Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thy years shall not fail

Peter Hitchens explains what Christmas means for him as a Prayer Book- traditionalist Anglican:

So for me the season is one of darkness illuminated with carols sung by lamplight, the sun low in the sky, and a promise, never entirely fulfilled on the day itself, of something wonderful to come. That sticks, when all else falls away.

It is only more recently, when it has become (as it wasn’t in my childhood home , though we got plenty of religion at school) an occasion for churchgoing that I have been captivated by the extraordinary, disturbing beauty of the Collect, Epistle and Gospel for ‘the Birth-day of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day’ as prescribed in the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer. If you are really fortunate, you may be able to find a church where these passages are read at midnight on Christmas Eve. Listen carefully, if you do. It may not be long before this lovely ceremony is entirely stamped out by modernising fanatics. You could be one of the last to hear it.

The Gospel is the soaring, fiery declaration from the opening of St John’s Gospel – ending with ‘and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of his father, full of grace and truth’.

But the Epistle, that of St Paul to the Hebrews, borrows from something much older, the 102nd Psalm, when it draws itself up at the end to declare this promise :’And Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands. They shall perish: but Thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment: and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up , and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail’.

This is why the Holy Father has been so far-sighted, such a good shepherd, so open-hearted in wanting to welcome into the bosom of the Church those who hold fast to this patrimony.


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