A Bidding Prayer for Epiphany

Some churches have services of lessons and carols in Advent or Epiphany and as is common for such services during Christmas these are introduced by a bidding prayer. The Book of Occasional Services of the Episcopal Church provides a prayer for such a service during Advent on page 20, but not one for Epiphany.

For years, I have been impressed with the prayer that St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue in New York City uses for its Epiphany Procession. This service is held annually on the first Sunday after Epiphany on which the church’s boy choristers have returned from their Christmas holiday. The readings in the service honor the old understanding that the feast of Epiphany points to three mysteries in which Jesus’ identity was disclosed to the world. These are not only the visit of the magi to Jesus and his family in Bethlehem, but also his baptism by John in the Jordan, and his miracle at the wedding feast of Cana.

The form of this prayer is closely based on the bidding prayer used for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, written in 1918 by Eric Milner-White. (See this post for my reflections on this prayer.) Rather than Christmas Eve, however, it reflects the occasion of the Epiphany by mentioning the new year, inviting the new congregation to read and mark the three “stories of the revelation of Christ’s glory” mentioned above, and by bidding prayers for travelers (reflecting the wise men’s journey), as well as for the members of the church to reflect the light of Christ to the world.

Here is the text of the prayer as used on January 12, 2020, with N. replacing the first names of the individuals mentioned.

Beloved in Christ, as we begin a new year of our Lord in this season of Epiphany, let read and mark in the holy Gospels the stories of the revelation of Christ’s glory, his manifestation to the Magi by the leading of a star, his baptism in the River Jordan, and his first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And let us make this place resound in the beauty of holiness with our anthems and carols of praise.

But first, let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for the mission and unity of the Church for which he died, and especially in this country and within this city.

And let us pray for the ministers of God’s holy word and sacraments; for N. the presiding bishop; N., our bishop; N. his suffragan and N. his assistant, that they may minister faithful and wisely the discipline of Christ; likewise for all priests, deacons, laypeople, and religious, and more especially for the clergy and people of this parish that they may shine as lights in the world and in all things may adorn the doctrine of God our savior.

Let us pray also for all who travel by land, sea, or air. For all refugees, prisoners, and victims of warfare, violence, or discrimination, poverty, famine, and disaster. For all who are in sickness or sorrow, for all who are fallen into grievous sin. For all who through temptation, ignorance, helplessness, grief, trouble, or dread, or the near approach of death especially need our prayers. Let us remember also all those who have died.

Finally, let us yield unto God most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all his saints, who have been the chosen vessels of his grace and the light of the world in their several generations; and pray unto God that we may have grace to pattern our lives after their good examples; that, this life ended, we may be partakers with them of the glorious resurrection and the life everlasting. And now, let us sum up all our prayer and petitions in the words our savior Christ himself hath taught us.

Windows depicting the three mysteries of Christ’s Baptism, Adoration by the Magi, and Miracle at Cana; windows designed by Katherine Lamb Tait, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Homewood Alabama.

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