This Christmas Eve for the second year in a row, the dean of King’s College, Cambridge, will bid people in his chapel and around the world assembled to celebrate a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols saying, “But first let us pray for peace and health over all the earth.”
The famous bidding prayer written in 1918 by Eric Milner-White has changed in subtle ways over the years. But from 1918 to 2019, the second bidding (after “to pray for the needs of he whole world”) was to pray for “peace and goodwill.” Last year, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that caused the service to be recorded in an empty chapel, Dean Stephen Cherry opted to replace “peace and goodwill” with “peace and health.”
A lesser liturgist would have just added “goodwill” forming a triad of “peace, goodwill, and health.” But that does not direct as much attention to health as is achieved by using it instead of the familiar “goodwill,” In liturgical writing replacement is generally better than addition.
Rest assured “goodwill,” which figures prominently in the King James Version’s translation of Luke 2:14, “and on earth peace, good will toward men,” is not banished from the prayer, It now occurs in the next phrase where “for unity and brotherhood within the Church” was changed to “for unity and goodwill within the Church.“ Yet, since most modern translations of Luke 2:14 do not use the word phrase “good will” it doesn’t need to be in the prayer at all.
Local churches need to catch up to King’s. Most of them (including my own) rely on versions of the bidding prayer published in standard liturgical resources such as the Episcopal Church’s Book of Occasional Services (1979/2018) (pages 33-34) of the Church of England’s Common Worship: Times and Seasons (2006). These are necessary guides on how to customize the site-specific nature of the King’s prayer to other locations. They also incorporate some of their own updates. For example, The Episcopal Church’s text bids prayers for “the unity and mission of the Church.” But with its petitions for “health” as well as the “exploited” and the “isolated,” the King’s prayer as used for the past two years deserves another look by congregations establishing their own prayer texts.
The full text can be found in the order of service for the 2021 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on pages 6 and 7. It is available from King’s on this page.
My previous essays on bidding prayers are available here.