23 Dec Christmas in Carmel
After the long waiting of Advent, the silence of Christmas Eve morning is broken by the strains of an old French carol that has been sung since our foundation more than 130 years ago, “Reveillez-vous, chère compagnes…”. A group of Sisters is processing round the monastery by candlelight, with a statue of Our Lady, to awaken the community for Christmas.
At the beginning of Mass, a cantor and four acolytes take their places on a specially decorated carpet in the middle of the nuns’ choir and the Martyrology is sung with great solemnity. This follows an ancient monastic custom of announcing the next day’s feast (originally a list of the martyrs commemorated on that day). It counts down from the creation of the world to the moment when Jesus Christ was born.
The mounting expectancy of the day’s liturgy, with its incessant “tomorrow…tomorrow…” forms the background to a flurry of activity, as the Chapel is prepared for Midnight Mass, the novices erect the large Crib, and various parts of the house are decorated. In the afternoon, we gather in the community room for None (Afternoon Prayer) incorporating the blessing and lighting of the Christmas tree, followed by a cup of tea together and our first mince pie.
By evening, everything is ready and we are preparing quietly for the high point of Christmas, the celebration of “Midnight” Mass, preceded by Office of Readings with Carols, at 9.00pm. After the sung Mass, when we truly welcome our God among us with wonder and joy, we go to the Crib to sing “O Holy Night”, and then to the kitchen for a hot drink before bed.
Our Christmas Day festivity culminates in supper in the community room, with much chatter and laughter. During the entire week, in the intervals between the regular hours of prayer, we are free to meet and chat, exchanging news, preparing entertainments, etc,. until New Year’s Day, when all grows silent again and we begin the new year, honouring Mary, Mother of God, with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in our Oratory throughout the day.