The Morning Star Rises at the Oratory

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Picture the
scene and the sounds. On the north side of the London Oratory’s
nave, the Junior Choir – famous for the purity of its sound
– sings the meandering treble line of The Three Kings
by Peter Cornelius: “Three Kings from Persian lands afar, to
Jordan following the pointing star.” On the south side, the
main Oratory choir cuts through the melody with the Lutheran chorale
(much used by Bach) “How brightly shines the morning star”,
which Cornelius added to his hymn at the suggestion of Liszt. The
morning star is not the star followed by the kings but Christ, whose
birth into a world of darkness it represents. And, between the two
choirs, at the highest point of the sanctuary, the Blessed Sacrament
exposed for adoration.

I’d never
been to the carol service at the Brompton Oratory before; I didn’t
know why it incorporated Benediction – until that moment. The
programme had asked us to “join heartily in the hymns”,
but I was too preoccupied by my own worries to do more than mutter
them sullenly. (No change there, as my mother will attest.) But
the combination of singing and Sacrament – singing to the Sacrament,
I suppose – was overwhelming: I understood what the Orthodox
mean when they talk about the liturgy bringing heaven down to earth.

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December
25, 2009

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