On Christmas Eve, as I usually do, I sang with the choir at the two evening services. I also played with the handbell choir, which provided music before the early service. My stations at the back of the nave and in the chancel were particularly good vantage points to evaluate the lighting for the service.
As the ringers waited to begin, acolytes were lighting the pew candles. Many years ago, when I was involved in preparations for the Great Vigil of Easter, the lighting of the pew candles was the subject of much discussion and planning. Back then, every effort was made to make the process both smooth-running and dignified. Fresh candles were used, so that the wicks could easily be reached over the glass chimneys, and tall acolytes were preferred to make lighting the candles easier. On Christmas Eve, however, as has lamentably become our practice, no chimneys were in evidence. Even though the candles were relatively short, one acolyte took candles out of their holders to be lighted by another acolyte. The lighted candles were then replaced in their holders. The effect was to turn a ceremonial task into a supremely pedestrian one.
Of course, I had to wonder why we even bothered with candles. It seems to have been forgotten at St. Paul’s that lighting for an evening service should not attempt to reproduce daylight. The lighting for Christmas Eve was apparently the same as for a Sunday morning service. The effect was to make the candles look downright silly.
Someday, I hope that worship at St. Paul’s will recover the sensitivity to ambiance and solemnity it once had.
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