Friday, August 24, 2007

Living in order to die well anytime. An occasional Prayer which merits being a regular Prayer

In the American edition of The Book of Common Prayer (1928) the Prayer below is found in the Service for the Visitation of the Sick. It is also found as an optional prayer in the Canadian edition of The Book of Common Prayer (1962). It was composed by Jeremy Taylor in the seventeenth century, and it is worth memorizing either as he wrote it or in a modern English equivalent (for which see below).

O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered; Make us, we beseech thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let thy Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness, all our days: that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of the Catholic Church; in the confidence of a certain faith, in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favor with thee our God, and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

While the content is perfectly appropriate for the chronically sick and for mourners at a funeral, it surely has a far wider relevance, and to this I now point.

Let us examine its content as if it were a prayer for regular use:

1) The prayer is addressed to God, the Father, to whom in the Name of Jesus Christ, Christian prayer is normally addressed. And with respect to the Father two important facts are recalled through the use of biblical phraseology (from KJV). God is without beginning and end, everlasting and eternal; further, God’s mercies are so many that it is impossible to put a number on them. And, of course, these mercies come to man by the saving and redeeming work of the Father, through the Incarnate Son and with the Holy Spirit.
2) The attitude towards God is that not of standing upon rights or relying on personal merits, but of being conscious of relying wholly on the grace of the Father through the Son. To beseech is not merely to ask but to ask out of profound humility and self-abasement—as when subjects prostrate themselves before the Emperor.
3) The first request is for a sense of the reality of human life as experienced and known—that it has a beginning in birth and has an ending in death, and that the circumstances and moment of death are never known in advance. Further, that human life as Christian on earth is preparation for life in the age to come, Thus we are to live every day as though it were our last for we know not when we shall be summoned by God.
4) To be sure that we live life as we ought, the second request is for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who comes in the Name of Christ, to make us to grow in holiness and righteousness day by day. Without being led by the Spirit we cannot truly serve God in our daily living in family and community.
5) On the basis of the presence of the indwelling Spirit, we express our desire that, when we are called by God to join the baptized faithful and saints who have gone before us, we shall possess a good conscience—knowing that we have used all the means of grace to serve God in faithfulness and good works for his glory.
6) But not only with a good conscience, also to be in good standing and fellowship in the Church of God, to possess a lively and sure trust in Christ as our Savior, to have a genuine hope of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting with Christ and the saints, to be accounted righteous by God and adopted as his child, and to be loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Such large requests the Father loves to hear and to answer but only through the mediation of his Son. So we end the prayer, “Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Only as we pray this prayer regularly will it gradually dawn upon us the rich meaning contained in all its words, phrases and clauses.

Finally, for those who have not been in the habit of praying in traditional English, here is the same prayer in a form of contemporary English.

Of God, the Father eternal, whose mercies are too many to be counted, make us, we pray, to be deeply aware of the shortness and uncertainty of our human life on earth. At the same time, let your Holy Spirit lead us day by day to become holy and righteous people, so that, when You summon us from our service in this world into the next to join those who have gone before us, we shall truly be prepared—possessing a clear and good conscience, being in full communion with the Catholic Church, having a sure and lively trust in You, strengthened by your promises of life everlasting life, granted favor in your sight as your adopted child, and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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