Sunday, 17 January 2010

Public Prayer

Previously I've posted  concerning private prayer and a person's life of unceasing prayer in and around their normal life of work and family. In this post I want to look at the prayer of The Church, the public prayer of The Christians together.

The central pivot of the Church's prayer is called the Divine Liturgy, or Holy Mass, or Holy Communion. The word Liturgy, which is the word used by the Orthodox, comes from an ancient (pre-Christian) Greek concept leitourgia, which meant that the rich would take on some extra duties which the poor could not afford to do. This is exactly what we are doing in the Holy Communion, we are making an offering on behalf of the whole world, and receiving from God, both ourselves personally, but also our community and the rest of creation, the Holy Gift, Jesus.

The other word we hear is the Greek noun eucharistía which literally means “Good Favour”. The Greek word Eucharistéō is the usual verb "to thank". The word “Mass”, by the way, comes from the final prayer of the Latin rite: Missa est, it was just a dismissal, but has been given an implication of “mission”, an icon of the missionary nature of the Church.

We appear to offer bread and wine, together with ourselves and our service, in return God comes to us himself and makes us anew. We are empowered, indeed commanded, to make this offering as we are the Royal Priesthood; commanded by none other than Christ Jesus himself. How Jesus comes to us as the Gift of God is a mystery, and this is why we call this a 'sacrament' - a Latin translation of the Greek Mysterion.

I call Holy Communion, the pivot because all other public prayer surrounds it and depends on it. In the early days of the church, the people of God lived in close communities and met for a common meal every day where the Holy Offering could be made (bread and wine offered), and the Gift received in fellowship. As Christianity spread wider into the community the custom of meeting for the Offering became a weekly event on the Lord's Day. This pattern is still maintained in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions, and this is also mostly true in the protestant churches of the classical reformation (for instance, the Lutherans, and Church of England), sadly it has died out in many modern reformed groups.

Our other public prayers are derived from the monastic tradition of praying every hour. Clearly nothing much would get done in the world if like monks and nuns, everyone stopped to pray for 15 minutes every hour, and even in monasteries the Hours are run together. But in truth these formal prayers are part and parcel of the Holy Liturgy – they are the Holy Liturgy in the daily and hourly life of The Church. Not everyone can be at every service, but by joining the public prayer in some way, we are joining ourselves to the offering of the Church.

There are then certainly two parts, equally important, to prayer: our own personal dialogue with God; and the great work of the Church as we make the Holy Offering together. Because we have Christ, we are the rich ones, and so we can afford to offer the leitourgia: in truth then we offer Him, the one and only worthy offering. And in return the whole world, the whole of creation, receives the Holy Gifts - not received because we are worthy, but because God loves us. Remember He loves everyone: those who know Him and love Him; those who once knew Him, but seem now to have forgotten Him; those who never knew Him; even those who know of Him but hate Him.

Love to you all,