It is a yearly tradition for many of us to listen to the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast every Christmas Eve from King’s College in Cambridge. The history of Lessons and Carols goes further back than this most famous version. In 1880, Edward White Benson, Bishop of Truro, devised the service as a way of bringing together the city to celebrate Christmas. Truro Cathedral was still under construction, so the first Lessons and Carols service was celebrated in the wooden shed that served as their temporary worship space.
The first time King’s College held this service was in 1918, and it has been broadcast since 1928. All around the world, people tune in to hear this annual celebration of the birth of Christ and to listen to both familiar carols and newly composed works. Though the carols may change year-to-year, after a slight revision in 1919, the readings and prayers have remained unchanged. Its celebration has continued even amidst some of the most uncertain of times. During World War II, the decision was made to remove all the glass from the Chapel in hopes of saving it from destruction in the war. And yet Lessons and Carols still took place, in a windowless and cold chapel, in the midst of a world at war.
At St. Peter’s we continue this tradition on Sunday morning, December 2 at 10:45 a.m. Our carol service is modified for use in Advent instead of Christmas and we end our lessons with the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel visits, and tells Mary she will become the mother of Jesus.
The “bidding prayer” for this service says it well: “Let us rejoice, in our carols and hymns, that the good purpose of God is being mightily fulfilled. Let us celebrate the promise that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will bring all peoples and all things into the glory of God’s eternal kingdom.”
Elizabeth Lenti, Director of Music and Organist