Here a Proper Preface is normally sung or said.

Following on the heels of the Sursum Corda, the celebrant comes to the Proper Preface.  Together, this whole sequence forms the “Great Thanksgiving” or prefatory prayers of the Eucharistic Canon.  Make sure you read about the Sursum Corda before reading this, so you have the context settled.

The “Preface” is essentially a single-sentence addition to the Great Thanksgiving.  It specifies a particular reason why it is “right, our duty and our joy always and everywhere to give thanks” to God.  It is called a “Proper” Preface because it is proper to a particular occasion or season.

The 1662 Prayer Book offers five Proper Prefaces:

  1. upon Christmas Day, and seven days after
  2. upon Easter Day, and seven days after
  3. upon Ascension Day, and seven days after
  4. upon Whitsunday, and six days after [that’s Pentecost Week]
  5. upon the Feast of Trinity only

Because there were just five, these were provided directly in the liturgy itself, rather than in an appendix after the main text.  This state of affairs continued until the 1979 Prayer Book brought in a larger number of Proper Prefaces to cover every season of the church year.  I’m assuming these are, for the most part, imported from general Western Catholic practice, and not entirely made up by 1970’s Episcopalian revisionists, though I haven’t personally investigated their history.  Feel free to comment if you know!

Remarkably, the 2019 Prayer Book did not roll back this expansion, but actually added to them.  A few from the 1979 book’s list have been removed, but several more have been added, such that we have 34 Proper Prefaces to choose from!  Before the traditionalists chime in with renewed accusations of choose-your-own-adventure liturgies, however, it should be noted that these are not all “choices”, but Proper to particular occasions.  You can read them in full at this link; here I will just list them:

  1. The Lord’s Day (that is, any Sunday between Trinity and Advent)
  2. At Any Time (these two are for your weekday services not celebrating a saint)
  3. At Any Time
  4. Advent (throughout the season)
  5. Christmas (throughout the season, unless it’s one of the major saints’ days)
  6. Epiphany
  7. Presentation, Annunciation, and Transfiguration (some books nickname this Preface “Theophany”)
  8. Lent
  9. Holy Week
  10. Maundy Thursday
  11. Easter
  12. Ascension (all ten days!)
  13. Pentecost
  14. Trinity Sunday
  15. All Saints’
  16. Christ the King
  17. Apostles and Ordinations (including Ember Days)
  18. Dedication of a Church
  19. Baptism
  20. Holy Matrimony
  21. Burial or Commemoration of the Faithful Departed
  22. Penitential Occasions (because of the reference to the temptation of Jesus, this is a good one to use on the First Sunday of Lent!)
  23. Rogation Days or Thanksgiving Day
  24. Canada Day or Independence Day
  25. Remembrance Day or Memorial Day
  26. Common of a Martyr
  27. Common of a Missionary or Evangelist
  28. Common of a Pastor
  29. Common of a Teacher of the Faith
  30. Common of a Monastic or Religious
  31. Common of an Ecumenist
  32. Common of a Renewer of Society
  33. Common of a Reformer of the Church
  34. Common of Any Commemoration

Those last ones, #26-34, line up with the “Commons of Saints” Collects and lessons.

Now for a big question: How do I know which one to use?

The answer is usually simple: look at the Collect for the Day on pages 598-640.  Underneath each one, it will tell you which Preface to use.  Propers 1 through 28 do not note any Preface, which indicates three things:

  1. You can go with the classical prayer book pattern and not use a Preface at all.
  2. You can use the Lord’s Day Preface if it’s a Sunday.
  3. You can use the “At Any Time” Preface if it’s a weekday.

There, simple, all decided.

Perhaps, on very rare occasions, you may find it appropriate to use a Preface that is not normally appointed.  If the congregation (or greater social context) is experiencing a major crisis or a major celebration, perhaps a more penitential or thankful Preface, respectively, will be appropriate.  But on the whole, the Prefaces are not things to play mix-and-match with; they are Propers, just like the Collects and the Lessons, and are to be used as appointed.  They reinforce the liturgy as it stands; to meddle with them on your own is to seize control of the liturgy beyond your pay-grade, O priest!

