Order of Service

Westminster Abbey

Sunday, 3rd December 2023


First Sunday of Advent

An Advent Liturgy

The Season of Advent

From very early times it became the Church's custom to prepare for the great festival of Christmas with a period of reflection upon the meaning of Christ's coming. Advent, 'the coming', is a season in which we hope to glimpse our past, our present, and our future through the eyes of God, who was, and is, and is to come: who is at every moment our Maker, our Judge, and our Redeemer.

The texts said and sung in this service are ancient, from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian New Testament, and Christian tradition. They address Christ as the hope of Israel and its redeemer, the fulfilment of the promises made by the Hebrew prophets. We recognise that this language may seem insensitive in this year of conflict. They have not been chosen to signify a particular stance in relation to the war in Gaza. These texts are part of an Advent tradition in which we express our longing for the coming kingdom of Christ; a kingdom in which all nations and peoples gather and are reconciled. In that kingdom we are free from hatred, terror, violence, and pain and we rejoice in God's everlasting peace.

The service is sung by the Choir of Westminster Abbey, conducted by Andrew Nethsingha, Organist and Master of the Choristers. The organ is played by Peter Holder, Sub-Organist.

Before the service, Carolyn Craig, Organ Scholar, plays

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 645, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)

Conditor alme siderum, Rebecca Groom te Velde (b 1956)

O Antiphon Sequence, Cecilia McDowall (b 1951)
   i O Sapientia
   ii O Adonai

Rorate caeli (12 Chorale Preludes on Gregorian Chant Themes Op 8), Jeanne Demessieux (1921–68)

Matthew Jorysz, Assistant Organist, plays

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 661, Johann Sebastian Bach

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 660, Johann Sebastian Bach

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV 659, Johann Sebastian Bach

Christe Redemptor omnium, Hubert Parry (1848–1918)

Before the service the lights are dimmed and congregational candles are lit. Please pass the light on to those around you.

Order of Service

All stand as the choir moves to the Great West Door

The choir sings the Introit

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal, and sun of righteousness: come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Words: antiphon for 21st December
Music: Cecili
a McDowall

All remain standing. The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence, gives the Bidding

All sit. Stefan Roberts reads the first Reading, Genesis 1: 1–5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Thanks be to God.

The Reverend Robert Latham, Sacrist, says the Collect

Let us pray.

All stand

God of light and life, through your gracious work of creation you have shared your life with us and revealed the full splendour of your glory in the coming of Jesus Christ: in your light dispel the darkness of strife and hatred, violence and war, fear and despair, and through the dawning of the Sun of Righteousness keep us watchful and hopeful for the new creation brought to birth in him who is the light of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

All sing the Hymn, during which the choir and clergy move to the Screen

O Come, O come, Emmanuel!
redeem thy captive Israel,
that into exile drear is gone
far from the face of God's dear Son.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high!
who madest all in earth and sky,
creating man from dust and clay:
to us reveal salvation's way.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Adonaï,
who in thy glorious majesty
from Sinai's mountain, clothed with awe,
gavest thy folk the ancient law.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Root of Jesse! draw
the quarry from the lion's claw;
from those dread caverns of the grave,
from nether hell, thy people save.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Lord of David's Key!
the royal door fling wide and free;
safeguard for us the heavenward road,
and bar the way to death's abode.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, thou Dayspring bright!
pour on our souls thy healing light;
dispel the long night's lingering gloom,
and pierce the shadows of the tomb.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations! show
thy kingly reign on earth below;
thou Corner-stone, uniting all,
restore the ruin of our fall.
   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee, O Israel.

Words: 'Veni veni Emmanuel' c 12th century after the Advent Antiphons
Tune: 'Veni Emmanuel' adapted from a French missal by Thomas Helmore (1811–90) arranged by James O'Donnell (b 1961) Organist of Westminster Abbey 2000–22

All sit. Sam Jewison reads the second Reading, Genesis 12: 1–3; 17: 2–5

The Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

'And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.' Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 'As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.'

Thanks be to God.

The choir sings the Anthem

Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant justum: aperiatur terra, et germinet salvatorem. Benedixisti, Domine, terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto; sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Drop down you heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and bring forth salvation. Gracious you have been, Lord, to your land: you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Glory to the Father and the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be for ever. Amen.

Words: Introit, Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Advent (Isaiah 45: 8; Psalm 85: 1)
Music: William Byrd (c 1540–1623) in 'Gradualia' 1605

The Sacrist says the Collect

Let us pray.

All stand

God our Saviour, you established your covenant with Abraham, that his descendants might bring your light to the ends of the earth and proclaim your justice to the whole world: awaken us from our sleep, deliver us from our heedless ways, and form us into a watchful people, ready to proclaim your praise and your righteousness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

All sing the Hymn

Wake, O wake! with tidings thrilling
the watchmen all the air are filling,
   arise, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight strikes! no more delaying,
'The hour has come!' we hear them saying.
   Where are ye all, ye virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes in sight,
raise high your torches bright!
The wedding song
swells loud and strong:
go forth and join the festal throng.

Sion hears the watchmen shouting,
her heart leaps up with joy undoubting,
   she stands and waits with eager eyes;
see her Friend from heaven descending,
adorned with truth and grace unending!
   Her light burns clear, her star doth rise.
Now come, thou precious Crown,
Lord Jesu, God's own Son!
Let us prepare
to follow there,
where in thy supper we may share.

