Monday, June 16, 2008

Apparent Prayer eliminates Effectual Prayer

On those “Lists” in the Bulletin which are read aloud in the Sunday “Eucharist.”

Some observations from one who has visited many churches over the last fifteen years in the forty-eight contiguous states - and in Hawaii and Alaska, and in most Canadian provinces.

In a previous short essay released on Trinity IV (“LITURGY: Contrast before and after the 1970s”), I noted the massive change to the “Anglican Divine Liturgy” (Public Worship for the Lord’s Day Morning) that occurred after the late 1960s, and then in and through the decades to the twenty-first century. From being the fixed and stable Liturgy where the individual person became by desire and grace a member of the Body, the divine entity, the divine organism, the microcosm of the one, catholic Church, historic Anglican Public Worship [Morning Prayer, Litany and The Order for Holy Communion] became the Liturgy for the ever-fuller expression of what is known as expressive individualism.

Gone was the united, fixed Prayer and content; in its place was flexibility, choice and change. Common Prayer assumed a new shape allowing varied content rather than classic shape containing unity in doctrine and content.

The entrance of this powerful, expressive individualism (which of course dominated much of American Protestant evangelical and liberal religion at that time and has done since) was felt in Anglican circles (as well as in Lutheran and Methodist circles) in both strong and weak forms. With the strong came musicians, actors, dancers, readers and their “arts,” and with the weak came celebration of birthdays and wedding anniversaries, extra “new” music, “shared ministries” in “the worship service” and so on. In a sense, what had been seen as belonging to a period after the Public Liturgy on Sunday, and also to mid- week for a variety of purposes, was now judged to be right for the unique Sunday Liturgy as well, but, importantly, it entered on Sunday as the result of expressive individualism! that is, to meet the felt needs of liberated individuals, who saw and felt the world from the inner perspective of the self.

Here, as space is limited, let us focus on one innovation that is so visible and audible in most “worship services” of churches of Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist types across the U.S.A. and Canada in 2008. It is most clearly the result of the influence of expressive individualism, a phenomenon that liturgists have embraced as one important theme of successful contemporary worship.

Prayer LISTS

Sometime during or after the 1970s the ”Prayer List,” previously found in the printed Bulletin of parishes. found its way into the content of “the [new] Holy Eucharist” as a required part of the form of the “Prayers of the People.” Here, in the middle of what were usually short prayers of petition and intercession for the church and the world, a lay-person reads through this (usually-long) List, normally of first names, of those who had been placed upon It or requested to be on it as “needing prayer.” It all ended with the minister or lay-person making a short, summary prayer. The general idea seems to have been the incorporation of these “sick people” into the gathered “community” and embrace them in love.

Question: Why does the importing of such a List in such a way into the Liturgy represent a major and serious innovation from the point of view of the Anglican Tradition (i.e., from the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549, behind this in the medieval Latin Liturgy and on backwards into the Patristic Liturgy and even into the liturgy of the synagogue)?

To see the answer one may turn to look in The Book of Common Prayer (1549-1662 & the USA 1928 and Canadian 1962 editions; but NOT the 1979 USA edition). In the Prayer for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here on earth, the Minister prays on behalf of all: And we most humbly beseech thee of thy goodness, O Lord, to comfort and succor all them, who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity…”

This is the Prayer of the local church understood as an entity, an organism, as the local body of Christ and as the household of Faith. So the intercession is all-embracing , covering all, addressed to an All-knowing, all-wise, All-powerful God and Father, before whom all are equal in Christ Jesus, whether severely or minimally ill. The one united prayer of the one people of God for the one people of God arises through Christ in the Spirit to the one God of Salvation, the God of Health for this world and the next, that is of true Health!

Outside this unique Prayer of the Sunday Liturgy on the Lord’s Day, and during the weekdays, are many opportunities for the visiting of, and praying for the sick – which should be a real ministry of ordained Ministers and commissioned lay leaders. Regrettably this was often neglected in the past, as it is also now, and for this there is little or no excuse for us before the judgment seat of Jesus the Lord.

Obviously the point being made here is a biblical, liturgical and pastoral one, and one that was wholly in place for over a thousand years in Western and Eastern Catholicism, and then magisterial Protestantism (Anglicanism and Lutheranism, for example). To have disregarded it, with so much else, in the and after the 1960s is an amazing and sad comment on contemporary, western, liturgical Christianity, and a failure to grasp the nature of Prayer in the Body of Christ.


Perhaps an explanatory and practical comment on the modern use of the “List” here will help to make clearer the most important point that I believe I am making. Standing alone, I believe and I am often told that this common practice, even with good intentions, suffers from regular deficiencies, which are rarely put right. Here are some deficiencies that people regularly note and comment on:

People are left off the List simply through human error, ignorance and carelessness and this upsets not a few people a good deal (for the LIST has acquired emotional connections for some).
People who have died or moved away are left on often for weeks.
People who have recovered and are visibly active are often left on.
Very few people in larger congregations know more than a few of the names – especially as most appear as nick-names or first-names, or without any clue as to their whereabouts or needs.
Editors of Lists are fearful to edit even though they know it is often desperately needed, because of the built-in expressive individualism in this practice now.
When Lists are read out, few readers seem to prepare themselves either for pronunciation or for reverential demeanor in reading, and thus it sounds like any other list and can be most boring to the average listener!
In comparison to the often several minutes of names upon names, the concluding prayer at the end usually takes a few seconds usually.
Thus in the end what purports to be an intercessory Prayer is not a Prayer at all, but, rather, a list of names of persons (“individuals”) which are read out aloud and then attached to a short, quick, prayer formula!

As I have indicated, to redeem this poor pastoral, liturgical practice is not possible; but, I suggest that it may be improved somewhat by keeping a good, up-to-date, annotated LIST, printed in the Bulletin weekly, and then using it not in the “Service” but in daily Family Prayers in the parish and at the church prayer meetings, and the like, where it can be used creatively and reverently.

The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon, June 16, 2008, week of Trinity IV


1 comment:

Mark Carroll said...

Dr. Toon,

Thank you Sir.

In thinking on this article, I am reminded of the solution the authors of the 1928 prayer book put together, with the portion of Morning and Evening prayers which allowed the folk to remember prayers requested specifically by the members of the congregation, and also for specific thanksgivings.

Although there are no rubrics for a pause where these insertions are allowed, we have often employed such in our prayers for petitions and intercessions.

With the saying of the General Thanksgiving in unison, the insertion for specific thanksgivings has been largely dropped. However, it could be recovered with rehearsal to pause in the common prayer said at this point.

A significant pause for extemporaneous prayer in good order, either silently or in muted voice, might do much to meet the needs of the congregation, and correct the rather mechanical recitation of a long list of names of folk, some who are not even known to most of the members of the congregation-much less their needs.


Mark Carroll