And, a word of advice to those who publish service programs or bulletins… don’t make it a habit of including the full text of the Preface.  It’s just one sentence, let the people listen to their priest for ten seconds.  Besides, at certain times of year it changes fairly rapidly, and unless you’re really on top of the liturgy yourself you might make an error with it.  Best leave it in the hands of the celebrant and let him take the blame if something goes wrong! 😉

If you peruse other liturgical books, like the ASB, you will find some more beautiful Prefaces that are not included in the 2019 Prayer Book.  The jury is still out if The Saint Aelfric Customary will recommend any such extra Prefaces.

Praying Amidst an Impeachment Inquiry

I am not one known for being particularly #woke.  Following the news is (for me) a low-priority necessary evil.  There’s a lot of distraction out there, far too much commentary posing as facts, and let’s not even talk about the Comment Sections on news-related websites and social media.  Except this blog; comments here are pretty sparse and polite… thanks for that!  For the politeness I mean, I wouldn’t mind if they were less sparse.  Not that I’m begging.

Anyway, it did not escape my notice that a formal call to investigate the President of the United States of America and his conduct regarding foreign relations and electoral procedures, with an eye toward an impeachment inquiry, has been issued.  I had a few emotional knee-jerk reactions deep down inside, and I’m sure lots of people are going to have much stronger, and more public, reactions to this news also.  So I thought this would be a good thing to address in the realm of liturgy and prayer.

To a large extent, liturgical intercessory prayer is a matter of fill-in-the-blank.  We have a standard collection of prayers that we offer for the state, for society, and for leaders in particular.  On that level, our prayers for the nation do not change just because the word “impeachment” is officially on the table in Washington D.C.  We must not, on the one hand, devolve into that silly “sports fan” scenario of prayer, pray that we crush the Angry Orange Man of Doom.  Nor must we, on the other hand, devolve into that nationalism-over-faith sort of idolatry that we’ve seen from certain health-wealth and pentecostal extremes lately, and pray The Lord’s Anointed will be protected from such a demonic assault.  No, the President is still the President, and the inquiry is a perfectly legal procedure, whatever our personal opinions may be about either.  And so on one level we must continue to pray as we always pray:

We pray that you will lead the nations of the world in the way of righteousness; and so guide and direct their leaders, especially Donald Trump, our President, that your people may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace.  Grant that our leaders may impartially administer justice, uphold integrity and truth, restrain wickedness and vice, and protect true religion and virtue.

2019 BCP, page 110

What does change is the context of our prayers, rather than the content.  With this new inquiry in mind, we must be sure we heartily pray for:

  1. impartially administer[ed] justice” – that these proceedings will go forward wisely, without assumption of guilt without evidence, and without scorn of evidence without analysis;
  2. uphold[ing] integrity and truth” – that all involved will proceed with due dignity and gravity of the task before them, without bombast or frivolity, and earnestly seeking the truth of the matter;
  3. restrain[ment of] wickedness and vice” – if the President is guilty of crimes that he will be held accountable for them; that the proceedings will not be sullied by ad hominem tactics, and our observation will not be an occasion for sin;
  4. and the “protect[ion of] true religion and virtue” – referencing James 1:27 as well as the general plea for clear heads and pure hearts to prevail.

These are four of the major purposes of earthly governments, as we understand the teaching in the Scriptures, and we ought to keep these in mind as we pray.  Whether you want to see Trump out of the White House for good, or whether you want him to remain there, in prayer we learn to set our political preferences aside and come before the Father with a more pure request: to fulfill his Word, to mete out judgement in his own time and on his own terms, and to deliver each of us from temptation and evil in the midst of all this.

