Prayer Resources in the face of infectious disease

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.

… and with your spirit

Every now and then I come across people who oppose the response “and with your spirit” or “and with thy spirit“, arguing that it promulgates a Papist doctrine of Ordination.  I actually wrote about this several years ago on my own blog, responding to such a concern.

The interpretation in question that some people happily teach and others fearfully reject is the assertion that “and with your/thy spirit” references the special gift of the Holy Spirit upon the priest, recognizing his indelible ordination character.  Some Anglicans hold to this view quite strongly and happily.  But the Prayer Book liturgy does not require this interpretation – “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” is a powerful phrase indeed, in the ordination, but it’s not a theological point that is explicitly explained to the last detail.

So here is one example of how the phrase “and with your/thy spirit” can be understood without the sacerdotal priesthood assertion.  Picking up the same commentary from John Boys as yesterday, we read

The pastor cannot use to the people a better wish than “The Lord be with you.”  For if God be with them, who can be against them? and the people cannot make a fitter reply than “with thy spirit.”  For (as Plato divinely said) every man’s soul is himself.

Again, forasmuch as “God is a spirit, and ought to be worshiped in spirit;” it is meet we should perform this spiritual service with all earnest contention and intention of spirit….

Blessed spirits in praising God answer one another interchangeably: though unhappy scornful spirits unmannerly abuse this custom.

It is a matter of mutual blessing.  I am pleased to note that this is more or less what I suggested six and a half years ago when wrote that email that became the blog post linked to at the beginning of this.  Whether or not the priest has a recognizable “ordination character” to salute in the liturgy, this exchange is perfectly reasonable and already sufficiently ‘reformed’.  After all, there are offices in which a lay leader “receives” the phrase “and with your spirit“, and there is no fuss over that!

The Lord be with you…

The liturgy is peppered with short prayers and exchanges.  One of the standard dialogues found throughout the Prayer Book begins “The Lord be with you“.  Among his analysis of the Prayer Book in 17th century, the Rev. Dr. John Boys pointed out that

The novelists have censured this, and other like suffrages, as short cuts, or shreddings, rather than wishings, or prayers.

The “novelists” are his word for the Puritans of his day, who sought a new (hence, novel) form of liturgy that relied more upon long extemporaneous prayers said by the minister, rather than the series of short and succinct prayers of the historic liturgy such as in the Prayer Book.  Citing a few scriptural and Early Church examples of short-but-pious prayers, Boys describes them as

as if they were darts thrown out with a kind of sudden quickness, lest that vigilant and erect attention of mind, which in devotion is very requisite, should be wasted and dulled through continuance, if their prayers few, and long.  The same father in the same place [St. Augustine, Epistle 121], “For oftentimes more is accomplished by groans than by speeches, more by weeping, than by blowing.”  Peruse that learned epistle, for it is a sufficient apology, both for the length of our whole service, and also for the shortness of our several prayers.  If Augustine now lived, and were made umpire between the novelists and us, he would rather approve many short prayers in England, than those two long prayers, one before and the other after sermon, in Scotland and Geneva.

“An Exposition of the Several Offices adapted for various occasions of Public Worship…”
by the Rev. Dr. John Boys, 1629; printed by the Rev. Kensey Stewart, 1851 (page 41)

The impatient 21st-century American may look at the Prayer Book and think our Prayers of the People and Prayer of Consecration to be quite long, but just look at some Puritan and other ‘Reformed’ liturgies, such as in this book, and you will discover just what “long” really means!  This is not to say that long prayers are inherently bad, but they are overly demanding upon the attentions, affections, and memory of the hearer.

As for the phrase “the Lord be with you“, Boys comments that it is primarily derived from Ruth 2:4 “as a usual salutation among God’s people“, citing also Judges 6:12 and Luke 1:28.  He considers other salutations like “God speed,” and “God save you”, and “God bless you” as being equivalent in holiness and worthy of Christian discourse.

What’s different in the liturgy now that it’s Lent?

Welcome to Ash Wednesday, the common name for The First Day of Lent.  Occasionally you’ll see today called quadragesima because there are now 40 days left (excluding Sundays) until Easter Day.  Let the 40-day fast begin!

