Monday, 29 November 2021

‘Let us then so celebrate his coming
with our carols and hymns of praise’

‘God … has delivered us from the dominion of darkness’ … Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, in winter lights last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

Patrick Comerford

As the Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, it was a privilege last night to lead the Advent Procession, the traditional Advent Sunday candlelit service of carols and readings.

Also taking part were the Revd Dr Leonard Madden, curate in the Limerick Cathedral group of parishes, the Revd Bernie Daly, who has returned to Limerick for December to assist the clergy team with services and pastoral duties, and Siobhán Wheeler, parish reader in the Rathkeale Group of Parishes, and Peter Barley, who directed the choir, and Irina Dernova, organist.

This is the bidding prayer I used in Saint Mary’s Cathedral last night:

In the name of God, who has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and made a place for us in the kingdom of his beloved Son, we welcome you to Saint Mary’s Cathedral: grace to you and peace. As we meet to celebrate anew the coming of God’s kingdom, we hear revealed the mystery of God’s loving purpose for us – how that when we were far off, he met us in his Son and brought us home; how he humbled himself to take our human nature, that we might share his divine glory.

Let us then so celebrate this coming with our carols and hymns of praise, that our lives may be charged with his life; that we may bear witness to his glory and so bring light to those who sit in darkness. So first we pray for those among whom the Christ was born: the poor and helpless, the aged and young children; the cold, the hungry and the homeless; the victims of poverty, injustice and oppression, the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved; those in despair or in the shadow of death.

Then, as we hear again the message of peace on earth and goodwill among all his people, we pray for the leaders of the nations, this land and those in this city – that all may be inspired to work together for the establishment of justice, freedom and peace the world over.

And that we may bear true witness to this hope in a divided world, we pray for the peace and unity of Christ’s Body, the Church universal, that the whole earth may live to praise his name. Finally, as we rejoice with Mary, Flannan, Brendan and all the saints in heaven and on earth, we remember all who have gone before us with the sign of faith, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we offer up our prayers for the coming of his kingdom, in the words he himself has taught us, saying:

Our Father …

The bidding prayer in its original form was written by Eric Milner-White, Dean of King’s College, Cambridge, who introduced the Lessons and Carols service there on Christmas Eve 1918 with these words:

Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmastide our care and delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.

Therefore 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.

But first, let us pray for the needs of the whole world; for peace on earth and goodwill among all his people; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build, and especially in this our diocese.

And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us remember, in his name, the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and them that mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and the little children; all those 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 are one forevermore.

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

Our Father …

This prayer has been described as ‘the greatest addition to the Church of England’s liturgy since the Book of Common Prayer.’

In some versions, the prayer for ‘all those who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love’ has been dropped.

The phrase ‘upon another shore, and in a greater light’ may make us think at this time, with travel restrictions and fears about the Covid-19 pandemic, about friends and family who are no longer with us. But Eric Milner-White was thinking of those who are dead. He had served as an army chaplain in World War I before his return to King’s College, and, as he wrote those words, he surely had in mind the hundreds of thousands of people who never returned home from the trenches of Europe.

Eric Milner Milner-White (1884-1963) read history at King’s College, Cambridge, and graduated in 1906 with a double-first as well as receiving the Lightfoot Scholarship. After theological training at Cuddesdon College, Oxford, he was ordained deacon in 1908 and priest in 1909 at Southwark Cathedral. He was a curate in Saint Paul’s, Newington, and Saint Mary Magdalen, Woolwich, before returning to King’s College, Cambridge, as chaplain in 1912, and was also a lecturer in history at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

During World War I, he was an army chaplain on the Western Front and in the Italian Campaign. On resigning his commission, he returned to Cambridge, where he became the Dean and a Fellow of King’s College.

In 1941, Milner-White was appointed Dean of York. There he directed the replacement of many of York Minster’s windows and wrote extensively on liturgy, including My God My Glory, and was a member of the team that produced the New English Bible. He died in the deanery at York Minster on 15 June 1963.

He is best remembered for introducing the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in the Chapel of King’s College. His experience as an army chaplain led him to believe that more imaginative worship was needed by the Church of England, and the first Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s was held on Christmas Eve 1918. The order of service was adapted from the order created by Edward Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, for Truro Cathedral on Christmas Eve 1880.

That first service at King’s largely followed Benson’s original plan, including the Benedictions before each reading, several of which were later amalgamated by Milner-White into his Bidding Prayer.

The service was first broadcast from King’s by the BBC in 1928 and, except for 1930, it has been broadcast every year since. Even throughout World War II, despite the stained glass having been removed from King’s Chapel and the lack of heating, the broadcasts continued.

Since World War II, it has been estimated that each year millions of listeners worldwide listen to the service live on the BBC.

This is the version of the Bidding Prayer I have used in Askeaton:

Beloved, be it this Christmas Time 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 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 Church, dedicated to Mary, his most blessed Mother, glad with our carols of praise:

But first let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build, and especially in this our land, Ireland:

And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and those who 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 one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one. These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself has taught us:

Our Father …

The Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge … the Advent bidding prayer was first used here in 1918 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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