We’ve also got Occasional Prayers #29, 30, 33, 37, 38, and 39 on pages 654-7 to help spell this out further.  Resist the temptation to go on internet rampages; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Praying concerning 9/11

The 11th of September has been dubbed “Patriot Day” by the US government, but is popularly known simply as “9/11”, and it commemorates those who lost or gave their lives on this day back in 2001 when four airplanes were hijacked by terrorists and used as weapons against iconic American buildings.  (Those of us in Massachusetts are perhaps especially resistant to the name “Patriot Day” because we already have a state holiday called “Patriots Day” which commemorates the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, close to April 19th.)

The American Church is not required to observe this day, of course, being a minor national observance.  But although it is of lowly status compared to other national days such as Independence Day, it is a day that weighs heavily on many of our hearts.  Ask someone “where they were on September 11th” and you’ll usually get a vivid answer (provided you ask someone who’s not much younger than 30).  This being the case, it will probably “feel right” bring this into our prayer life today.  Let’s explore some possibilities.

Occasional Prayers #27 & 28 for the Peace of the World are good places to start.  #33 for our Enemies is also an important prayer to take up, lest old anger set in.  Any other prayer for the nation in that section could be appropriate for today, as we take in the scope of how 9/11 impacted civil and foreign policy, and the way we’ve looked at ourselves and the rest of the world ever since.  More generally, #40 for all sorts and conditions of men is a traditional prayer recommended for Morning Prayer, and although it is more sweeping in scope and generic in the specifics, it can be helpful for putting things in context and perspective.

If you want to make a bigger splash in your prayers today, so to speak, pray the great Litany, making sure to include the “Supplication” section at the end.  Wednesday is one of the traditional days of the week that the Litany was appointed to be said anyway, so this is definitely worth considering.

Book Review: Shorter Christian Prayer

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

My first exposure to liturgical worship was when I played piano for Mass at a Roman Catholic church during my undergraduate years.  The beauty and purpose of liturgy didn’t really strike me until after I graduated, but during that time I did gradually get used to the different “style” of prayer involved and got curious enough to join a brief service of Vespers, which is akin to our Evening Prayer service except that it’s all psalmody and prayer with only one few-verse Scripture reading.  We did this ten-minute liturgy from a little red book called Shorter Christian Prayer, which is a compact and simplified version of the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours that forms the full current Roman Breviary (Daily Office).  When I graduated, I bought my own copy and used it sporadically during the summer and into my first year of seminary.

Shorter Christian Prayer was for me a gentle introduction to the discipline of daily prayer.  The Anglican Daily Office is much longer and more robust – definitely a healthier spiritual diet, but there’s a lot more to bite off.  This Roman book was like a stepping-stone on the path toward the real deal.  It features a four-week rotation of psalms, which is close to our Prayer Book period of time, except this doesn’t manage to include all 150 psalms, even with a separate Night Office included.

Functionally, this book is tricky to use; you need to use it with someone who knows what they’re doing with it first, before forging off on your own.  It’s very compact, abbreviating things as much as possible, printing the “Ordinary” (unchanging) elements in one place, the four-week-rotating elements in another section, and the seasonal “propers” in a third section.  The Morning & Evening Gospel Canticles (Benedictus and Magnificat) are printed on the inside front & back covers, respectively, for ease of access.  It all makes sense once you understand the system, but the learning curve is unpleasant.  I don’t think I ever quite used this book right when I actually used it, ca. 2008.

shorter-christian-prayer

Look at the Evening Prayer service start here.  Those opening sentences are short for: “God, come to my assistance.”  “Lord, make haste to help me.”  “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”  “As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.  Alleluia.”

A hymn follows, and there’s an appendix of hymns in the back (lyrics only).  Then you get the psalms.  To decipher what you see there on pages 208-209, there is an antiphon, followed by the Psalm (123), the “Glory to the Father,” then a psalm-prayer, then you repeat the antiphon.  Then you repeat that sequence with the next psalm (124).