One of the main questions I get from non-liturgical Christians, concerning Lent, is “what do you differently during this time?”  This blog post is aimed at answering that question – partly for the benefit of those who are wondering the same thing, but also as a reminder to my fellow Anglican readers who might need a reminder of some of the changes, or possible changes, in the daily course of our liturgy.

Today’s  differences

For those of us using the 2019 Daily Lectionary, or one of the historic daily lectionaries that uses the regular calendar, we may need the reminder that today’s lessons for Morning and Evening Prayer are interrupted from the regular course.  At the bottom of page 740 in the BCP 2019 you’ll see the following readings appointed for today:

  • Isaiah 58:1-12 & Luke 18:9-14 for the Morning
  • Jonah 3 & 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 for the Evening

To that I would recommend another traditional-for-this-day reading, Hebrews 12:3-17, for Midday Prayer.

At the Holy Communion (or in place of it, if the Communion itself isn’t actually going to be celebrated) we have a special liturgy in the 2019 Book, starting on page 543, and prefaced by a handy introduction to this day (and Lent in general) on page 542.  It’s worth reminding ourselves that the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a custom that was removed from Anglican practice during the Reformation, and not formally put into a Prayer Book until 1979, though the Anglo-Catholic movement had provided extra-liturgical material to sneak the practice back into the liturgy before it was embraced by the church as a whole.  You can read last year’s note about Ash-less Wednesday here.

Also, remember that today’s Collect of the Day is now the Collect of the Day for the rest of this week!

Morning Prayer during Lent

There are some extra Opening Sentences of Scripture appropriate for this season on page 27.

The Venite (Psalm 95) should be said in full daily this season, if you don’t normally do so already.  Keep in mind that you can bookend it with a Lenten antiphon from page 30!

The first Canticle, Te Deum laudamus, is recommended in our Prayer Book to be replaced with the Benedictus es, Domine on page 18.  This Customary would recommend retaining the Te Deum on Sundays and other major holy days, however.

If you don’t normally do so, make a point of praying the Great Litany (page 91) after Morning Prayer on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Evening Prayer during Lent

There are some extra Opening Sentences of Scripture appropriate for this season on page 54.

The second canticle, Nunc dimittis, could be replaced by Canticle 3, Kyrie Pantokrator, most evenings.  We’d recommend doing so on Monday through Friday.

The Minor Offices during Lent

The “Alleluia” after the invitatory dialogue is to be omitted now.

For Midday Prayer, it may be a good idea to make use of one the Additional Directions and make more extensive use of Psalm 119 throughout the season.  Consider this two-week rotation of Midday Psalms:

  • <week 1> :day: <week 2>
  • 124, 126 :Sundays: 124, 126
  • 19 :Mondays: 119:81-96
  • 119:1-16 :Tuesdays: 119:97-112
  • 119:17-32 :Wednesdays: 119:113-128
  • 119:33-48 :Thursdays: 119:129-144
  • 119:49-64 :Fridays: 119:145-160
  • 119:65-80 :Saturdays: 119:161-176

Consider making more frequent use of Matthew 11:28-30 as the Lesson at Compline.

The Holy Communion during Lent

There is an Acclamation appropriate for Lent on page 146, and another one for Holy Week.

This is a good season to make weekly use of the Decalogue (page 100) instead of the Summary of the Law if you don’t normally already.

The Gloria in excelsis is traditionally omitted during Lent.  Consider replacing it with a hymn from the Lent section of your hymnal, just to emphasize the season difference in mood.

The First Sunday in Lent is one of the traditional days to read The Exhortation (page 147).

Consider using Offertory Sentences (page 149) that are more pointed about spiritual disciplines, such as Matthew 7:21, 1 John 3:17, and Tobit 4:8-9.  This could be especially effective if you normally use the same one every week, memorized from the list in 1979 Book.

The “alleluia” in the Fraction dialogue (on page 118/135) is to be omitted now.

If you don’t normally prayer the Prayer of Humble Access and the Agnus Dei (page 119/135), this is the season to start.  (Pro-tip: never stop using them!)

In fact, if your congregation normally uses the “Renewed Ancient Text”, I cannot heartily-enough encourage you to switch to the “Anglican Standard Text” at least for Lent.  You’ll get more direct prayers of confession and of consecration (not to mention historically Anglican prayers).

