I have started a new Priest’s Forum at St. Joseph of Arimathea which will involve delving into the theology and doctrines behind the collects and other prayers of The Book of Common Prayer. We often say that the Prayer Book contains our theology, it makes sense that we would take the time to plumb the depths of the central texts of the Prayer Book–the prayers.
The title of the series is “The Law of Prayer,” which comes from a well known–though sometimes misunderstood–phrase “The law of prayer is the law of belief,” (in Latin, Lex orandi, lex credendi, or as Prosper of Aquitaine originally wrote, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, the Law of Prayer establishes the law of belief).
Last week we spent out time looking at the different types of prayer and especially the parts of a collect. I thought I would share those for those who are interested.
I hope to post something after each lesson for those who might to follow along from a distance, or who can’t make it on Sunday morning.
The Five Traditional Forms of Prayer
There are five traditional forms of prayer:
- Blessing & Adoration
- Prayer of Petition
- Prayer of Intercession
- Prayer of Thanksgiving
- Prayer of Praise
Sometimes these are grouped differently, but you can see the formulations are thematically similar: Adoration, worship, praise, thanksgiving, blessing, confession, petition, supplication, intercession, aspiration, consecration, lament (Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality, Evan B. Howard, p. 301).
The most common prayer among Christians is probably the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer fall into several categories:
Hallowed be thy name (worship)
Thy kingdom come (aspiration)
Thy will be done (surrender)
Give us this day, our daily bread (supplication)
Forgive us (Confession)
Deliver us (Warfare Prayer)
The prayers recorded in early Christian literature can be categorized into six type: petition (including intercession), thanksgiving, blessing (or benediction), praise, confession and finally a small number of lamentations. The first five of these types have persisted throughout the centuries and been expressed in a large number of Christian prayers. However some prayers may combine some of these forms, e.g. praise and thanksgiving, etc.
Modes of prayer
- Vocal Prayer
- Centering prayer: Centering Prayer is a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.
- Lectio Divina, literally meaning “divine reading,” is an ancient practice of praying the Scriptures. During Lectio Divina, the practitioner listens to the text of the Bible with the “ear of the heart,” as if he or she is in conversation with God, and God is suggesting the topics for discussion. The method of Lectio Divina includes moments of reading (lectio), reflecting on (meditatio), responding to (oratio) and resting in (contemplatio) the Word of God with the aim of nourishing and deepening one’s relationship with the Divine. have divided prayer into the three simple categories:
- Spoken prayer ordained by God and the holy church (“common” or “public” prayer).
- Spoken prayer expressing the stirrings of those who are in a state of devotion (“conversational” prayer)
- Prayer in the heart alone and without speaking (“contemplative” contemplative prayer, broadly understood).
- I would add Written Prayer as an area to consider: Liturgical texts, such as collects
A collect generally has five parts:
- An address to God.
- A relative or participle clause referring to some attribute of God, or to one of his saving acts.
- The petition
- The reason for which we ask
- The conclusion
Here’s an example from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
It may be broken down as follows:
- Address: Almighty and everlasting God,
- Attribute: You are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve;
- The Petition: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things
- The Reason:for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of
- Conclusion: Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
There are some prayers recorded in scripture that follow a similar pattern. That’s not to say they are collects (they’re not), or that collects consciously used the same pattern (they didn’t), but rather to point out that the language of prayer follows certain patterns, and contains variations within a tradition.
Acts 1:24-25, when the Apostles prayed before the election of Matthias, contains 4 of the traditional 5 sections of a collect:
“Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”
Similar prayers in the Apocrypha can be found at 2 Maccabees 1:24-29 and 1 Maccabees 4:30-33.