My favorite piece of liturgy in the world is a sentence in the opening section of the Traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast round the world on the BBC.
Why is it so moving? Because it is beautiful and true. Each year, as more and more of those I know join the saints in light, this single portion of the prayer becomes more and more evocative of the power of Gospel hope. Somehow, hope returns, over and over, to be the most powerful gift of the Gospel for me in this life.
The entire opening is work of art in language, but the moving line for me is in boldface:
The Dean: Beloved in Christ, be it this Christmas Eve 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 with the Magi adore the Child lying in his Mother’s arms.
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 chapel, dedicated to his pure and lowly 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, within the dominions of our sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth, within this University and City of Cambridge, and in the two royal and religious Foundations of King Henry VI here and at Eton:
And 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 them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all who know not the loving kindness of God.
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 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 hath taught us:
All: Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us; And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.
The Dean: The Almighty God bless us with his grace: Christ give us the joys of everlasting life: and unto the fellowship of the citizens above may the King of Angels bring us all.