Getting the Christmas service together

A Unitarian Universalist colleague — I’ll say no more to identify this person — wrote

I listened to the [automatically-generated] Christmas evening service. It’s nice, but the voice is too much for me. But I need advice–I want a good Christmas Eve service, old or new–that will be a kind of high church experience, intimate and ritualistic. Can you point me in a direction?

Why, yes. But I think the key for a successful and pleasing service is to be “vulgar,” that is, for all the liturgical embellishments, it should be a people’s service. In the West, historically this means (1) it will probably be “genetically” more akin to the Daily Office than the Mass, and (2) you have to give people an opportunity to use more than one sense or action, that is, hearing. Which respectively is the success and failing of my waggish offering of a computerized Evening Prayer. (Evening Prayer comes from the Daily Office, via the Anglican Reformation.)

I wrote more about this last year, focused on Christmas Day.

The ever-popular Lessons and Carols (see Wikipedia link for standard order of service) a la King’s College, Cambridge is related (I suppose) to the Daily Office inasmuch as its nine readings evoke the the three three-parted nocturnes, and although a mere toddler in liturgical terms (dating only to 1880) its popularity through BBC broadcasts have made it a much-emulated model for Christmas carol services.

But if someone is still working on a Christmas service now, I would base it on evening prayer and substitute out a carol for each psalm, plus a carol as the introit and at the end. Because of the specter of supercession, I would probably dispense with Old Testament readings unless you had theologically prepared the congregation and have just two lessons: perhaps even just dividing up Luke 2 into manageable portions. No “opening words” since they are themselves a spoken introit, and the carol can take this place here. I would use the Magnificat or the Benedictus, but not both. Psalm 113, perhaps clipping the last verse, might be a good alternative if a psalm is desired.
That gives you something like this:

  • Carol
  • A theme-setting prayer, with or without the Lord’s Prayer following
  • Reading or “reading half”
  • Carol or the Benedictus (Luke 1:68 ff.), unison or responsive
  • Reading or “other half”
  • Carol or the Magnificat (Luke1:46 ff.), unison or responsive
  • Address (optional, but in any case short)
  • A brief litany or set of collects
  • Carol (optional)
  • Blessing
  • Carol

Put the offering, if there is one, wherever it would fall any given Sunday.

This service needs a bit of “vulgar warming” because it can be a bit stiff: carols should be stirring, a bank of candles may be available for lighting before the service, the babe Jesus may be placed in a creche before the right place in the readings and perhaps a small gift (like candy canes) may be given out at the dismissal. Collects, if used, might need to be edited for warmth, or at least read in a warm, round but not gushy manner. I’ve thought that burning insence outside the church in ad hoc censors made of terra cotta pots might add some sensory interest — without triggering an asthma attack — but evergreen boughs is probably more likely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.