Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Eleventh Sunday After Trinity

(We conclude today our commentary on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

The final petition of this very comprehensive supplication brings everything into focus: “that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom.” This comes as something of a surprise, reminding us of all the things we have not prayed for in this prayer. We have not prayed for success, safety, health, prosperity, or increase of members. The shallow values of our commercial secular culture often penetrate the life and thinking of Churchmen and Church leaders, but such dubious priorities are conspicuously absent from this prayer. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is His heavenly kingdom. Being with God in His glory, in the fellowship of His angels and His saints, in the reality of our resur-rected Body, set free from the world, the flesh and the devil, with sin and death at last behind us-- that, and that alone, is our goal. It is all that matters. So we will pray in an even more comprehensive prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”

And we conclude with the phrase “our only Mediator and Advocate.” This is no literary flourish but a critical truth of the Gospel. The term mediator refers to a “go-between,” who represents God to us and us to God, effecting peace and reconciliation between two parties previously estranged. He is capable of such an undertaking because He possesses both a Divine and a Human nature. He is our advocate because He has carried our human nature right into the very presence of His Father. The human body which was nailed to the cross and was raised from the tomb (that same body, with all its scars and wounds!) is now in heaven.

This is what the Epistle to the Hebrews means when it calls Him our great high priest.

In this office, He is utterly unique. There is no one else who can reconcile us to God, no one else who can intercede for us, no one else who can plead our cause. No one else could say “All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me.” He and He alone is our Saviour and Redeemer, our only Prophet, Priest, and King.

So if we expect God to hear, receive, or answer this or any other prayer, it can only be through Him and Him alone, in whose prevailing Name and words we pray.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Tenth Sunday After Trinity

(We continue our commentary on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants depaerted this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service....

In the final paragraph of this profound and searching prayer, we pray for the departed. But here the Prayer Book goes our of its way to eliminate any ambiguity as to whom we pray for. Not just any and all deceased persons, but for those who have “departed thus life in thy faith and fear,” that is the Christian faith. This particular petition has been attacked from time to time by the anti-Catholic elements within the Anglican tradition, and one early edition of the Prayer Book (the short-lived revision of 1552) eliminated this petition altogether.

This was owing to the unreasonable Protestant prejudice against “praying for the dead.” That prejudice arose in the 16th century as part of a necessary protest against the blatant commercialization of such prayers, with certain clergymen accepting large sums of money for offering Masses for the “repose of the souls” of the departed. That practice, which we would find shocking, was grounded in a poor non-Biblical notion of the Intermediate State as a place of pain and suffering.

The original version of this petition, found in the first Prayer Book of 1549, was a much more vigorous prayer than what we find in our 1928 Prayer Book. If you want to see the original version, look at the prayer at the bottom of page 336, now in our Burial Office. But even in the present “toned-down” form, the version familiar to us is adequate. We rightly and properly pray for th dead because in Christ there are no dead. The faithful departed can experience no suffering oir pain whatever, but they are still growing in Christ and advancing in holiness. Therefore our prayers are beneficial to them.

At the Eucharist when Christ is wondrously present in His very Body and Blood, His whole Church in heaven and earth is invisibly assembled. It is not for nothing that we mention “angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.” In the Prayer of Consecration itself, we pray that “we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion.” Every time that bread and wine are set forth, in the sight of heaven and earth, as a Memorial unto the Lord, to “shows forth His death until He come,” we are praying for all of Christ's disciples and believers, of centuries past, of our own past, in all times and places.

(To be continued.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Ninth Sunday After Trinity

(We continue our commentary on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

After we pray for “all thy People,” we pray in conclusion for two special classes: those who are in trouble of any sort, and for “all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear.” The first of these petitions requires no commentary, but two points are worth making. In this petition we are not necessarily confined to praying for those within the community of the Church. Here the prayer breaks its original limits and we remember that if all mankind is not already within the circle of God's people, they at least are there potentially. Supplication has moved naturally into intercession. There is a common grace, in which the same rain falls on the just and unjust. Trouble, sorrow, need, sickness are universal; and here we do well to think of our non-Christian, un-Churched, or unbelieving friends.

Also, prayer for those afflicted in any way is an essential ministry of the Church. Our Lord prayed, as the Great High Priest, even when He was the Victim on the Cross for those around Him. “Father, forgive them...” In the Eucharist, as His priestly body on earth, in a certain limited sense, we share in His unique mediatorial work. Therefore we continue His act of intercession and share in His present heavenly priesthood.

The suffering and afflicted are precious and dear to Christ. The Gospels are emphatic, “And He had compassion on the multitude...” Our Prayer Book enables us to amplify this brief petition in three particular places, first, the rubric on page 71 which encourages the insertion of “other authoried prayers and intercessions,” and secondly, the Litany, most commonly used in Lent, in which we pray sweepingly “to have mercy upon all men.”

The third place is the rubric on page 74, authorizing the Priest to “ask the secret intercessions of the Congregation for any who have desired the prayers of the Church.” By that term “secret” the Prayer Book simply means “silent.” The expression “prayers of the Church” reminds us that there is a special significance, even a special power, in our corporate prayer as a community. We sometimes speak of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice “with special intention.” This means that we celebrate the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood as an act of special and specific prayer for an announced purpose. “It is meet and right so to do.”

(To be continued.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Eighth Sunday After Trinity

(We continue our commentary on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

As we reflect on the petition, “To all thy People give thy heavenly grace,” we must not neglect to clarify exactly what is meant by the term “thy People.” There are many who would suppose, in a thoughtless manner, that this simply means people in general. But remember, we are praying for the Church, God's “peculiar people,” the body of those who are chosen and set apart by their Baptism as the people of God, separated by their new birth from the old creation. Baptism draws a clear line between the old creation and the new, between God's people and those who are not His people, between the saved and the unsaved.

The phrase “thy people” has deep roots in the Bible. As God said in Deuteronomy 7:6ff., speaking to His chosen people Israel, “You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you are the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath which He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you....”

This ancient OT promise is applied in the NT to the “blessed company of all faithful people,” the Church. St Peter tells is (1 Peter 2:9), “But you are a chosen race, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The Old Testament chosen people Israel has now been enlarged and transformed into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of the New Testament. The promise which echoes from page to page in the OT, “I will be your God, and you shall be My people, and I will dwell with you,” now belongs to the Christian com-munity, the Body of Christ. And for this chosen people, “elect from every nation, yet one in all the earth” as the hymn says, we persistently pray at every Mass, that God will continue to pour our His redeeming, justifying and sanctifying grace.

(To be continued)