Bidding Prayer at Nine Lessons and Carols: A Milder Version from 1992

As I discussed in an earlier post, the bidding prayer which traditionally opens the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve at King’s College, Cambridge has varied a bit over the past century. (If you have stumbled on this post looking for the text for use in your own churches I recommend consulting either the Book of Occasional Services (1979/2018) (pages 33-34) of the Episcopal Church or Common Worship: Times and Seasons (2006) of the Church of England.)

I recently came across a video recording on YouTube of the service from 1992. The bidding proclaimed there by the Reverend Dr. George Pattison, dean of King’s College, is a good example of versions in the late twentieth-century that took the edge off the prayer’s frank acknowledgement of sin. It runs as follows:

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels, in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and with the shepherds and the wise men adore the child lying in his mother’s arms.

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; and let us make this Chapel, dedicated to his pure and lowly Mother, glad with our carols of praise:

But first, let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace on earth and goodwill overall the earth; for unity and fellowship within the Church he came to build, within the dominions of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth, within this University and City of Cambridge, and in the two royal and religious Foundations of King Henry VI here and at Eton:

And because it would rejoice his heart, let us remember at this time the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus.

Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we forevermore are one.

These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us:

The most striking change in this version is that the bidding to pray for “all who know
not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love” has been shorted to simply “all who known not the Lord Jesus.” Perhaps the concern was that people might turn off the television at the mention of sin.

Another change appears designed to allude to the painting over the chapel’s altar. Thanks to the camera, it is clearly visible to viewers at several points in the service. It would not be as visible to most of the worshipers in the chapel. The painting is the Adoration of the Magi by Rubens. Here, as is typical for this scene, Mary holds out Jesus before the Wise Men and they kneel in adoration. An so Dr. Pattison changed the usual invitation to worshipers to see “the Babe lying in a manger” to an invitation to “with the shepherds and the wisemen adore the child lying in his mother’s arms.” In my earlier post, I noted the appropriateness of adapting the prayer to particular situations. This is a good example of that.

Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi, 1633-34

The following copy of the 1992 prayer compares it to the more traditional version (taken from the 2019 service leaflet). Additions are in bold. Deletions are struck through.

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and with the shepherds and the wise men adore the Child lying in his mother’s arms the Babe lying in a manger.

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; and let us make this Chapel, dedicated to Mary his pure and lowly most blessed Mother, glad with our carols of praise:

But first, let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace on earth and goodwill overall the earth; for unity and fellowship brotherhood within the Church he came to build, within the dominions of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth, within this University and City of Cambridge, and in the two royal and religious Foundations of King Henry VI here and at Eton:

And because this of all things it would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember at this time the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.

Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we forevermore are one.

These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself hath taught us:

(Pattison’s 1992 prayer was more in keeping with earlier traditions of the prayer in describing Mary as “pure and lowly” rather than the more biblical phrase “most blessed” which is now in use.)

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