Other Spiritual Practices

The classical Prayer Books appointed the Collect for Ash Wednesday to be used after the Collect of the Day throughout the season of Lent.  I’m not so sure the 2019 Prayer Book intends to allow that, so consider making use of this Collect elsewhere – in the additional prayers at the end of an Office, or after the Prayers of the People at the Communion, or in your private prayers and devotions.

On page 689 our calendar directs The weekdays of Lent and every Friday of the year (outside the 12 Days of Christmas the 50 days of Eastertide) are encouraged as days of fasting.  The classical Prayer Books were more direct about the expectation (not just encouragement) that we should fast.  We’re not Romanists, so we don’t have elaborate standardized definitions of what “counts” as fasting; we have the freedom in Christ to fast according to conscience, as the Bible indicates.  Nevertheless, some advice is helpful, and our calendar provides some: Fasting, in addition to reduced consumption, normally also includes prayer, self-examination, and acts of mercy.  It is popular to “give something up for Lent”, or to “take something on for Lent”, and almost all of those particular expressions of Lenten devotion are summed up in that one sentence.  Consider how you might mark this season in your own lifestyle, and give it a go.

Learning the Daily Office – part 7 of 12

So you’ve heard about the Daily Office, specifically the Anglican tradition of daily prayer and scripture reading, and you want to enter into this beautiful and formative tradition?  Great, grab a prayer book and go!  Except, maybe someone already said that and you don’t know where to start… or worse, you did try it and it was just too much?  The length of the Office was overwhelming and the contents too complicated to navigate when you’ve got no experience with liturgy.  We understand, we’ve all been at that place before!  Some just don’t remember it as well as others.

Diving into the full Prayer Book life of worship doesn’t work for everyone; sometimes you have to work your way up toward that discipline, adding one piece at a time as you grow comfortable with each feature and learn how to “do” them all.  This post series is basically a twelve-step program to help you advance in the life of disciplined prayer from zero to super-Anglican.  The pace is up to you – the goal of this sort of spiritual discipline is consistency, not “how much” you do.

Step One: Pray a Psalm followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Step Two: Add a Scripture Reading
Step Three: Add more Psalms and Lessons
Step Four: Add the Apostles’ Creed
Step Five: Add Canticles
Step Six: Add the Confession

Step Seven: Add some Prayers

Now it’s time to develop your utilization of the Prayer Book.  You’re already reading the Confession, Psalms, Canticles, and Apostles’ Creed from it, now it’s time for some further prayers.  In Morning Prayer pages 21-24 and in Evening Prayer pages 47-51 you will see that the Lord’s Prayer is preceded and followed by a larger sequence of Prayers.  The Kyrie (“Lord have mercy…”) comes first, and after the Lord’s Prayer comes a “Suffrage” (a back-and-forth set of versicles and responses, mostly taken from the Psalms), and after that a pile of “collects” and prayers.

A Collect is a specific form of prayer, and the Prayer Book has tons of them.  The usual structure of a collect is:

  1. an address to God (identifying a name or attribute or work of God)
  2. a specific petition or request
  3. a reason for that petition or request, often linking back to the address
  4. an appeal to the name of Jesus

In the 2019 Prayer Book you’ll the first Collect listed is “The Collect of the Day” – feel free to skip that for now; we’ll add it in later.  For now, we’re focusing on developing your use of the Prayer Book liturgy without adding more page-flips.

Instead, finish your prayer times now with the Kyrie, Lord’s Prayer, a set of Suffrages, the Collect for the Day of the Week, and a Prayer for Mission.  Morning and Evening Prayer provide different lists of prayers for this section, so your experiences of morning and evening are going to start diverging at this point.

You’ll notice that some of these prayers in Morning Prayer draw upon the image and reality of the beginning of the day, and Evening Prayer draws upon the images of darkness and light as pictures of death and life.  Time and nature are explicitly now being drawn into your prayer life, and that’s a beautiful thing!

You’ll see that there are a couple more prayers and lines of other text after the prayers we’ve listed here, but don’t worry about them for now.  Historically, those have been optional, almost thought of in an after-the-liturgy kind of status, so we’re going to save those for later.  You’re welcome to plough ahead and include them now if you like, but don’t feel pressured.

