Friday, 1 December 2017

The Litany: the Holy Spirit in the Prayer Book—Part 9

From the Fall 2017 edition of Anglicans for Renewal Canada magazine. Subscribe to a print or digital version here

On page 30 of our Book of Common Prayer (BCP) you will find THE LITANY which is five pages of prayerful goodness. If ever there was a prayer that covers all the bases, that prays up one side and down the other of the Christian life, it is THE LITANY, “Which may be sung or said before the Holy Communion;” according to the BCP rubrics, “or after the Creed at Morning or Evening Prayer, instead of the remaining part of the Service; or as a separate service, with Hymns, a Psalm, a Lesson, the Creed, and a Sermon, at the discretion of the Minister.” I’m sad to say, other than using it (there is a Book of Alternative Services version, too—p138) as the Intercessions or Prayers of the People on the First Sundays of Lent and Advent on a few occasions, I’ve never experienced or used THE LITANY in that way, or as the rubrics also require, “The Litany should always be used at least once a month on a Sunday, and is commended for use on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Rogation Days.”

The first reference to the Holy Ghost in THE LITANY comes in the opening thoroughly Trinitarian invocation of Divine Mercy upon us all. 

O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful: have mercy upon us.

Indeed! It is the Holy Spirit, the promised Helper, Comforter, Advocate and Guide who sanctifies—sets apart, makes holy—and is an agent of God’s great mercy. How does he sanctify us? He teaches us all things and brings to our remembrance all that Jesus said (John 14.26) The more we learn and remember, the holier we can be. 

We do need to engage, however. Some people can do it extemporaneously. They are able to worship, read Scripture daily and to pray, Holy Spirit led, in such a way as to cover all the necessary bases and without focussing too much on their own concerns and biases. I’m not one of them. I need some form of Prayer Book and lectionary framework to take me out of myself and into the vast and divine reaches of the sanctification that only comes from the barely apprehensible mystery who is the Triune God. Using that framework the Holy Spirit exposes me to all of Scripture, not just the pieces I enjoy and he teaches me and brings Jesus to my remembrance throughout because there is the reading from one of the gospels every single day. I know how easy it would be for me to miss him if I were to run down the bunny trails of my own self absorption. 

And so, having invoked the glorious Trinity, we pray that God will not remember our sins, nor those of our forefathers, and that we will be spared their toxic effects. It would be easy to slide on by the reference to our forefathers as being a mere antiquated formality. But it is one of the many brilliant details to be found in Prayer Book prayer and very much worth a pause. Almost all of us labour to some extent under the toxic effects of the sin of our families of origin—generational sin, some call it—such as idolatry, sexual sin, rebellion, addictions, broken relationships. I know I do. And I know that I, unwittingly, have passed that toxicity on to my children. THE LITANY reminds me to pray for The LORD, in his mercy, to defuse any sinful effects coming down through my family which entangle me and that I may be passing on to my children—thus enabling the Holy Spirit's sanctifying and life-giving work.  

We then prayerfully recite the things that The Father did to deliver us (p31) including 

By thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; by thy sending of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit was sent to fill us with all the fullness of God as he teaches and reminds us of Jesus and as he helps and empowers us to be faithful, effective witnesses of the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit was sent by The Father and so are we. In THE LITANY we also pray:

To send forth labourers into thy harvest; to prosper their work by thy Holy Spirit; to make thy saving health known unto all nations; and to hasten thy kingdom, 
We beseech thee, good Lord. (BCP, p32)

Be honest. Who still prays that regularly? Yet Jesus himself  exhorts his disciples to pray it and to pray it earnestly (Mt 9.37, Lk 10.2). There is work to be done and a key component of that work is to pray a prayer that Jesus specifically called his disciples to pray. The faithful, regular and frequent use of such tools for prayer provided by the Prayer Books as THE LITANY is a good way of getting the job done. And if we pray what Jesus asks us to pray in this way, will our Heavenly Father not give the Holy Spirit to prosper our work, make his saving health and faith known to the nations and hasten the coming of his kingdom (Lk 11.13)? 

The good news is that LORD promises not to leave us helpless orphans in this endeavour. THE LITANY invokes his good grace:

To give to all thy people increase of grace, to hear meekly thy Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, 
We beseech thee, good Lord. (BCP, p33)

“Thy people” is us. His Church. God’s grace, says James Ryle, is his empowering presence to be who he made us to be and to do what he calls us to do. Dallas Willard writes that God’s grace enables us to do things that we are not able to do on our own—things like pray and read the Scriptures every day, to hear them with the ears of our hearts, receive them with that pure affection (a lovely prayer book phrase), and to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5.22)—surely the very best way to make the Father’s saving health known to all nations and to hasten the coming of his kingdom!

As THE LITANY draws to a close we ask The LORD to forgive those who wish us harm and, 

To give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligence, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to thy holy Word.
We beseech thee, good Lord. (BCP, p34)

Sin, negligence and ignorances—not much can escape that matrix. More grace. More Holy Spirit. To amend our lives according to God’s living-and-active (Heb 4.12), not-going-back-to-him-empty, accomplishing-his-purpose, succeeding-in-the-things-for-which-he-sent-it (Isa 55.11) and holy Word. 

What we’re praying for in all the above is for the Holy Spirit to be made manifest—made obvious, demonstrated—as the faithful are sanctified; as all come to know that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father; as the work of the harvest labourers prospers; and as the fruit of the Spirit and grace abound. 

And all for building up the church (1 Cor 14.12). Amen. 


No comments:

Post a Comment