Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Second Sunday After Trinity

(Today we begin a series of comments on a central prayer of our liturgy, the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church.

ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who by thy holy Apostle hast taught us to make prayers, and supplications, and to give thanks for all men; We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to accept our [alms and] oblations, and to freceive these our prayers which we offer unto thy Divine Majesty....

After the Priest has received the money offerings of the people and has prepared the bread and wine for consecration, he invites the people to join him in a somewhat long prayer for quite a number of things. But all these petitions add up to just one thing. This is a prayer in which we pray for the Church. In fact we are the Church, we are really praying for ourselves, as we are entitled to do. This sort of prayer is called supplication (as distinguished from intercession, in which we pray for others). The invitation to this prayer, “for the whole state of Christ's Church,” does not just mean the whole Church. “Whole state” means “healthy condition.” We are praying that the Church may remain in good spiritual health.

The opening clause of the prayer refers to “thy holy Apostle,” but which Apostle is meant? Surely this is St. Paul, because the prayer here is quoting I Timothy 2:1. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” Our praying does not originate in us. We pray only because of the Spirit's prompting and Biblical teaching. And we continue in a tradition of liturgical prayer which derives from the New Testament itself.

The first petition asks God “mercifully to accept” our worship. Christian prayer is characterized by a mixture of humility and boldness. We dare not assume that God will automatically accept our offerings just because we offer them. Remember the sacrifice of Cain, which God rejected? It is God's prerogative to accept or reject our prayers in His sovereign pleasure. But we pray with courage and confidence, because He has encouraged us strongly so to do. The point of this petition is that worship is an offering, a sacrifice, and in this spirit we dare to pray.

The Puritans correctly defined prayer. Prayer is not begging in order to obtain, nor is it merely submission to a mysterious Divine will. Prayer, they stated, “is the offering up of our desires unto God for things conformable to His Will.” In other words, we take our desires and make them a sacrifice to God. Here we ask God to accept three things: our “alms” (the offerings necessary to sustain the church and advance God's kingdom), our “oblations” (the bread and wine soon to be consecrated), and our “prayers.”

(to be continued)

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