Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time,
with one accord to make our common supplications to you;
and you have promised through your well-beloved Son
that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will grant their requests:
Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us;
granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.
As the name indicates, this prayer’s earliest-known appearance is in the Eastern Orthodoxy Liturgies of St. John Chrysostom and Saint Basil, at the end of their Entrance Rites. It first came to Anglican liturgy at the end of Archbishop Cranmer’s Litany of 1544, before the first Prayer Book was compiled. It was removed from the Litany in the American Prayer Books of 1928 and 1979, and the 2019 Prayer Book has followed suit. This prayer was added to the Daily Office in the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637, and then the English Book of 1662, where it has remained all subsequent Prayer Books, albeit rendered as optional starting in 1892.
In 1979 several wording changes were introduced. In part this was to align the text with the primary Scriptural reference (Matthew 18:19-20), as well as to conform more closely to the Eastern liturgy from which Cranmer originally drew this prayer. This revised phrase, “you will be in the midst of them” has been rolled back in our present version: “you will grant their requests.” Although the 1979 revision matches the biblical text, the historic Prayer Book wording matches the liturgical purpose of the prayer in its specific context. At the end of a worship service or liturgy, assurance of God’s answering of prayer is more appropriate than assurance of the presence of the Lord.
This ancient prayer draws together two sayings of Jesus: Matthew 18:19-20 (“where two or three are gathered”) and John 14:13-14 (“if you ask me anything in my name, I will do it”). Functionally, this prayer is akin to the shorter Occasional Prayers #98, 99, and 100, though its specific appeal to the prayers of the church gathered makes it particularly appropriate for the public liturgy of the Church. In that light, the rubric rendering it optional in American Prayer Books since 1928 is probably a concession for instances where the Office is said by an individual in private.
To offer God “our common supplications” is described here as a gift of grace – liturgy and worship are not so much the efforts of man as they are the power of God in us. And even the power of prayer itself is based on the promises of Christ. In short, this prayer both humbles us and encourages us, as we rehearse the basic theology of prayer: God commands it, God empowers it, God fulfills it. And even when we get it wrong, we simply hope that God will answer “as may be best for us”, which is spelled out as knowledge of his truth and life everlasting. If we come away from the Daily Office remembering nothing else, that desire for divine knowledge and life will be enough.