There is often a third psalm or canticle from elsewhere in Scripture, followed by a reading (which is barely ever more than 5 verses long).  A brief responsory follows, which is sort of like an antiphonal prayer, then the Gospel Canticle (of Mary, in Evening Prayer here), with its own antiphon again.  Then follow intercessions which are like our suffrages, wrapped up with the Lord’s Prayer, a concluding prayer, and the concluding blessing.  You can get through all this in ten minutes or less, where the Anglican Daily Office is typically twice that length at least.  And yet, the Roman office manages to be more complicated in a shorter amount of time.

Visibly, this book is attractively bound and its use of red ink for rubrics and black ink for text-to-be-read-aloud is very helpful.  The typeface and artistry smack of 1980’s weirdness, but (being largely unfamiliar with liturgy at the time) I just took it as part of its charm.

On the whole, the daily office that this book gives you is one that is complex but short, varied in its content but frequent in its repetition of said content.  You don’t get all 150 psalms but you do get a nice array of other canticles mixed in.  The liturgical seasons have a much larger impact on the office than we experience in the Anglican tradition.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 2/5
Unless you really know your way around liturgy in general, this book is probably too complicated to figure out how to use on your own.  I think it’s meant either 1, for priests who don’t want to have to carry the full Liturgy of the Hours volume with them, or 2, for laymen who are following along the Office in the pews and are being guided through the service.  Or perhaps, 3, for enthusiastic laymen who have already learned the Office and want to pray it on their own.

Devotional Usefulness: 2/5
It’s just the Daily Office, which is only part of your spiritual life.  And given how anemic its treatment of the Scriptures is, you’re not going to get much meat here.  The antiphons and psalm-prayers can really bring the experience of praying the psalms to life, though – it’s what woke me up to the joy and virtue of praying psalms.

Reference Value: 2/5
This is a modern version of what probably used to be a much richer and more complex liturgy in the Roman tradition.  Looking at this book probably won’t give you significant insight into the depths of Papist liturgy, so its reference value is likely pretty low.  That said, its rubrics are pretty specific (once you find them), and comparative study between this and our Prayer Books can be pretty interesting.

As a last word, I should add that apart from the Liturgy of the Hours, Roman liturgy also has an “Office of Readings” which includes more substantial readings from the Bible as well as certain Church Fathers and theologians.  I doubt it still measures up to our Daily Office Lectionary, and the post-biblical readings are undoubtedly going to be unabashedly Papist in doctrine, so we’re not going to have much use for that.  Though the idea of devotional readings from the divines of our tradition is one worth considering, albeit not in our Daily Office itself.

I am thankful for this book.  Once in a blue moon I pick it up and pray the appropriate Office from it, mostly out of nostalgia and gratitude for the role that Roman Catholic chapel played in my Christian growth.  But that’s not reason enough for me to recommend anyone else get a copy.  Only do so if you plan on some comparative-liturgical study.

An Apt Prayer for a Friday

Since the first century, Fridays have been a day of special devotion and discipline in Christian tradition.  You can see this spelled out in the Didache – Wednesday and Friday are put forth as the two normal weekly fast days for Christians, as opposed to the Jewish Monday and Thursday.  The Prayer Book tradition receives, upholds, and passes along to us the practice of a regular Friday fast with few exceptions.  (Modern prayer books like the 2019 tend to be pretty soft on this this point, but if the 1662 is our liturgical standard, we should take note that the modern language “day of special discipline” really ought to be understood as “fast day”.)

The particular reason for Friday to be one of the regular fast days (or the primary one, as Wednesday seems to be seen as a ‘lesser’ fast than Friday) is linked to why we worship together on Sundays: as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord on the Lord’s Day, we observe the death of our Lord with a fast on Friday.  It is the part of the weekly rhythm of the Christian spiritual life: fasting and penitence upon our Lord’s death, sabbath rest on the day of his repose, and gathering with joy to worship the risen Lord on his resurrection day.

