Prayers for Veterans Day

Yesterday was Veterans Day in the US, but today is its “observed” day for many businesses and schools.  If you didn’t take advantage of yesterday’s centennial observance, today’s a good day to add some appropriate prayers to your daily rounds.

Pull up our “Occasional Prayers” collection: https://s3.amazonaws.com/acna/Occasional%20Prayers%20181017.pdf

There are plenty of appropriate options to choose from.  #25-37 are the national prayers, especially consider #25 & 26 For the Peace of the World and #30 For Those in the Armed Forces, and #120, the thanksgiving For Military Veterans.

Looking ahead: Thanksgiving Day

Two weeks from today, in the USA, is Thanksgiving Day.  Apart from family traditions that may involve your efforts in the meantime, let us give consideration to some of the liturgical resources we have available for the observance of that day.

The Collect of the Day could be imported into the Daily Office:

Most merciful Father, we humbly thank you for all your gifts so freely bestowed upon us; for life and health and safety; for strength to work and leisure to rest; for all that is beautiful in creation and in human life; but above all we thank you for our spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The lessons for a communion service that morning (or perhaps the evening before):

  • Deuteronomy 8; Psalm 65:1-8(9-14); James 1:17-27; Matthew 6:25-33

Additional prayers (link) and thanksgivings #20-22 and #114-123 are also excellent additions to the Daily Offices or other devotions for Thanksgiving.

Hymn ideas:

  • Come, ye thankful people, come (also known as Harvest Home)
  • We plow the fields (refrain “All good gifts around us“)
  • Praise to God, immortal praise
  • For the beauty of the earth
  • Let us, with a gladsome mind
  • Now thank we all our God

If you among the growing number of people who want to push back against the Black Friday shopping craze, consider adding these prayers and hymns to your private and/or congregational worship from Wednesday through Sunday, or even the whole week!

Praying on Election Day

Here in the US of A it’s an election day today.  Local and mid-term elections for various offices and a number of ballot questions sit before millions of Americans.  In our collection of Occasional Prayers we have a prayer for elections:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide and direct, we humbly pray, the minds of all those who are called to elect fit persons to serve [in ___].  Grant that in the exercise of our choice we may promote your glory, and the welfare of this nation.  This we ask for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

This is, obviously, a good prayer to take with you to the polls, or to pull out in moments of anxiety, or to add to the Daily Office today.  If you feel so compelled to spend further time in prayer, or otherwise find yourself seized by fear or worry about this election, consider this ideas:

Prayers for wisdom: Psalms 1, 19, 37, 49, 73
Prayers for leaders: Psalms 82, 132
Prayers for forgiveness: Psalms 32*, 38, 51, 143
Prayers of praise: Psalms 145 through 150

* In the Daily Office, we’ll get Psalm 32 this evening anyway.

Remembering the Faithful Departed in the Liturgy

November 2nd is the commemoration of the Faithful Departed.  For the Roman Catholics, this is a holy day of higher rank, equal (or almost equal?) to All Saints’ Day itself.  The distinction is that All Saints’ Day remembers the Church Triumphant – Saints with a capital S – and All Souls’ Day remembers the Church Expectant – those at rest, awaiting the resurrection on the Last Day.  In Protestant theology, most of us generally don’t make much (if any) distinction between these two groups.  Some might posit that the “Capital S Saints” are enjoying the beatific vision to a greater degree than others among the departed, but I’m not aware of much talk along those lines.

As a result, the All Souls commemoration has typically been rolled into the All Saints commemoration in Anglican practice and piety.

However, there is a good reason for distinguishing these two holy days.  Two analogies present themselves.  The first is in our Prayers of the People in the Communion service: historically the last petition of those Prayers acknowledges both the departed at rest and the saints in glory.  Even if one believes these are not two different groups of people, they are clearly presented to us as two aspects of people.  We remember the Departed in a joyful glorified state and in a mournful “we miss them” sense.  The second analogy is the funeral/Burial service: the interplay between giving thanks and mourning is intricate and (occasionally) controversial.

In the standard Prayers of the People we have now, there is a lovely inclusio wherein you can add the names of the departed to your prayers:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, especially ___, that your will for them may be fulfilled…

My congregation makes use of this on a regular basis, but if yours does not, this weekend is the perfect opportunity to do so!

Remembering the Saints in the Liturgy

All Saints Day is upon us!  As one of the seven principle feasts of the Church Year this is (or ought to be) a grand occasion not only for celebration and worship but also for teaching and catechesis.  The greatest holidays of the year, after all, are built upon the greatest doctrines of the Christian faith.  All Saints’ Day draws our attention to the communion of saints, as the Apostles’ Creed puts it, that Body of Christ of which we are a part.  There are a few built-in features of the liturgy that can (or should) be highlighted to enhance the celebration:

  • The Collect of the Day is packed with Scripture and theology.
  • The heavenly multitude depicted in the epistle lesson from the book of Revelation is a beautiful picture of this holiday’s subject.
  • The Sursum Corda (or “Great Thanksgiving”) leads to a special Proper Preface for the occasion: “For in the multitude of your Saints, you have surrounded us with so great a cloud of witnesses that we, rejoicing in their fellowship, may run with patience the race that is set before us, and, together with them, may receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.”
  • The usual prayers leading up to the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) are worth emphasizing today: “with angels and archangels and with the whole company of heaven“.

The unity of prayer and fellowship, between all saints in heaven and on earth, is wonderfully celebrated throughout the liturgy.

But is there something more we can do?

There are many ideas that could be brainstormed, but this is probably the simplest one.  The final petition of the standard Prayers of the People reads:

We remember before you all your servants who have departed this life in your faith and fear, [especially ______________,] that your will for them may be fulfilled, and we ask you to give us grace to follow the good examples of [N., and] all your saints, that we may share with them in your heavenly kingdom.

This is a direct invitation to fill in the blank, and All Saints’ Day (or Sunday, when most of us will be celebrating this holiday) is the perfect opportunity to expand the second blank.  You could draw up a list of saints who are well-loved in your congregation, or list all twelve apostles (replacing Judas Iscariot with Matthias), or list the Saints celebrated as Major Feast Days in the Prayer Book.  My church this year will just be listing categories: “give us grace to follow the good examples of Joseph and Mary the holy family, your Apostles and Evangelists, your holy Martyrs and Confessors, and all your saints…”

If you do include a list therein, note that the traditional ordering of Saints is basically:

  1. the Blessed Virgin Mary
  2. Joseph
  3. Apostles (not just the twelve, but including Paul)
  4. Evangelists (Mark and Luke)
  5. Martyrs
  6. Confessors
  7. Doctors (that is, “Teachers of the Faith”)
  8. Bishops and Kings
  9. Monastics or members of other religious orders
  10. Other Saints

The point of this is not simply “to be traditional” and “get things right,” but the general ordering tradition exists to denote a sort of hierarchy.  This is not to say that a Martyr is more holy than a Monk, per se, but that the witness of the former is generally greater than the latter, and so deserves a place of greater significance when presenting such names to the congregation.  If this sort of ordering offends your theological sensibilities, then be sure to use a different-but-clear ordering, such as alphabetizing their names, so it doesn’t just look like a hodge-podge thrown-together list.  Liturgy and worship always benefits from transparent forethought!

Reading Pace

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!