Summary

Your Morning & Evening Offices are now looking like this:

  1. The Confession of Sin
  2. The Psalm(s) Appointed
  3. Old Testament Lesson (occasionally the first lesson is from the NT instead)
  4. First Canticle
  5. New Testament Lesson
  6. Second Canticle
  7. The Apostles’ Creed (consider standing up for this!)
  8. The Prayers
    1. Lord have mercy…
    2. The Lord’s Prayer
    3. Suffrage
    4. A Collect for (the day of the week)
    5. A Prayer for Mission

At this point you’re almost saying the entire morning and evening offices in the prayer book tradition, congratulations!

Create Your Own Prayers of the People

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On page 140 of the 2019 Prayer Book, the following Additional Direction is found:

In both the Anglican Standard and Renewed Ancient Texts, other forms of the Prayers of the People may be used, provided the following concerns are included:

   The universal Church, the clergy and people
   The mission of the Church
   The nation and all in authority
   The peoples of the world
   The local community
   Those who suffer and those in any need or trouble
   Thankful remembrance of the faithful departed and of all the blessings of our lives.

For the most part this is a clone of the rubric in the 1979 Prayer Book, which also authorized a create-your-own-adventure approach to the Prayers of the People, providing a similar structure of required topics.  I think the wording of ours is a bit more positively specific, but the freedom is basically the same.

Now, this is “Weird Rubric Wednesday”, a new series of posts that I’m running about weird, strange, or surprising things that the 2019 Prayer Book permits.  As the intentionally horrific and obnoxious banner picture at the top of the page indicates, I’m running this partly for the humour, and cautioning against abuse of the system.  But some of these will have serious and positive suggestions, too.  How you deal with the Prayers of the People is going to be one of those mixed entries.

Ideally…

The two Communion rites in our Prayer Book provide their own default Prayers of the People.  Ideally you should just use them as-is.  Tampering with them is permitted, but almost never necessary.  The special occasion once in a while may be well-highlighted by an edited set of Prayers here, but on the whole this is supposed to be a stable piece of the liturgy.  If you always keep the congregation guessing from week to week, then you’re only teaching them to rely on you, or to rely upon their own spontaneity, rather than provide the spiritual formation available in the mature historic prayers.

Try your hand at Puritanism

One of the great practices of the Free Church tradition is the “pastoral prayer”, in which the pastor prays at length for, well, anything and everything.  This can be a train wreck if he’s unprepared, but it can also be a beautiful moment of pastoral love and care for the flock.  The Puritans, in particular, had a thing for insanely long prayers, and this rubric offers them a victory in our 2019 liturgy.

Personally I don’t recommend opting for this, but it may be a positive idea to pray, as a pastor (priest, deacon, or otherwise) for your congregation at the end of the traditional set Prayers.

Shaken, not stirred

Another thing you could try here is to pull out the Occasional Prayers near the back of the Prayer Book and grab a collect or two for each of the required topics to create your own Prayers of the People.  This would result in a very piecemeal set of prayers, with little-to-no sense of flow to them, so I would not recommend that for ordinary Communion services.  But that might be a cool idea to try out in an Antecommunion service on your own!  It’s also worth noting that the list of topics in the rubric above also closely matches the organization of the Occasional Prayers, so this scheme would be easier to fulfill than you might think.

Outsourcing

This rubric also gives you the freedom to grab any other Prayer Book, official or proposed or supplementary, and use their Prayers of the People, assuming they meet the simple required topics.  This could mean the 1979, or England’s Common Worship, or the Kenyan Prayer Book, or another province.  Or, to channel that #broke/#woke/#bespoke meme, you could go all-out #bespoke and use the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Book’s Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church.  How ’bout dat?

For ever and ever, Amen.

Pray the Great Litany as the Prayers of the People.  Pray some or all the Psalms.  Pray all the Occasional Prayers.  This liturgy could last all day, baby!  DON’T STAWP!