Imagine if that’s what you thought of first when someone mentioned “the weekend”.  Wow.

Anyway, what I thought might be nice to observe together today is one of the Collects for Evening Prayer that is suggested for Fridays.  This is not one of the historic Daily Office Collects, but an addition in the 1979 Prayer Book that has been retained in the 2019.  You don’t have  to use this Collect on Fridays; the rubrics allow you to stick with the traditional two (for Peace and for Aid Against Perils) if you like.  But the prayer suggested for Friday is very appropriate for the penitential tenor of this day of the week.

A COLLECT FOR FAITH

Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake.  Amen.

In the scheme of “every Sunday an Easter” and “every Friday a Good Friday”, this prayer directs us right to the death of Christ, celebrating the victory Jesus wrought thereby, referencing Hosea 13:14 and/or 1 Corinthians 15:56.  We then turn to the reality of our own death – we pray that we would die a “peaceful” (that is, prepared-for and accepting) death, faithfully following Jesus through death toward our own resurrection unto glory.  It is an eschatological prayer, looking ahead to the end of all things, through and beyond even death itself.

Is this prayer traditional?  Not strictly speaking; only 40 years of the past 470 have seen this prayer in the Office.  But is this prayer appropriate?  Absolutely.

Reading Pace, with video

Back in October I wrote a short piece about reading pace – how talking too quickly or slowly, either as a leader in the liturgy or concerning the congregation as a whole, can be the death knell of intelligible worship.  I decided it was time to re-visit that subject, not because I just had another bad experience with it, but because it was on my mind and I made a video.  The original post is repeated below.  Enjoy!

A major feature of any liturgy is reading.  Appointed readers read Scripture lessons, a Deacon (or Priest) reads a Gospel lesson at the Communion service, everyone reads prayers and Creeds together.  Sometimes it’s like a dialogue, going back and forth between the minister and the people; sometimes it’s a block reading, like everyone reading a Confession together.  One of the issues that can crop up is the pacing of these readings.

On his or her own, sometimes a reader gets nervous.  This is perfectly understandable, and experience and practice works wonders here.  But it must be cautioned that a nervous or inexperienced reader can rush through the words, tripping over or slurring them together.  Or sometimes the opposite – the gravity of reading the Word of God overwhelms them such that they end up reading it very slowly.  Public readings ought to be read at a natural pace, such that the commas, semicolons, and periods are all clear and distinct.  We want the reading to have some dramatic weight, but we don’t want to overdo it, William Shatner style:

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The same applies to congregation readings.  Be it a Psalm, a Collect, Creed, or other prayer or reading, the people need to go at a natural pace.

If we read too fast together, the issues are many:

  • people could run out of breath
  • there’s no time to think about or process what you’re actually saying
  • it communicates a lack of care, value, or import to the words
  • visitors unfamiliar with the liturgy will feel swamped and overwhelmed

Similarly, reading too slowly can mask the overall coherence of the reading or prayer.

If your congregation has a pacing problem, it’s really upon the leaders to fix it.  The clergy or other ministers who lead the various services need to set the pace, even instruct the congregation to speed up or slow down.  Reading and praying together is a spiritual exercise requiring practice and intentionality.  Western culture sometimes makes this difficult for us – we don’t want to end up like the Borg from Star Trek, we don’t want to lose our individuality, we easily mistrust corporate liturgical action and prefer “personal” and “relational” things.  So for many people these acts of common prayer and common reading is a lost art that has to be re-learned.  Let’s not beat people over the head with this, but we do need to be aware that actual training, practice, and learning is involved!

Prayers of the People (Old & New)

One of the primary improvements found in the 2019 Prayer Book over its predecessor in 1979 is the restoration of a great of deal of classical prayer book content that was displaced, obscured, or even omitted in ’79.  The “Prayers of the People” in the Communion service was once of the hardest-hit features of classical liturgy in the ’79 which is substantially restored in the 2019’s Anglican Standard Text.

