Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Anglican Catechism- Exposition Part 3

In previous posts, we looked at basic beliefs and commandments. Now we come to the aids for living the Christian life. A basic part of any religious life is prayer, and for Christians, prayer is above all the Lord's Prayer or the "Our Father."

Catechist. My good Child, know this; that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer. Let me hear, therefore, if thou canst say the Lord’s Prayer.

Answer. Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. Amen.

Comment: Of course, the Lord's Prayer has been at the heart of Christian devotion since the disciples first asked Jesus for guidance. Although translations have varied slightly in their wording, the version generally followed by Christians has been the one in St. Matthew 6:9-13 . In many ancient New Testament manuscripts, the final statement of praise or doxology is missing. Thus, we have the abbreviated form several places in the Book of Common Prayer. But since a doxology has often been included since the early centuries of Christianity, the BCP also includes it in places.

As many scholars have observed, this prayer shows some relationship with other ancient Jewish patterns of prayer. Yet, it is more concise, and it stresses the Fatherhood of God. As with other common Jewish daily prayers, the Lord's Prayer may have well been said by the disciples from the beginning three times a day: morning, early afternoon and evening/night. This could well be at least part of what Acts 2:42 means when it says that the early Christians "continued ... in prayers." And by the time of the Didache (ca. 100), saying the prayer three times a day was explicitly enjoined (ch. 8).

Question. What desirest thou of God in this Prayer?

Answer. I desire my Lord God, our heavenly Father, who is the giver of all goodness, to send his grace unto me, and to all people; that we may worship him, serve him, and obey him, as we ought to do. And I pray unto God, that he will send us all things that are needful both for our souls and bodies; and that he will be merciful unto us, and forgive us our sins; and that it will please him to save and defend us in all dangers both of soul and body; and that he will keep us from all sin and wickedness, and from our spiritual enemy, and from everlasting death. And this I trust he will do of his mercy and goodness, through our Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore I say, Amen, So be it.

Comment: The phrasing of the Lord's Prayer is such that it has sometimes been divided into an address followed by seven petitions, ending with the "amen" of assent:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
1) Hallowed be thy Name.
2) Thy kingdom come.
3) Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
4) Give us this day our daily bread.
5) And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us.
6) And lead us not into temptation,
7)But deliver us from evil.
Amen.

The address to God as Father is based on the Christian condition; through Christ, we sinners are adopted as children of God. The first three petitions concern the worship and rule of God. We may see them as related to the first four Commandments. The Catechism summarizes them in these words: I desire my Lord God, our heavenly Father, who is the giver of all goodness, to send his grace unto me, and to all people; that we may worship him, serve him, and obey him, as we ought to do.
As is the case through a long tradition of interpretation, the "daily bread" of the fourth petition is taken to refer to all physical and spiritual sustenance: And I pray unto God, that he will send us all things that are needful both for our souls and bodies.

Although the fifth petition about forgiveness is of central importance, the Catechism considers it so clear that it is quickly summarized. In previous centuries, people in western societies knew well that they were all sinners who needed divine forgiveness. They were also familiar with the Christian idea that those needing forgiveness should be willing to extend the same to others. Since the mid-twentieth century these ideas have been attenuated and the consciousness of sin has been lost by many. Therefore in our day where the awareness of of the gravity of sin is not as common, we should stress this petition a bit more.

In the sixth petition, we pray that we may not fall into temptation. Knowing our own weakness of body, mind and soul, we ask divine guidance to avoid trials which may become occasions for sin. And then in the seventh petition, we ask for deliverance from evil- both from particular evil events and from the spiritual forces of evil that oppose God's purposes for our lives.

If we follow some texts, we may include an ancient ascription of glory to God; otherwise, as in the Catechism version, we conclude the prayer with the ancient Hebrew "amen" which expresses our confidence in the accomplishment of the divine will.

At this point, we finish the Catechism that was in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. However, the seventeenth century saw the addition of the section on the Sacraments. In another post, I hope to discuss these basic parts of the Christian life.

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