Gradual for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him: yea, all such as call upon him faithfully.
V. My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh give thanks unto his holy name.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
V. Come, O Lord, and tarry not: forgive the misdeeds of thy people.
R. AlleluiaManual of Catholic Devotion
For Members of the Church of England (Revised 1969)
As the final candle is lit on the Advent wreath – unless there is a Christmas candle – we approach the final days of Advent. The much anticipated day is not far off and the Introit for the day tells us that very soon we will hear: the heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament showeth his handy-work.
A Child This Day is Born, the last carol that I’ve chosen from Bramley and Stainers’ Christmas Carols New and Old is one with more obscure origins than many of the others. The words first appeared in Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, by William Sandys (London 1833). Sandy’s collection was in three parts with a length introduction. The first part contained 34 carols which he maintained were from the early part of the 15th to the end of the 17th century. The Second Part was a selection of 40 carols “still used in the West of England”. And the third were six French carols from Provence. There were 80 carols in all without music. There has been some suggestion that perhaps a few of the carols were not quite as old or traditional as Mr Sandys claimed but may have been of his own creation; though that is only rumour.
In the 136 page introduction, which makes for fascinating reading as a history of Christmas in England, he says that the carols (including A Child This Day is Born) are:
….. selected from upwards of one hundred obtained in different parts of the West of Cornwall, many of which, including those now published, are still in use. Some few of them are printed occasionally in the country, and also in London, Birmingham, and other places, as broadside carols; others have appeared, with some variation, in Mr Gilbert’s collection, having been derived from similar sources; but a large portion, including some of the more curious, have, I believe, never been printed before.
When it was published in Christmas Carols New and Old Stainer used a tune referred to as “Bailey” however in other carol collections both the words and music are shown as “traditional” or “anonymous”. Often when the author or authors of a hymn tune were not known publishers would create an “artificial person” to give the credit to rather than our old friend Anon.
The rather fearsome angel, I gather he/she is delivering the message to the waiting world, in the engraving that accompanied the carol in the 1871 edition was by W. J. Wiegand. He was known for his illustrations for Wonderful Stories from Northern Lands and an edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. But much like the origins of this lovely carol I could find out almost nothing about him.
It was also difficult to find an acceptable version of the carol on YouTube so I created one using a very fine recording of the carol by the Choir of Magdelan College and matched it with photographs from the glorious Nativity Façade of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona which I took on our recent visit to that marvellous city. I Gaudi’s incredible design traces the story of Mary and Joseph from their wedding to Christ leaving his family as a young man.
It is a complex and multi-layered panorama and the details are numerous. You may want to take a look in the expanded version to catch some of those detail.