Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmastide our care and delight to hear the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Milner-White had served with great distinction as a Chaplain on the Western Front and in Italy throughout most of the Great War. Popular with his troops, he never quite escaped the suspicions of some in the Chaplaincy hierarchy, not least for his encouragement of prayers for the departed, as he tried to make some sense of the slaughter. His personal courage was never in doubt, and on one occasion, contrary to Regulations, with all other Battalion Officers killed or wounded, he assumed command and lead his men to safety. Perhaps his revisions to the Carols and Lessons were simply a new man wanting to make his mark, perhaps they were intended to make the best of a difficult situation with the resources available in the College; yet put them alongside the Bidding Prayer that is still in use today, and the service became, in the words of one writer, ‘most profoundly conceived, eye with ear together to enact the theme of light.’
Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child;
Many of us will have our favourite Carols, alongside those that grate, especially if we end up hearing or singing them too often. Even the most tinsel-clad enthusiast for Christmas may baulk at hearing ‘Hark the Herald’ yet one more time. The practicalities of what we can and cannot do seem to be constantly changing in response to the Pandemic, but at the time of writing, it seems unlikely that congregations will be singing Carols in church this year. There is a sadness in that, whilst by no means the worst of all that this year has brought, Carols nevertheless are a part of a shared heritage that goes well beyond our church communities. Many are deeply scriptural, and can profitably form a part of our own prayers at home.
The Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus hold before us also our own death, and the promise of life eternal. The pandemic has confronted our social orders, particularly in the so-called developed west, with the reminder of the reality and messiness of death, when we no longer have the spiritual resources to face up to it. Miner-White’s words, written out of the slaughter of the Trenches, have been described as the last poem of the Great War; they have a fresh resonance for us now:
I wish you all a blessed Christmass, and in the concluding words of Dean Milner-White’s prayer,
Written for the Christmas 2020 Edition of Together, Newspaper of the catholic Societies of the Church of England.