Bidding Prayer for 2020 Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols Reflects Pandemic

“For peace and health over all the earth . . .”

The global pandemic from Covid-19 is reshaping countless Christmas traditions, including the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, and its iconic bidding prayer. As usual the service will be broadcast around the world by the BBC and others on December 24 at 3 p.m. GMT (10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time), but it will not be live. It has been recorded. Also, the petitions of the bidding prayer have been adjusted to reflect the concerns of this year.

As I detailed in a post last year, the bidding prayer has subtly changed since first written by Eric Milner-White in 1918. Some of the changes were to improve its form, others have reflected changes in theology. Yet this is the first time in roughly a decade that the prayer has been altered.

Whereas previously prayers were bid for “for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and
brotherhood within the Church,” this year’s text bids prayers for “for peace and health over all the earth; for unity and goodwill within the Church.” In the next paragraph before the traditional bidding for “the lonely and the unloved,” the reality of quarantine and lock-down is acknowledged with a remembrance of “the isolated.”

Other alterations relate not to Covid-19, but to other concerns and language changes. “The aged” are now referred to as “the elderly.” The bidding for “the cold, the hungry and the oppressed,” has been expanded to “the cold and the hungry, the abused, the exploited and the oppressed.”

As is customary, the introduction to the service notes that at the first service in 1918 attendees must have thought of those who died in the recent World War when they heard the words, “all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light.” This year the introduction adds, “When they hear these words, following the extraordinary events of this year, many today might be thinking of a loved one who has died recently.”

The complete bidding prayer appears on pages 6 and 7 of the order of service at this link. Orders of service for the past twenty years may be found here. I pray that next year the service may be held as usual with a full congregation and live broadcast.

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