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.)

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