A (different) Collect for Sundays

Those of who prayed or ministered under the 1979 Prayer Book for any length of time may be familiar with its Collect for Sundays from Morning Prayer.  It goes like this:

O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the rest of the week may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This neat little prayer plays directly into the concept of “sacred time”, identifying the chief reason Christian worship on Sundays (the resurrection of our Lord), and asking for a favorable week in light of the blessing of the Sunday worship.  While succinct, this prayer may come across a little blunt.  “You make us glad… give us this day… that the rest of the week may be spent…”  This Collect was written by the Rev. William Bright and first published in the appendix of his book Ancient Collects, and it read like this:

O God, Who makest us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of Thy Son our Lord ; vouchsafe us this day such a blessing through Thy worship, that the days which follow it may be spent in Thy favour ; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Meanwhile, there was another prayer lurking in the back the 1979 Book (on page 835), also entitled On Sunday, which proved much more robust:

O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This Collect was drafted by the Rev. Dr. Charles Price, who served on the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church for many years, in his day, leaving his mark on the 1979 Prayer Book in several places.  As you can see this prayer does much the same thing as the first one: identifying the “sacred meaning” of Sunday with the resurrection of Christ, but it unpacks this reality in manifold praises and petitions.  We celebrate Christ’s victory and the hope he wins for us; we pray not only for the redemption of time (as in the first collect) but also for forgiveness, courage, boldness, and perseverance.  Compared to one another, this one is much meatier.

And so when you take up the 2019 Prayer Book you’ll find that these two collects have swapped places.  The second one is now offered in the Morning Office for Sundays, with a new title: A Collect for Strength to Await Christ’s Return, and the first one is tossed into the Occasional Prayers, appearing as #102 On Sundays on page 676.  I mean, hey, they’re both fine prayers in their own rights.  And they’re only about 100 years apart in age.  But it’s an encouraging thing to observe – the ACNA committees identifying similar prayers and opting to put pride of place to those with more weight, gravity, and substance for the regular pray-er of the Daily Office.

A Collect for Guidance

Among the prayers in the Daily Office, the tradition is that we pray three Collects after the Lord’s Prayer and Suffrages.  The Collect of the Day is first.  After that, traditionally, follow two specific collects, but in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books those two set collects have been surrounded by a larger list of daily collects.  Although the list of collects is the same in both books, our new Prayer Book (2019) identifies the traditional two, so that those who prefer to stick to the simpler original tradition can do so easily.  And for those who do want to utilize the longer list, an italicized day of the week is added to each Collect’s name.

For Thursday the recommendation is the Collect for Guidance.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This is a fine prayer on its own, and is particularly appropriate for the morning as it implies a day ahead in which we need to remember God amidst all the busy distractions.  On the meta level, this is kinda neat because part of the whole point of the Daily Office (and other hours-based offices like Midday and Compline) is to help us remember God throughout the day.

Some may be skeptical, however, about the Address at the beginning of this collect, in which we identify God as the one in whom we “live and move and have our being.”  That sounds a bit nebulous and wishy-washy, right?  If you’re down with your Greek philosophy you might even suspect this of being more of a Pagan notion of God – the generic divinity from which all spirit-life is derived.  In a round-about way, you would be right.  This is a quote from Epimenides of Crete, a Greek philosopher from several centuries B.C.

But it’s also a quote from Acts 17:28 – St. Paul quotes two ancient Greek poets in his address in Athens, using their statements about the divine to teach truths about the true God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  If you’re sensitive to language style and use, you may recognize the Greek-ish-ness of this phrase, distinct from the Hebraisms that we’re used to in biblical turns of phrase.

Perhaps you never thought twice about this prayer; that’s fine too.  I honestly only know the Ancient Greek reference because the RSV Bible I read from for a few years in a row has a footnote that identifies the two poets whom St. Paul quotes.

Anyway, apart from the “cool fun fact” side, this is also a well-matched Address for the Petition that follows.  God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being – this is a continual reality, an affirmation of constant divine presence, or access.  And on that basis we pray for continual awareness of that reality: may the ever-present Spirit guide and govern us in such a way that we don’t succumb to the world’s distractions and end up living as practical atheists.  Traditional or not, this is a great prayer, and one that is only growing in relevance as this interconnected world invades more and more of our personal space and time.

Inner Renewal through the Word

One of the great principles of worship that informs how liturgy is shaped and filled is lex orandi lex credendi – the rule or prayer is the rule of faith, what we pray is what we believe.  It’s not a one-way street: the deposit of faith ought informs our prayer and the way we pray informs our faith.  So it is very important especially when we pray together that we adhere to a faithful liturgy that promulgates orthodox belief.

