Cathedral Services

Cathedral Services

In the Victorian era there were more services each Sunday than there are today.  There was a service of Communion at 8.00 am, Morning Prayer at 11.00 am followed by Communion and Evening Prayer at 3.30 pm and 7.00 pm.  There was also an additional Communion service at 7.00 am on the second Sunday of each month.  Sermons were preached at the 11.00 am, 3.30 pm and 7.00 pm services.  During the week, including Saturdays, there were services of Communion at 8.00 am, Morning Prayer at 11.00 am and Evening Prayer at 5.00 pm.  Details of the hymns, settings and anthems to be sung during the month were published in the magazine.

Members of the congregation were expected to bring their own hymn books. This is made clear in the very first magazine in January 1879 under the heading of “Congregational Singing”.

“The Hymn Book used is the new addition of Ancient and Modern.  The pointing for the Canticles and Psalms is Elvey’s.  We hope that those who can afford to buy it (price 2s. 6d., to be obtained from Messrs. Grant and Son, Princes Street, or Messrs. Hamilton and Müller, George Street) will do so, in order that by singing the correct pointing they may help to make the service really hearty, whilst incorrect pointing is too liable to create confusion, and make the words unintelligible.”

However, as not everybody could afford to buy a hymn book and psalter, a “generous friend” funded the cost of having the words of the hymns and psalms due to be sung at the evening services printed and distributed for a period of three months starting in October 1895.  An appeal was made for other members of the congregation to contribute towards the cost of providing hymn sheets for the following year up to Easter – the cost of doing this was given as about 12s for each Sunday.  However this seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as a further appeal was made in the December Monthly Paper.

There are several articles covering special services such as Christmas and Easter usually focusing on what the clergy considered to be poor congregational turnout.  The number of communicants attending the Christmas services was a particular concern. The 1887 Christmas celebrations with 858 communicants set a standard that the following years had trouble matching and it was also reported that Matins and Evening Prayer that day had been so well attended that many people were forced to stand throughout the service!  It also mentioned that the Bishop was the Celebrant at the morning Communion service “and wore his cope at this service, thereby making a link with many English Cathedrals where the cope is always worn by the Bishop of the diocese when he celebrates the Holy Eucharist in his own Cathedral.”  One possible reason for the good turnout that year could have been that Christmas Day fell on a Sunday.

In 1888 there were 602 communicants. This increased to 644 in 1889.  In an effort to improve numbers further, the December 1890 Monthly Paper made it clear that “There is no reason why there should be 400 fewer Communicants on Christmas Day than on Easter Day, which is generally the case with us at the Cathedral; last year there were not 700 Communicants on Christmas Day itself.”  The fact that members of the congregation would usually have to work on Christmas Day seemed, in the eyes of the clergy, not to be an excuse for not attending the Cathedral.  Services of Communion at 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. were expressly arranged to enable those working on Christmas Day to make their Communion in the early morning.  “The 5 a.m. Celebration is provided for the benefit of the laity who have to work, and not for the amusement or employment of the Clergy, who would have a long day even without this service.  Instead of the usual 20 or 30 who come, there might easily be 200 at the very least, if the laity responded to their duty.  Will not some of our working friends respond to this invitation, and make use of the opportunity this year, and show they appreciate the chance given of this early Communion.”

This exhortation did not have the desired effect as this extract from January 1891 shows.

“At the 5 a.m. Celebration there was 34 communicants, being exactly the same number as last year.  At 7 a.m. there were 130 communicants; but it was at 8 a.m. that there was a fairly large increase.  During the day there were 654 communicants, and with those who have made their Communion during the Octave, and the sick, the number is brought up to 700 or 710.  There is still room for an improvement, for if 1100 can come at Easter-tide, there ought to be 1100 also at Christmas-tide.  There are 300 or 400 who have clearly broken the plainest of the rubrics in the Book of Common Prayer, which orders, “That every Parishioner shall communicate three times in the year, of which, Easter to be one.”  Clearly, Christmas comes next!

