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Hallo again to all.

The bidding prayers for Advent Festivals of Lessons and Carols are interesting pieces of theology. Such services are relatively new. We have written about these offices' history in some detail previously, touching on the original Christmas Eve office especially, but we find them doubly intriguing as new pieces of liturgical statement that have already reached the status of traditions. The music is doubtless glorious, but much of it has been our common property for centuries. The office surrounding them less so.

We were once again struck while hearing this section in the bidding prayer of a recent Lessons and Carols office, here in Milner-White's traditional version:

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 hungry and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all those who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.

The contemporary rendering which we heard this morning even more pointedly expressed this, bidding the gathered congregation to pray for the poor and helpless, because Christ 'particularly loves them'. Likewise too does the contemporary rendering from the Church of England's liturgy:

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.*

Looking at this bidding in our Anglican world, it seems to have a clear trajectory. First calling for us to love the unfortunate because it would give joy to God's heart, then the far stronger statements of reminding us that Christ came to the world among the poor and has a particular concern for them.

It gladdens our hearts to see this sort of theological development, for that is what it is. We might dismiss the biddings as mere framework for the glorious song and the familiar standards of Advent, which call us to prepare for Jesus' coming, but we think that does a disservice. Our common liturgical life is how we as Anglicans express what we think about the world, and surely those words must sit at least a bit less comfortably in a well-to-do parish if they are not meeting their needs to the community. If they are meeting those needs (as many a parish rich or poor does), the words stand as a firm reminder of what we as Anglicans think, insofar as a communion so founded upon common worship can be of one mind about anything not among the creedal essentials.

Of course, these services are (relatively) new to us as Anglicans. Perhaps this close reading of a phrase will end up lighting on meaningless details, but we think not. Just as the great collects of the church year end up annotated in scholarly editions and commentaries, perhaps in another century or two, when Lessons and Carols have become even more entrenched, we will see their historical forms studied with care similar to other parts of our patrimony.

Either way, we are confident the music will be splendid and Anglicans will still be striving to believe as they pray.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

10 December 2017

* Bidding Prayer 2, from Carol Services in the Advent Season.

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