There is a prayer flitting about the internet these days, “for putting on a face mask.” On the face of it (haha!) this is not necessarily a bad idea; there are several ancient “vesting prayers” said by priests and other ministers as they don their vestments before the Service of Holy Communion. And there are many other prayers and devotions that are meant to “sanctify” the ordinary actions of life. So the idea of a prayer for donning a face mask, if weird, is not in itself a bad one. However, the particular prayer getting a lot of air-time online is not a good example. Here it is:

as I prepare to go into the world,
help me to see the sacrament
in the wearing of this cloth –
let it be “an outward sign
of an inward grace” –
a tangible and visible way
of living love for my neighbours,
as I love myself.

since my lips will be covered,
uncover my heart,
that people would see my smile
in the crinkles around my eyes.
Since my voice may be muffled,
help me to speak clearly,
not only with my words,
but with my actions.

Holy Spirit,
as the elastic touches my ears,
remind me to listen carefully –
and full of care –
to all those I meet.
May this simple piece of cloth
be shield and banner,
and each breath that it holds,
be filled with your love.

In your Name
and in that love,
I pray.

May it be so.
May it be so.

The first problem is the treatment of the Trinity. You can see this in many liberal or progressive churches today: the Father and the Son are regularly neutered and de-personified into mere roles: Creator and Redeemer. Here, the Redeemer is at least “Christ”, but the lack of clarification that the Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was God, is a red flag. After all, in a prayer this long there should definitely be room for him. But he is carefully and intentionally omitted. And it’s worse that the Father (alone) is called “Creator” – although the orthodox faith admits no gender for God the Father, it has always put forth the first person of the Trinity as “The Father”, in line with both Old and New Testament witness. To evade this most basic label is to evade Christian orthodoxy.

The next major no-no here is the assertion of a sacramental nature to wearing a face mask. It is, indeed, an outward sign of an inward love, as we wear masks primarily to prevent ourselves from spreading COVID-19 to others, but love is not grace, at least not in the biblical sense. We are being gracious to others by wearing masks, but we certainly do not confer grace upon anyone else by any action we undertake. Grace in the theological sense is the gift of God alone. This prayer betrays a fatal lack of understanding of grace and sacramentology.

The second stanza, addressed to the nebulous Christ, contains good advice but nothing of theological substance. This is better embroidered on a cross-stitch than uttered as a prayer.

The third stanza, finally, is actually a decent prayer. It may not be in the formal voice that good liturgy strives for, but the sentiment is worthwhile.

But that ending… please don’t pray in the Name of Creator/Christ/Holy Spirit… that’s just not sound theology, liturgical or otherwise.

So, by all means, if you can take ordinary actions and bathe them in prayer, that’s fantastic. Just don’t use this prayer going around, and let us learn from the mistakes of others.

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