Traditional Prayers for Anglican Catholics


Every now and then someone asks, "Father, where can I find the prayer you just used?" Not long ago I had to respond by taking out of my preaching Bible a tattered, grubby scrap of duplicating paper given to me by a retired priest in 1968, on which in faded type was a prayer that had been quite well-known among Anglo-Catholics in the days of his youth.

Then I started thinking.

Some of the changes in church life over the last forty years have had the unintended effect of dislocating a whole generation of western Christians from our heritage of prayer.

Admittedly, the old devotional manuals could be used in such a way as to encourage a spiritual life that was far too crusty, penitential, mechanical and "encased." But the disappearance of the old prayers has meant that spontaneity, modernity and politically correct "relevance" came to be more highly valued than Scriptural expression, Catholic imagery and our sense of connectedness to the great river of Christian prayer flowing through the centuries. The end result has been an impoverishment of both private devotion and public worship.

There is now a movement (not least among young people) to recover a sense of praying with the Church of the ages, of being caught up into the heavenly worship, not just with exuberant thanksgiving, but also with reverence and awe. And so the Roman Catholic Church now encourages a wider use of the traditional Latin Missal, as well as a renewal of the music and ceremonial that in many places had disappeared. Related to this is that Church's ongoing development of a liturgical English more fitting for the celebration of the Holy Mysteries than what has been described as the prosaic "mid-Atlantic English" that has been in use since the late 1960's. Among Anglican Catholics this same movement has meant a rediscovery, not just of old prayers (a good number of which exist in modern translation), but of the classical Anglican language of prayer with its beauty, rhythm and power - one aspect of our Anglican "patrimony" which ought not be allowed to die.

It is right that and proper that we should pray in contemporary language because many people find traditional language unhelpful. But, contrary to what was often thought forty years ago, recent pastoral experience demonstrates that many of the completely unchurched, as well as people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, adapt easily to our older sacral and poetic language, and sometimes become its most strident advocates.

In 2001 I was at a meeting of indigenous Islander clergy in the Torres Strait, some of whom spoke English as their third language. In a discussion on the liturgy, one of the priests read a passage from a contemporary prayer book, and then the corresponding passage from the Book of Common Prayer. Holding the BCP up high, he said forcefully, "So you see, if we have to worship in English, it should be this good alive English, and not the flattened out kind!"

As a resource, whether to be used frequently or "dipped into" on occasion, this book contains prayers from ancient and modern times. Having been taken mostly from Anglican sources, even prayers of earlier periods of Church history and other Christian traditions are given in "classical Anglican" language. Out of respect for the integrity of the sources, no attempt has been made to standardise spelling across the collection. A few hymns have been included, as well as a handful of prayers from our own time. The latter, naturally, are in contemporary language.

The inclusion of Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline and the Psalter makes it possible for this book to be used, together with the Scriptures, for the daily prayer of the people of God. Liturgies for Holy Communion outside Mass, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the Sacrament of Anointing have been provided to meet pastoral needs, and to encourage people to prepare spiritually for these sacramental encounters with the Lord before the priest arrives.

As a collection of devotions that I have found helpful in my life and ministry, Traditional Prayers for Anglican Catholics is obviously biased and idiosyncratic. I can't apologise for that! But some of the material is not easy to find elsewhere, so it is offered in the hope that it will be a blessing to lay people and clergy alike.

The publication of these texts is in no way meant to deprecate those twentieth century movements of spiritual renewal that quickened the faith of many, including my own. Nor is it meant to buy into the age-old argument as to whether "written" or "spontaneous" prayers are best, because, in practice, the prayer life of most Christians is a blend of silence, spontaneity and set prayers. This ought not surprise us, for the Gospels clearly indicate that such was the experience of Jesus himself.

Fr Robert Llewelyn (1909-2008), a much loved Anglican spiritual director, expresses perfectly the relation between even the most beautiful of our words and the movement of love which is the essence of our praying:#

"The important thing is that the intention to pray remains, ourselves meanwhile attending gently to the words as the Holy Spirit enables us, knowing that the heart is at prayer even though the mind may wander from time to time. We have to remember that the real prayer lies beyond the words in the inclination and the offering of the heart, and the function of the words is to set the heart free to pray. The words may be seen as banks of a river enabling it to remain deep and flowing. Without the banks, the waters would scatter and become shallow and even stagnant. A similar danger is open to prayer when the framework in which it freely flows is removed. Yet the prayer is not the framework, but lies beyond. And just as when the river flows into the sea, the banks are left behind, so when prayer flows more deeply into God, the words, having served their purpose, will drop away."

It is my hope that this book will help Anglicans and others to shape their prayer lives, and to deepen their experience of God's love.

+David Chislett SSC
Brisbane, 2010

# in With Pity Not With Blame (Darton