The classical approach was to read through all those prayers, straight through, and the 2019 puts in congregational responses – “Lord in your mercy / Hear our prayer” – which is hardly more than a cosmetic update to help people keep focused.  A few changes of wording have been made, and at least one new addition made (namely the petition for the advancement and spread of the Gospel), and one slightly-controversial line in the final petition pointing back toward the 1549 Prayer Book’s approach to handling prayers for the departed. A sober and attentive article on this subject can be found here, in case you’re curious or concerned.

What we’re going to look at today though is not so much the content of the prayers (I dare say the above paragraph and link are a sufficient headstart into your own comparison if you really want to do that), but instead the function of the prayers.  In modern liturgy, the Prayers of the People are a sort of thing unto itself.  The Sermon has been delivered and the Creed has been said, and now it’s time to pray for a little while.  When we’re done we move on to the Confession, absolution, and Offertory.  It all fits together into a logical progression: intercede, confess, receive absolution, and celebrate with offering.  It’s logical and sensible, but it’s not particularly profound; as far as I understand it thus far, this is primarily a functional progression of liturgy.

The classical prayer book order was more, for lack of a better term, mystical about the Prayers.  Until the 1979 book changed things up, the Sermon was followed by the Offertory, and the monetary gifts would be brought up front along with the bread and wine for Holy Communion, and then the “Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church” began, read by the Celebrant (rather than a Deacon or lay reader).  These prayers included an optional line for God to “accept our alms and oblations”, referencing the Offertory gifts, and in a sense anticipating Holy Communion itself.

In a way, the “Prayers of the People” were like the preparation for Communion itself!  As the people got ready to approach the throne of grace, their intercessions were sent ahead, along with the very elements that God would provide to feed them.  These Prayers would then be followed by an Exhortation, the Confession & absolution, and then the Communion prayers would follow immediately.  This is probably the most-changed part of the liturgy from old to new in terms of “order of service.”

If you find this appeals to you, and you want to capture this sense of eucharistic anticipation in the Prayers of the People in the 2019 book’s liturgy, there are things you can do.  You can go all out and use the instructions in the Additional Directions to re-structure the entire liturgy to the “1662 Order.”  *SEE FOOTNOTE*  But if that’s too radical a change for your context (or you prefer the 1928-informed order of the eucharistic canon over the 1662 order), there are three things you should do to help tie the Prayers of the People more clearly to the celebration of Holy Communion:

  1. Do not hold announcements after the Peace.
  2. Always appoint a Communion Hymn at the Offertory.
  3. Have the bread and wine brought up to the altar at the same time as the monetary gifts.

In most cases, those are the two things that separate the Prayers of the People from the Communion.  The Peace already easily turns into a greet-everyone-in-the-room moment, and when it’s followed by the weekly parish announcements the flow of the liturgy is basically dead at that point, only to be revived with the Offertory – but almost as if a second worship service is starting.  If you want the Prayers of the People to reclaim any semblance of Eucharistic preparation, you’ve got to hold those announcements somewhere else (the old order called for them after the Creed and before the Sermon).  And then you have to follow that up with Communion-themed offertory music, lest that anthem also break the link.  The bread and wine, too, need to be involved in the Offertory (as was its traditional purpose anyway), so it’s clearer that the money is secondary and the sacrament is primary.

If none of this interests you, or strikes you as necessary, that’s fine.  The modern liturgical order clearly has a different logic to it, and it’s not always easy or reasonable to use one prayer book and pretend it’s a different one.  But, as always, it’s important to know and understand how classical Anglican liturgy worked, so we can at least be honest about when we’re following it and when we’re doing something new.  And the opportunities for teaching and spiritual formation in our congregations, too, can be greatly enriched by such perspective!

 

** UPDATE **
It turns out that we do in fact have the option to conform the liturgy of the Anglican Standard Text not only to the 1662 Order, but to any subsequent book.  This permission is spelled both on pages 7 and 104, and a member of the ACNA liturgy committee confirmed that this is the intention of those rubrics.

