is a helpful reminder to many that this service is only one hundred years old, since there are those who identify Lessons and Carols as representing the essence of Anglican worship.  Though this service was created only yesterday, as it were, when compared with much, much older liturgical texts, it is characterized by elements that flow directly from Anglicanism’s monastic roots, which thus link the Anglican patrimony as far back as the third- and fourth-century beginnings of the monastic charism.  For example, the emphasis on “lessons” (readings from Scripture) is profoundly Anglican and monastic as is the implicit notion that music in liturgy is a form of lectio divina.  (Early monasticism was pretty much anti-music, to be honest.  But music itself was a different cultural creature than it was to become, even in the Middle Ages and certainly by the time of the sixteenth-century politico-ecclesiastical fits and starts that led to the establishment of the Church of England.)

One thought on “Lessons & Carols at 100

  1. A reader sent in this comment: “It strikes me as interesting that the choice of Nine lessons and carols is very reminiscent of the Office of Matins/Vigils in which there is a barely surviving remnant in the 1960/61 Brevairum Romanum, i.e. feasts of nine lessons (together with responsories). Surely the obvious connexion is to the Vigil of Easter with its 9 or 12 prophecies, depending on which edition of the Missale Romanum you consult. But I think, to your point, the monastic connexion is apt to be overlooked. Inasmuch as Lessons and Carols are a paraliturgical devotion, one could think of it as the Anglican scripture-based analogue to Benediction. Clearly one doesn’t/cannot replace the other, but it seems like just the sort of thing a very Scripture and song oriented communion would do, being so very deeply formed by the reformed, simplified, and secularized monastic office.”


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