During Lent each year, our worship takes on a particular form. Worship begins with "The Penitential Order"; the white and green hangings of Epiphany yield to the penitential purple of Lent; flowers disappear from the altar; the word "Alleluia" also disappears; instead, a variety of words express our sorrow and regret for the pain our mistakes and bad choices have caused God and others; a "Solemn Prayer over the People" replaces the Blessing for a season; we sing the simple and somber service music of John Merbecke; and we sum up our prayers by praying together, "Lord, have mercy."
"Lord, have mercy" is the response to each petition in the Prayers of the People we offer at both 8 and 10 a.m. on Sundays in Lent (p.383). One of the benefits of prayers like "Form I" (as this one is Identified in the Prayer Book), is that the scope of our prayers are lifted far beyond our own immediate concerns and what the Prayer Book calls our blindness, ignorance and sinfulness. In the fine print at the top of page 383, the Prayer Book directs:
Prayer is offered with intercession for
The Universal Church, its members, and its mission
The Nation and all in authority
The welfare of the world
The concerns of the local community
Those who suffer and those in any trouble
The departed (with commemoration of a saint when it is appropriate)
The way the Prayer Book elevates and expands my prayer life, was -- and remains --- one of The Episcopal Church's attractions for me; my first acquaintance with The Book of Common Prayer was courtesy of Father Field (never did know his first name) when I was an undergraduate at Carleton College. Founded by Northfield's Congregational Church, and with the Pilgrim Hymnal still in the College Chapel's pews, communion services were exceptionally rare at Carleton. However, with the chaplain's permission, Fr. Field celebrated Holy Communion according to the 1928 Prayer Book on Wednesday nights after the Library closed. By my senior year, I was hooked.
After the Blessing, Fr. Field would walk back down the aisle in the small basement space known as the "Chapel Crypt" offering the same devotional prayer. Years later I learned the original form of the prayer, first published in 1263 (in Latin, of course) was written by St. Thomas Aquinas.* By the end of my senior year, I knew it by heart:
O saving victim, opening wide,
the gates of heaven to man below.
Our foes press on from every side;
thine aid supply, thy strength bestow.
All praise and thanks to thee ascend,
for evermore, blest One in Three;
O grant us life that shall not end,
in our true native land with thee.
Our prayers address the scourge of gun violence in three ways:
1) To the petition "[for] the President, the leaders of the nations, and all in authority," the intercessor adds, "that they may work together to end terror, warfare and gun violence," before concluding "let us pray to the Lord."
2) In the petition "for the widowed and orphaned," the intercessor defines those terms as "the vulnerable and defenseless," adding "for the sick and the suffering, for victims of violence, especially the gun violence this week in [states where there have been mass shootings]" These places come from the "Gun Violence Archive's Mass Shootings" page; find it here. This page describes where incidents involving four or more injuries or deaths happened and provides details and news sources; in the incidents this past week in Texas, Kansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma two people died and twenty people were injured. Perhaps because at least some of these incidents appeared to be "gang related," outside bars, and in areas less fashionable than Parkland, Florida, they did not make the national news. Nonetheless, these shooting deaths and injuries also happened to children of God. And,
3) The petition "For deliverance from all danger, violence, oppression, and degradation," surely includes gun violence without further specifying it.
Here's the catch in all our prayers regarding gun violence:
1) We probably need to let the "President, ... and all in authority," know that we are both praying for them, and that we expect them to work together to address gun violence.
2) The casualties from mass shootings are only a small fraction of the deadly toll exacted by gun violence: 15,595 people were killed by gun violence in 2017, and another 22,000 died as a result of suicide. Just because some may be using concern about "mental health" to direct attention from the tool of this violence to its perpetrators, heightened attention to mental health care and research would be a constructive change from current de-funding and prohibitions.
3) We may be part of the answer to our own prayers for deliverance. I'm wondering what that is going to look like for me as I write these words. How about for you?
Now onto other things of Lent:
I found Lent Madness fascinating again this week. Choices were incredibly difficult between such saintly folk as Deaconness Anna Alexander -- an African-American leader of Christian formation in Georgia, and Peter Claver -- a Jesuit who served the physical and spiritual needs of African slaves trafficked through Cartegena, Columbia. Yet, I wouldn't have known about either, if I hadn't participated. A very few copies of "The Definitive Guide" remain available for $3 each, but you can participate totally on-line by registering in the top right column here.
The Rectory Forum and Tuesday Supper have been introduced to "Luke," the evangelist who gets credit for both the Gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts. So this week would be a good time to join these gatherings of the "Good Book Club," as we get further into the 'orderly account" Luke wrote "...after investigating everything carefully from the very first (1.3b)..." You can sign up here to receive the Forward Day-by-Day devotion on the portion of Luke appointed for each day.
Thanks to the In-Reach Committee for last Sunday's Mid-morning Breakfast! Several tables of stalwart folks enjoyed each other's company and the delicious French toast, bacon and sausages prepared by Annie Rae and Susan & Tony Leonard. Thanks to them and to every one else who pitched in to help!
Happy to report that Sheward is back safe and sound from his vacation adventure, and that it looks like we won't have to call upon his snow-clearing expertise any time soon!
In faith, hope and love,
*The authorship of this prayer has special significance for me. I was ordained a priest on January 28, the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.
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