In January 1892 it was reported that “some 105 large firms appended their names to a list of those who were ready to close their place of business; and, no doubt, next year the list will again be larger and more characteristic of Edinburgh citizenship.”  The point was made, however, that this extra holiday could result in “an increase in the consumption of strong drink and unrestrained morals”.

This reservation seemed to be based on what was happening south of the border. “An English Good Friday turned into a day of revelry is even worse than a Scottish New Year’s Day, with its train of drunkenness and immorality.”    It was not until 1958 that Christmas Day became a public holiday in Scotland.

In April 1885 the clergy were concerned about a deficit of £116 [about £15,800 today] in the Cathedral’s finances, and expressed the hope that the Easter Offertory would be especially good.  This plea was successful as a total of 1,146 communicants attended the various Easter Communion services.  However, the question was asked in the May edition as to where these people had been the rest of the year!

An interesting article printed in April 1898 sets down how the congregation should conduct themselves when receiving communion.

“Services, etc., for Easter Day.

The following hints are given in the hope of securing greater orderliness in the chancel: –

  1. Communicants must approach the alter rails by the centre passage; not by the side gates.
  2. They should advance in lines, on either side of the passage, keeping their place in the line until they reach the lower steps of the sanctuary.
  3. They should come forward as soon as the celebrant begins to hand the vessels to the assistant clergy; but members of the choir who communicate at the choral celebrations should be allowed to return to the stalls before the other communicants advance beyond the centre of the choir stalls.
  4. In retiring from the altar rails all (except members of the choir) must pass out from the sanctuary by the side gates, and return to their places.
  5. No one should rise from kneeling at the altar rail until the clergyman has finished administering the cup to the person next on the right.

It is not unnecessary for a reminder to be given that persons who enter the Church too late to hear the Gospel for the day, ought not to come forward to receive the Holy Communion on that occasion. Nor should any who have communicated leave the Church until the Benediction has been pronounced.  When exceptional circumstances, such as care of the sick, etc., necessitate an earlier departure, then at least the remaining prayers should be read over privately before leaving the Church.”

A poor turnout at Whitsun 1888 provoked this strongly worded article in the June 1888 Monthly Paper.  The use of upper-case letters in the heading emphasises the seriousness of this matter.


At the three celebrations on Whitsun Day there were only 360 communicants.  This was a slight increase upon last year; but in spite of this attendance was very far below what it should have been.  The rubric at the end of the Communion Service expressly orders – ‘And note, that every parishioner shall communicate AT THE LEAST three times in the year, of which Easter is to be one.’

Although there is a silence regarding the two other days for Communion (expected and required of all Churchpeople) the Anglican Church has a clear unwritten rule that the two other feasts are Christmas Day and Whitsun Day.  It is only in the Roman Church that one Communion (to be made during the octave of Easter) suffices for Church membership; and we are sorry to say that there are many who evidently are satisfied if they fulfill this requirement of a foreign church, for there are numbers in our congregation who communicate but once a year, and that on Easter Day.”

The Cathedral celebrated Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in June 1887 and the event was covered in the July magazine.  The service itself, which was a Diocesan celebration, was well received with the Cathedral choir being supplemented by choirs from other churches in the Diocese as well as an orchestra. However, what should have been a joyous occasion seemed to have had some underlying niggles as shown in the following extract!

“The offertory reached £33, and an analysis of the coins is published on anther page, from which it may be seen that 1500 people contributed; as there were certainly some 1800 people present, a great many gave nothing whatever to the offertory.  We fear that there has been some annoyance caused to members of the Cathedral congregation concerning the tickets for reserved chairs; but we may remind such as are aggrieved, that it was a service for the Diocese, and not for one congregation alone; and had tickets been given to all Cathedral worshippers, there would have been a “bitter cry” from the Diocese!”

Next: Finances

Iain Morrison Hon. Archivist.

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