One of the major points of faith to an Anglican, and our Protestant brethren, is the authoritative primacy of Scripture.  Arguably the most famous prayer that has originated in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition is the “scripture collect” for Advent II – “grant us to so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…”  But today let’s highlight a different one.  Occasional Prayer #70 on page 667 is entitled For Inner Renewal through the Word.  It reads thus:

Gracious God and most merciful Father, you have granted us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word: Assist us with your Spirit, that the same Word may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up and edify us into the perfect dwelling place of your Christ, sanctifying and increasing in us all heavenly virtues; grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

My goodness this prayer is packed full!  Let’s break it down.

  • God is a gracious and merciful Father.
  • The Bible is a rich and precious jewel granted us by God.
  • The Spirit helps write the Bible in our hearts.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible comfort us.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible reforms (corrects and redirects) us.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible renews us in the image of God.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible builds and edifies us into the perfect dwelling place of Christ Jesus.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible makes us holy.
    • When in our hearts, the Bible increases heavenly virtues (such as faith, hope, and love).
  • For the sake of Jesus Christ, we pray the Spirit would do all this in us.

For many Christians the language of the Word being written on our hearts is commonplace.  For some, especially for onlookers in other faiths or none in particular, this may sound strange.  What’s the difference between having the Bible “written in our hearts” and having the Bible “memorized”?  Think of the Pharisees in the Gospels: they had memorized the Scriptures flawlessly, and outwardly conformed their lives to what they understood them to say, but inwardly many of them were still very crooked people.  Think of the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3: “the letter kills, the Spirit gives life.”  Think of the words of our Lord in John 6: “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is no help at all.”  The literal words of the Bible are not its power.  It is the god-breathed nature of those words, and the application of those words in the human heart where their true power is made manifest.

One can say the same thing Lord of the Rings or Doctor Who or any other story: there is a real difference between memorizing the contents and knowing all the trivia and the behind-the-scenes stuff, and being inspired and changed from the experience.  Good poetry, good music, good arts – these have the potential to change one’s perspective on life, to touch the heart in ways that the mind cannot explain or words express.  That is the beginning of what it means to have the words of sacred scripture written on our hearts.  It has been heard, it is been read, it has been marked (or studied), and it is being learned and inwardly digested to nourish and strengthen the reader.  You know the saying “You are what you eat”?  It’s not only true about a healthy diet of food, but the same principle applies to the ingesting of the Word of God.  (And to Holy Communion too, but we’ll save that for another time!)

Anyway, go read this prayer in the Daily Office today.  It’s good for you. 😉

Prayers to Note

Teen suicide rates are on the rise in the US.  The economy and workplace situations are worsening, as many people are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, causing in loss of stable schedules, often minimal benefits, health insurance, and vacation time.  Depression and anxiety is commonplace, and the pressures of 21st century life can be crushing when exacerbated with social media.  To these and similar challenges, our new Prayer Book presents a number of Occasional Prayers that can direct our attentions and affections, and possibly ease the weary soul.  There are three I want to point you to today, on pages 663-665.

#59 FOR THE DISCOURAGED AND DOWNCAST

O God, almighty and merciful, you heal the broken-hearted,
and turn the sadness of the sorrowful to joy,
Let your fatherly goodness be upon all whom you have made.
Remember in pity all those who are this day destitute,
homeless, elderly, infirm, or forgotten.
Bless the multitude of your poor. Lift up those who are cast down.
Mightily befriend innocent sufferers,
and sanctify to them the endurance of their wrongs.
Cheer with hope all who are discouraged and downcast,
and by your heavenly grace preserve from falling
those whose poverty tempts them to sin.
Though they be troubled on every side, suffer them not to be distressed;
though they are perplexed, save them from despair.
Grant this, O Lord, for the love of him who for our sakes became poor,
your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

#62 FOR THOSE AFFLICTED WITH MENTAL SUFFERING

Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people:
Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from anxiety,
depression, or mental illness [especially _______];
bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their needs;
help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you;
and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

#63 FOR THOSE IN BONDAGE TO ADDICTION

O blessed Lord, you ministered to all who came to you:
Look with compassion upon those who through addiction
have lost their health and freedom.
Restore to them the assurance of your unfailing mercy;
remove from them the fears that beset them;
strengthen them in the work of their recovery;
and to those who minister to them,
give patient understanding and persevering love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.