National Prayers and Theology

You may be familiar with the phrase lex orandi lex credendi – it is a Latin phrase roughly meaning “the law of prayer is the law of belief”.  It is a principle that what we believe, we must pray; and what we pray, we inevitably believe.  Praying and believing is a two-way street, and when there’s a disconnect between the two, something has to give.  A bad prayer life will erode orthodox beliefs; good theology requires good worship to support it.

That is why (as most of you readers probably already know) the historic, liturgical, tradition of Christian worship is full of carefully-worded prayers, dialogues, exhortations, and quotations.  Entire essays and theological debates can turn on the interpretation of a single word in the Communion prayers!  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this attention to theological content and tone is applied even to the Occasional Prayers – a collection of 125 extra prayers near the back of the 2019 Prayer Book that (like its predecessor in 1979) probably goes mostly unnoticed.

If you peruse this list with that in the 1979 book, it’ll look very similar at first – same basic arrangement, lots of identical prayers, and so on, but you’ll also find that greater care for orthodoxy has been exercised.  As a result, you can even use these prayers to help point in the right direction for some basic theological questions.  For example, what is a biblical view on the government?  The intersection of politics and religion is a hot topic in any age, but it is perhaps especially perplexing in the modern era of democracy and representative government.

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Pages 654-8 contain the “The Nation” section, prayers #27-39.  Not only are these good prayers to pray often, but they can be good prayers to study.  It might be a challenge to reverse-engineer their Scripture allusions (and that is on my longer bucket-list), but there is much to discern.  How is God described in each of these prayers?  What is the relationship between him and an earthly ruler?  What is the purpose of government and kings and rulers?  What are they supposed to do – what are their responsibilities – and how does God hold them accountable?  These prayers, while uplifting our national leaders (who desperately need all the prayer they can get, let’s be honest) also guide us toward what to look for in them, and recognize when they’ve fallen short.  Are our leaders “continually mindful of their calling to serve this people in reverent obedience to [Christ]”?  Do they “walk before [God] in truth and righteousness”?

When we pray for states, governments, and leaders, it’s very easy to bring our political views into the picture.  “May __ never get elected!”  “May __’s administration survive the other party’s character assault!”  “God save us from the ___ party!”  Prayers like these help us keep the main things the main things: a godly people, a righteous model citizen in office, thankfulness and humility, faithfulness and virtue.  Perhaps these can help us be more honest as well as accurate, getting past all the excuse-making and the partisanship and the “what about __?” distractions.

Regular Occasional Prayers

Early this year we had a post here about making the “Occasional Prayers” in the new prayer book a regular feature of one’s recitation of the Daily Office.  I won’t link you back to it though because that was built on the penultimate draft of the prayer book, and a few of those prayers have been dropped, merged, added to, and moved around, throwing the numbers off between the late 2018 draft and the 2019 final copy.

Instead, I’m providing a fresh shiny new upload here of this Customary’s Order for the Occasional Prayers!  Click that link to download it.

Some of the backstory to this can be found in the file – the Daily Office in the classical prayer books (before 1979) included a number of prayers and thanksgivings and collects after the Office (perhaps mainly just Morning Prayer if I recall) which were authorized-but-optional, to be added after the the required Three Collects toward the end of the Office.  It’s a mixed blessing having lost that feature in modern prayer books – on one hand people it’s nice to have a larger and more comprehensive appendix of prayers to draw from, but being place so far back in the book will make them less likely to be noticed by the average prayer book user.  That’s why this suggested order is put forth.

Let’s look at why this scheme is recommended the way it is.

Sunday, being the principle day of worship for the church gathered, has the section of prayers labeled At Times of Prayer and Worship as well as the prayers on Death, the Departed, and the Communion of Saints, as that is when most of the saints on earth are gathered.  The assigned prayers skip around, numerically, in order to avoid prayers that are too similar from being read at the same Office.