Every soul in thee rejoices;
from men and from angelic voices
   be glory given to thee alone!
Now the gates of pearl receive us,
thy presence never more shall leave us,
   we stand with angels round thy throne.
Earth cannot give below
the bliss thou dost bestow.
Grant us to raise,
to length of days,
the triumph-chorus of thy praise.

Words: 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme' Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608) translated by Francis Burkitt (1864–1935)
Tune: 'Wachet auf' Philipp Nicolai

All sit. Non Vaughan-O'Hagan reads the third Reading, Ezekiel 18: 23–32

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die.

Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is unfair.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is unfair.' O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Thanks be to God.

The choir sings the Anthem

This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love:
Therefore don't turn me from your door,
But hearken all, both rich and poor.

The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create,
The next thing which to you I'll tell,
Woman was made with man to dwell.

And we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That he would redeem us by his Son.

And at that season of the year
Our blest redeemer did appear;
He here did live, and here did preach,
And many thousands he did teach.

Thus he in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved;
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what he did say.

Words: traditional Herefordshire carol
Music: traditional, arranged by Christopher Robinson (b 1936)

The Sacrist says the Collect

Let us pray.

All stand

O most mighty God and merciful Father, who hast compassion upon all people, and who wouldest not the death of a sinner, but rather that they should turn from their sin and be saved: Mercifully forgive us our trespasses; receive and comfort us, who are grieved and wearied with the burden of our sins and truly repent of our faults, and so make haste to help us in this world, that we may ever live with thee in the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

All sing the Hymn, during which the clergy procession moves through the screen to the Sacrarium

On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
come then and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings from the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every Christian breast,~
and furnished for so great a guest!
Yea, let us each our hearts prepare
for Christ to come and enter there.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace our souls must fade,
and wither like a flower decayed.

Stretch forth thine hand to heal our sore,
and make us rise, to fall no more;
once more upon thy people shine,
and fill the world with love divine.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee
whose advent sets thy people free,
whom, with the Father, we adore,
and Spirit blest, for evermore.

Words: 'Jordanis oras praevia' Charles Coffin (1676–1749) translated by John Chandler (1808–76)
Tune: 'Winchester New' in 'Musicalisches Hand-Buch' Hamburg 1690, descant by Christopher Robinson

All sit. Elizabeth Baba-Yemi reads the fourth Reading, Matthew 3: 1–12

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.' This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
'The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
"Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight."'
Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our ancestor"; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

'I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.'

Thanks be to God.

All remain seated as the choir sings the Canticle, Luke 1: 68–79, during which the Gospel procession moves to the Lantern

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for he hath visited, and redeemed his people.
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us
   in the house of his servant David,
as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets which have been since the world began,
   that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hands of all that hate us.
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers,
   and to remember his holy covenant,
to perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham,
   that he would give us, that we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
   before him all the days of our life.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest;
   for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation unto his people
   for the remission of their sins:
through the tender mercy of our God,
   whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us,
to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
   and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Benedictus in F, Edward Elgar (1857–1934)

All stand. The Right Reverend Anthony Ball, Canon Rector, announces the Gospel, Luke 1: 26–38

The Lord be with you
and also with you.

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke.
Glory to you, O Lord.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, 'Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.' But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.' Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.' Then Mary said, 'Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.' Then the angel departed from her.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Praise to you, O Christ.

All remain standing to sing the Hymn, during which the congregation extinguish their candles

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
   born to set thy people free,
from our fears and sins release us;
   let us find our rest in thee.

Israel's strength and consolation,
   hope of all the earth thou art,
dear desire of every nation,
   joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
   born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us for ever,
   now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit,
   rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit,
   raise us to thy glorious throne.

Words: Charles Wesley (1707–88)
Tune: 'Cross of Jesus' from 'The Crucifixion' John Stainer (1840–1901) descant by Christopher Robinson

All sit. The Reverend Dr James Hawkey, Canon Theologian and Almoner, reads the sixth Reading, 1 Peter 1: 3–5, 13–14; 4: 13

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

Thanks be to God.

The choir sings the Anthem

Virga Jesse floruit: virgo Deum et hominem genuit: pacem Deus reddidit, in se reconcilians ima summis. Alleluia!

The shoot of Jesse has flowered: a virgin has brought forth God and man: God has restored peace, reconciling heaven and earth in himself. Alleluia!

Words: after Isaiah 11 and Colossians 1: 20
Music: Anton Bruckner (1824–96)

The Sacrist sings the Collect

Let us pray.

All stand

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

The Canon in Residence introduces the Lord's Prayer

Longing for the renewal of creation and seeking the peace of Christ's kingdom, we are bold to pray,

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

The Canon in Residence pronounces the Blessing

Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you, scatter the darkness from before your path, and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

All sing the Hymn

LO! he comes with clouds descending,
   once for favoured sinners slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
   swell the triumph of his train:
   God appears, on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him
   robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
   pierced and nailed him to the tree,
      deeply wailing,
   shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
   still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
   to his ransomed worshippers:
      with what rapture
   gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! let all adore thee,
   high on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory:
   claim the kingdom for thine own:
      O come quickly!
   Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!

Words: 'The kingdom come' Charles Wesley, included in Wesley's 'Select Hymns' 1765
Tune: 'Helmsley' noted by Thomas Olivers (1725–99) descant by Christopher Robinson

Music after the service

Prelude and Fugue in G minor Op 7 no 3,  Marcel Dupré (1886–1971)

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