Earlier this week, Archbishop Beach released an excellent statement regarding the Church’s response to the COVID-19 scare that is encircling the globe.  You can read that in full at this link, and I encourage you to do so if you haven’t already.  I’d like to highlight one thing in particular that he said about prayer:

The Book of Common Prayer offers on page 269 a list of suggested Psalms on many helpful themes, including God’s sovereignty, providence and mercy, trust in God, and living faithfully in times of trouble. If reading from the Psalms is not a part of your daily prayers, try turning to one of these psalms each day to keep your heart focused on the Lord and his presence and care.

This is in reference to the 2019 Prayer Book.  Page 269 is an index of Psalms pertinent to various topics.  The ones he mentioned are:

  • God’s Sovereignty: 24, 93, 46, 47, 72, 89, 96, 97, 98, 99, 112, 146, 145
  • God’s Providence: 23, 121, 33, 34, 124, 89, 139, 145, 146, 147
  • God’s Mercy: 23, 100, 32, 130, 57, 61, 62, 63, 73, 77, 85, 86, 103, 118. 145
  • Trust in God: 27, 31, 57, 146, 62, 63, 71, 73, 77, 91, 118, 121, 124, 125, 123, 143
  • In Time of Trouble: 3, 11, 12, 13, 18, 20, 46, 30, 146, 40, 49, 57, 85, 62, 63, 80, 86, 90, 107, 118, 144

You’ll notice that these lists don’t put the Psalms in numerical order, but jump around a bit.  And, by way of background, this “Selection of Psalms” resource is found, almost identical, in the 1928 Prayer Book (on page ix), so this indicates that the out-of-order listing is not a typo but a sign that they’re ordered by relevance rather than by number.

He also closed the statement with this prayer:

Almighty God, our strong tower of defense in time of trouble: We offer you praise and heartfelt thanks for our deliverance from the dangers which lately surrounded us and for your gracious gift of peace. We confess that your goodness alone has preserved us; and we ask you still to continue your mercies toward us, that we may always know and acknowledge you as our Savior and mighty Deliverer; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer is #123 “For Deliverance from Peril” on page 683, and sets an example for us all: we ought to make use of the Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings in this time of public anxiety and concern.  Whether you are particularly fearful or particularly complacent, this is an excellent and important time for the Church to “be” the Church at prayer, and call upon God to halt the advance of this virus strain.

RESOURCES FOR PRIVATE DEVOTIONS

A few Psalms stand out from the several topics listed by our Archbishop.

  • On four lists: 146
  • On three lists: 57, 62, 63, 118, 145
  • On two lists: 23, 46, 73, 77, 85, 86, 89, 121, 124

During private prayers, make particular note and use of these prayers.

If and when any of these Psalms show up in the liturgy (I know at least Psalms 118 and 23 will appear during Eastertide, and 121 and 124 are in Midday Prayer) make particular note of them, to yourself and to others.

RESOURCES FOR THE DAILY OFFICE

Pray the Great Litany.  Traditionally it was expected after Morning Prayer every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Include the “Supplication” at its ending, especially during Lent.  Seriously, even the modern Prayer Book identifies it as particularly appropriate in “times of crisis”, and no serious praying Anglican should overlook this powerful resource.

Several Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings, starting on page 646, are appropriate to times such as this.  If you don’t already make regular use of them, look particularly at:

  • #5 For the Spirit of Prayer
  • #26 In Times of Natural Disaster
  • #30 For Civil Authorities
  • #44 In Times of Social Conflict or Unrest
  • #45 For those who serve others
  • #50 For the Medical Professions
  • #51 For those who inform public opinion
  • #53 For those who travel
  • #56 For the elderly
  • #57 For those with chronic disease
  • #58 For a person in trouble or bereavement
  • #59 For the Discouraged and Downcast
  • #61 For the Recovery of a Sick Person
  • #76 & 77 For Guidance
  • #79 For Mercy
  • #80 For Trustfulness in Times of Worry and Anxiety
  • #81 For Help to Bear Bereavement
  • #82 For Quiet Confidence
  • #95 In Times of Suffering or Weakness
  • #98 & 99 For the Acceptance of Prayer
  • #100 For the Answering of Prayer
  • #106 For Spiritual Communion (if you’re staying home on a Sunday)
  • #123 For Deliverance from Peril
  • #124 For the Restoration of Health

Pray any number of these after the three Collects in Morning or Evening Prayer, or as the Additional Prayers at Midday or Compline.

RESOURCES FOR THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

I know I was partly goofing around a couple weeks ago when I wrote here about re-writing the Prayers of the People, but amidst the light-heartedness were some serious possibilities which we may want to take into account.  If you’re a worship planner in your congregation, take especial look at the Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings listed above, and talk to your Rector or Vicar about using them in the Prayers on Sunday mornings.

The simplest way to implement them, and least disruptive to the liturgy of the 2019 Prayer Book, would be to have the person reading the prayers (or the celebrant) read two or three of the above prayers after the regular petitions of the Prayers of the People.  If you’re in a 1928 Prayer Book parish, there is a separate space in the liturgy, adjacent to the sermon, where the priest may bid special prayers, and thus offer these.  You could even include a Psalm to be prayed or read at this point, but that might be over-stretching the liturgical context.

Ultimately you need to gauge the situation and disposition of the congregation.  If they are fearful, emphasize prayers of trust and entreaty.  If they’re especially fearful, make the extra step of putting a prayer or two into the liturgy such that they read it aloud with you.  One of the beauties of the Prayer Book tradition is that we can literally put spiritual resources not only into the laps of the people, but into their very mouths!

BONUS ROUND: from the 1662 Prayer Book

The 1662 Prayer Book does not have nearly as many “Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings” as modern books do, but among its number is this gem.  It may feel over-the-top to our post-modern sensibilities, but its rich biblical imagery is hard to beat.  And, when push comes to shove, we are all still pretty vulnerable to sudden death, despite the improvements of medicine and sanitation since the 17th century.

In the time of any common Plague or Sickness.

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in the time of king David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest: Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Obviously, if you’re in a contemporary-language-liturgy congregation, you will probably need to modernize the idiom so that the people hearing this prayer will have a better opportunity to digest it.  But give it consideration, too.  After all, there has long been understood to be a link between sickness and sinfulness, even if the cause-and-effect relationship is not as straightforward as some would assume.  Perhaps this prayer will prompt you or others to turn to the Rites of Healing – of the anointing the sick and the reconciliation of a penitent, and give renewed consideration to one’s standing before God?  That’s why I included some penitential prayers in the earlier list (especially #79 For Mercy), after all.

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