Page 4, 22nd December 1972

22nd December 1972
Page 4
Page 4, 22nd December 1972 — How they prepared for Christmas long ago
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How they prepared for Christmas long ago

HISTORY can be made to look rather different simply by choosing different facts to put in books—Reformation history. for instance. Catholics have been conditioned to look on the Reformation as the disaster it probably was. but at the same time to beat their breasts for the corruption that made it possible, Edmund Bishop was a snapper-up of historical trifles which other historians had failed to consider, which he collected in a remarkable Notebook, Liturgica Historica.

It includes an essay on the life and worship of a German parish in the 1520s. Less than a decade before the Reformation struck Munster, Westphalia, Pastor, Dreygersvole parish priest of the Jac-obuskirche (St. James's Church), compiled a notebook of hints for his successor. The part summarised by Edmund Bishop covers the Christmas season and its preparation.

We find precious few signs of that bad old Catholicism for which we blush, but instead

a fair picture of priestly and popular devotion. Its faults are ones which have remained current down to our own time. and which might still pass unnoticed.

St. James's in 'Munster was right next to the Cathedral and served a small parish of 300. People liked going on to the Cathedral after attending their own church, even to the same service, and the timetable was geared accordingly.

Getting ready for Christmas began seriously with the feast of Our Lady's Immaculate Con ception, December 8. A sermon was preached at 4.30 in the morning, followed by Sung Mass. This had to be over by 6 a.m. so that the devout could nip into the Cathedral for another sermon. (Did we think that preaching was particularly invented by the Protestant Reform?) About this time too the town clergy got together to agree what kind of fast should be required as preparation for Christmas Communion — "according to the exigencies of the time." This shows a sense of collegiality as well as a humane flexibility — wars, poor harvests, or plague might recommend moderating the standards of penance.

Things had eased up in Pastor Dreygerwolt's day. The traditional abstinence from meat in Munster had been 14 days—in the Notebook he recommends six days from meat and three from milk, eggs, etc.

On the Sunday before Christmas the pastor was advised to warn his folk about drink.

The danger was specific — they might drink themselves sick and never get to church at all. Quite a lot of liquor flowed round the

Cathedral at Christmas time. Back in the twelfth century some bishop had established a perpetual charity in the form of free wine dispensed in the Close on Christmas Eve. This Was known as St. Paul's Cup.

Then there was the grand old custom of parties associated with the singing of the "Great 0 Antiphons at the Magnificat of Vespers" for the eight days preceding Christ

mas Eve. At some churches a different official intoned the "0 Antiphon" each day. When it came to the Dean's turn (which at Munster was, with no special relevance, 0 Virgo virginunt) he too dispensed wine and a flagon s

was sent to the pastor at St. James.

From December 21, Feast of St. Thomas. the pastor was available to hear confessions— from five in the morning. If you went elsewhere (many favoured confessing to the friars) you were asked to let him know. and from the number of confessions heard he calculated the number of hosts to consecrate at Christmas — but he recommends "better consecrate more than is necessary."

The first Mass of Christmas was not at midnight. The Notebook reminds the pastor to be up by midnight, to recite privately the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary and make a preparation for Mass. At 12.45 the service was Matins, followed by the Night Mass of Christmas. When this finished at four, some went off to the Cathedral services some stayed for confession, and a "vicar" said the second Mass of Christmas.

There were two "vicars" at St. James's, but there is not much about them in the notes. They probably received an income for offering endowed tMasses in the church but had other duties elsewhere. At five o'clock the parish priest preached a "very short" sermon which should be, the notes advise, just a "simple account of the story of the day."

One sympathises. It seems an impertinence to preach at Christmas. There were solemn excommunications with bells tolled and candles dashed out. That must have been impressive, but how incongruous a sequel to the "simple story." At long last, at 5.30, came the Solemn High Mass of Christmas.

Here are two of the irregularities which persisted down to our own lifetimes. The sermon had been detached and put before the Mass. Now the Communions are detached and follow it. The priest put off his chasuble to give Communion and at St. James's they sang the Veld Sancte Spiritus as a preparation.

During the night services the people had been reminded to come back—all of them— for Vespers at midday. This was a solemn function, with a cope specially borrowed from the Cathedral, and the Magnificat sung twice to give time for incensing the side altars.

At St. James's the Dedication anniversary fell during the Twelve Days—on the Feast of St. Paul the Hermit. The pastor took advantage of the festive season to invite a grand gathering of clergy and people. Notice was sent to other parish priests with a tip to ensure they published it!

With luck, enough singers might turn up to imprOve the choral occasion and they were invited to lunch with the clergy "and 1 give them beer." In the past he had invited maids front the capons' houses and found this more

trouble ica

e Dedication Mass w worth. T as sung

trouble ica

e Dedication Mass w worth. T as sung before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, but Pastor Dreygerwolt consecrated the host for this the day before and put it in the lunette himself, as guest priests "did not have much experience In the way of placing it in the monstrance."

In how many ways the more things change the more they remain the same! The pastor's comment is still valid: "Long experience has taught me something, and a good deal more will become clear to those who follow."

Fr. S. G. LUFF




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