Carols by Candlelight at Holy Name

December 14, 2022

Carols by Candlelight is a hallmark Christmas celebration in the city of Manchester. In the last week of the University term, guests were welcomed into a darkened Church lit only by the light of handheld candles. They were then treated to favourites sung by members of the choirs associated with Holy Name. A guest preacher is invited every year to reflect upon the real meaning of the birth of Jesus. The special festive atmosphere once again kindled the spirit of Christmas.

This year’s guest preacher was Rev. Rosalind Selby, principal of Northern College and a minister in the United Reformed Church. She preached movingly about the wise men in Matthew’s account of the nativity, reminding the congregation that the Gospel message never leads us to a sense of false complacency. The first Christians used the word ‘the way’ to describe the movement that grew up around Jesus. This is exactly the word that Matthew uses to describe the return of the Wise Men by a different ‘way’. It is an indication that even though they come from afar they undergo a radical conversion as they witness the birth of Jesus.

The Nativity at Holy Name

A highlight of the candlelit service was the performance of O Magnum Mysterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611). This beautiful setting of a medieval Latin poem, used in the matins of Christmas, resounded from the choir loft: “O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! O blessed virgin, whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!” Of course, the presence of animals at the birth of Jesus is an interpretation of Isaiah 1:3 based on Luke’s mention of the manger in Luke 2:7.

Even the Jesuit chaplains rose to the occasion with a performance of what is fast becoming a Christmas favourite at Holy Name. Fr Peter, Fr Brendan and Fr Philip sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing’’ to the tune of a traditional Yorkshire folk melody arranged by Kate Rusby. Meanwhile Penny the Chaplaincy dog sat quietly in her usual spot beneath the pulpit savouring the atmosphere. She was full of joy to greet the guests as they left after the service. She sends her deepest thanks for the Christmas gifts she has received from appreciative members of the community at Holy Name.

As well as the sterling contribution of the singers and musicians, many others helped make the event a great success. The Church had been prepared by a team of chaplaincy volunteers who turned out in the ice and snow to weed the steps of the Church, arrange the flowers, clean the Church and much more besides. The morning afterwards even more volunteers helped to carefully remove any fallen wax from the Church so that it would be ready for the Christmas masses.

Over the past semester the Chaplaincy has been experiencing something of a rebirth after the pandemic. The installation of a new temporary building in the forecourt has been a great success. Slowly the faith filled rhythm of the Catholic Student community in Manchester is being re-established.

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