On Monday the prayers start at the beginning of the list, covering the section For the Church.  In general, the prayers for the morning are more specific and the prayers for the evening are more general or topical.

Tuesday morning covers the next section, For the Nation, again arranging the prayers so that too-similar collects aren’t prayed on the same day.  Depending upon which country you hail from, certain prayers along the way will be appropriate to omit (mainly in the USA versus Canada distinction).  In the evening, one day dips into the Personal Devotions list and the other starts the For Society section.

Wednesday morning is omitted, because that’s a traditional time for saying the Great Litany.  The evening finishes the For Society section and begins the next section, Intercessions For Those in Need.

Thursday morning skips ahead to more of the Personal Life and Personal Devotions sections, while Thursday evening (in light of the day’s traditional Eucharistic theme) covers most of the Thanksgivings.

Friday morning (like Wednesday morning) is omitted so you can focus on the Great Litany.  The evening covers the rest of the prayers For Those in Need where Wednesday left off.

Saturday covers the prayers about Creation and Family Life, as well as Personal Life and Devotion.  The creation theme matches the Morning Prayer Collect recommended for Saturdays (Collect for Sabbath Rest), and the family section is chosen to match the fact that Saturday is often a “day off with the family” for much of the working world.  The remaining personal devotions also serve as a sort of introspective preparation for corporate worship on the following morning.

For sake of simplicity, “Week I” should line up with odd-numbered weeks in the liturgical calendar, and “Week II” with even-numbered weeks.  For example, this is the week (in modern reckoning) of Proper 13, so this week should be considered an odd-numbered week.

Collect for Proper 13

With the Transfiguration over, the Collect of the Day in the Daily Office returns to this past Sunday’s Collect – for Proper 13.

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your grace that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

What we see at work in prayer is a biblical principle from verses like 1 Corinthians 4:7 – “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”  This humbling reality, that all good things that we’ve got come from God, applies even to our worship and service.

This reality is a balance between two extremes.  On one hand is an error more often made by Roman Catholics: the assumption that ordinary Christians are just too sinful and ignorant to offer God any “laudable service”, and so we entrust the clergy and the ‘religious’ to offer God more perfect praise on our behalf.  Go to church, hear Father celebrate mass, and we can say that we vicariously offered something to God too.  On the other hand is an error more often made by evangelicals: the assumption that if we just worship God with heart-felt enthusiasm that he will be truly honored, and so we dive in to a string of worship songs with the mad assertion that our feelings of sincerity are more significant to God than the actual content of our words and actions.

Countering both these extremes is the biblical reality: we can offer worthy worship to God, but only by his grace.  Grace then precedes worship and works.  Because of grace, we offer laudable service to God and strive to “run without stumbling” to attain to God’s heavenly promises.  As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:11-12).

So when you sit down to pray (or kneel, or whatever), remember not to be overconfident in your own worthiness, verbosity, or sincerity; and remember not to be embarrassed, discouraged by your bumbling ways.  God gives you grace to approach his throne with boldness.  We find that grace in confessing our sins to a merciful Lord; we find that grace in praying prayers that God himself provided us to pray (especially the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms); we find that grace in an order, a liturgy, provided by his Church, to assist us not only to form our prayers into coherent sentences but also to unite our prayers with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And underlying all of that, of course, is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  Every baptized person has God the Spirit within, it’s not a matter of elitism or ordination status or what-have-you.  Be not afraid, when your prayers are bumbling and crude, the Spirit will “translate” your intentions to the Father; and when you think you’ve got it just right and perfect on your own wit, the Spirit will ask the Father for the mercy and humility you omitted.  Let us learn from one another how to pray, how to worship.  Think of the Prayer Book as the compilation of centuries of insight in this matter!  Rather than asking advice in prayer from one or two friends or pastors, why not turn to the collective wisdom of millions as represented in the Common Prayer book.