Monday, July 8, 2013

(Over) Relying on the Prayer Book (pt 1)

One of the most formative articles for me while I was at General Seminary was Marrion Hatchett’s “What's in a rubric?” I don’t think that we can over-rely on the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and there are plenty of blog entries and articles about their importance or lack thereof. I do, however, think that we can and do ignore the rubrics in ways that aren’t violations but do, in fact, lead to an over-reliance on the texts of the Book of Common Prayer.

One of the things Hatchett points out in the article is the directions of the Prayer Book concerning the Prayers of the People. Those rubrics are on page 383
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 appropriate)
Any of the forms which follow may be used.
Adaptations or insertions suitable to the occasion may be made.
Any of the forms may be conformed to the language of the Rite being used.
A bar in the margin indicates petitions which may be omitted.
The Celebrant may introduce the Prayers with a sentence of invitation related to the occasion, or the season, or the Proper of the Day. (emphasis mine)
All of my GTS classmates are well aware that I don’t like using the forms from the Book of Common Prayer and prefer free-form intercessions or locally composed ones. Freeform allow the assembly to speak their petitions, and I’m all about not mumbling them; the Eucharist as a whole is the work of the assembly, and the Prayers of the People are not a time for private mumbled prayers. The assembly can’t pray with you if the other members don’t know that for which you are praying.

Locally composed petitions (that meet the six required areas of prayer above) can bring the requirements into sharper focus by letting those on the ground communicate the prayers of the local assembly to God in ways that are especially important to them. A community heavily involved in hunger issues might consistently pray that as we are fed at the altar the Church may work to feed the world. The forms of the Prayer Book are offered as models that may be used.

Yesterday, however, I encountered a strict, direct, straight usage of the Prayers of the People, Form V. I am doing supply work in the Diocese of California at the same congregation for the next two months and am wondering how I might work with their intercessors so that I’m not caught off guard. Not that the prayers are about me, but as has been observed, these are the prayers of the people, not for the people.

Form V has nothing inherently wrong in it, but when we use just the text of a form for the prayers we can miss important things — things that are necessary for us to be praying for. On Saturday a plane crashed at San Francisco International Airport. At the 8 a.m. service yesterday (because I wasn’t thinking on my feet as presider) there was no mention of the crash or any of those affected. The Egyptian military has ousted Egypt’s president, and there’s no telling how or when those conflicts will end. There was no mention of that in the prayers on Sunday, but Form V doesn’t even leave space for people to add things that are important.

Our prayers yesterday were heartfelt and sincere. As we stood, I’m certain that God knew those of us who were concerned for Egypt, all places that are afflicted with daily violence, and the aftermath of the plane crash...but I’m not entirely sure we followed the direction to pray for the concerns of the local community, and I’m wondering how that might be changed throughout the Church.

Now it’s your turn dear reader: How have you introduced getting away from a word-for-word reading of the Book of Common Prayer forms for the Prayers of the People? What has worked in terms of education beforehand to make a transition smoother? Have you had bad experiences with free-form intercessions or locally composed prayers? How do those affect our being in community together?

1 comment:

  1. Before reading this post, I guess I just assumed our Prayers of the People followed the BCP - but apparently not quite. We always include the optional last part of Form III for which ever form is used (The People may add their own petitions) and this part is introduced by the leader as "Either silently or aloud we offer our own petitions and thanksgivings." In the case of Form IV, the people are invited to voice aloud their specific intentions after each of the last two phrases and before the "Lord in your mercy."

    Our parish has also composed our own Prayers of the People which is used time to time; it was written by a small group of people at the request of the rector.

    Hope this helps!