Monday, 26 March 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Easter Day,
Sunday 1 April 2018

Mary Magdalene at Easter … a sculpture by Mary Grant at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [1 April 2018] is Easter Day, and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Acts 10: 34-43 or Isaiah 25: 6-9; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, or the Easter Anthems; I Corinthians 15: 1-11 or Acts 10: 34-43; and John 20: 1-18 or Mark 16: 1-8.

This leaves us with a complicated choice, and the Church of Ireland Directory is specific: “When the Old Testament selection is chosen, the Acts reading is used as the second reading at Holy Communion.”

This posting looks at Saint John’s account of the Resurrection, but also asks how this Gospel reading fits in with the other Lectionary readings for Easter morning, and what makes the account in the Fourth Gospel different from the Resurrection accounts in the other three Gospels, in particular the optional reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

When the Old Testament selection is chosen on Easter Day, the Acts reading is used as the second reading at Holy Communion.

In addition, this posting includes separate suggestions on the celebration of the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

The Empty Tomb … a fresco in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 1-18 (NRSV)

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

An Easter theme in a window in the gallery in Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The setting and context of the readings:

Isaiah 25: 6-9:

In the Old Testament reading (Isaiah 25: 6-9), we read of the divine banquet on Mount Zion (‘this mountain,’ verse 6), hosted by God, ‘for all peoples,’ to celebrate the victory over death. God ‘will destroy ... the shroud’ (verse 7) of mourning and ignorance; death will no longer mark the end; knowledge of God and his ways will be freely available.

This heavenly banquet is a symbol of eternal happiness, of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Here we might recall Christ’s words at the Last Supper in Mark 14: 25: ‘I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

God will destroy the power of death, ‘the disgrace of his people’ (verse 8), for ever. Salvation for all, awaited for ages, will be available ‘on that day’ (verse 9). ‘The Lord,’ whom now, in the light of the Resurrection and our Easter faith, we identify with Christ, is the awaited saviour. This is an occasion for great rejoicing.

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24:

In the psalm (Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24), we are called to give thanks to God for his mercy and love, which are everlasting. The one who was rejected is now God’s chosen ruler, and all shall share in the power and blessing of God, who ‘has given us light’ (verses 22-27).

The Resurrection depicted in the Foley window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Corinthians 15: 1-11

In the Epistle reading (I Corinthians 15: 1-11), we have the earliest New Testament account of the Resurrection. Saint Paul has heard that some people in the Church in Corinth deny the physical resurrection of the body, claiming that only the spirit matters. Here he argues against this view.

He says: I draw your attention to the ‘good news’ I proclaimed to you, which you received, and ‘in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved”’ (verses 1-2), assuming that you all hold to it.

Those he addresses are challenged to note the form of the words he uses, unless, in not accepting the message fully, they ‘have come to believe’ to no purpose. The most important tenets he hands on are: ‘Christ died for our sins’ (verse 3); ‘he was buried’ (verse 4), in other words, he really died physically; he ‘was raised ...’ and appeared to various persons and groups. His death, burial and rising again are ‘in accordance with the scriptures,’ and are part of God’s plan.

Only the appearances to Peter or Cephas (verse 5), and to the ‘twelve’ are in the Gospels. Saint Paul says he was the last to see the Risen Christ, the ‘least of the apostles’ (verse 9). Yet, through ‘the grace of God’ (verse 10), he has achieved more than any other apostle.

Saint Paul tells us that the Risen Christ first appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to 500 at one time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself (see I Corinthians 15: 3-8).

Why does Saint Paul not name the women?

Why does Saint Paul count all 12 disciples?

Why does Saint Paul name Saint Peter but not Saint John, and why does he name Saint James separately?

Who are the 500?

Who are apostles here?

Baptism is described as sharing in Christ’s suffering and death and being raised with Christ to new life in Christ. Remember here how in the Early Church, the Baptism of new believers took place at Easter. So, Baptism has ethical implications for our discipleship: we are to cast aside both sins of the body and of the mind. In the baptised community, ethnic and social barriers are shattered, for ‘Christ is all and in all.’

The women at the tomb … a stained glass window in Saint Ann’s Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 10: 34-43:

Despite the complicated presentation of the reading options in the Revised Common Lectionary, the expectation in the RCL and the guidelines in the Church of Ireland Directory is that the reading from the Acts of the Apostles will be read on Easter Day.

The setting is the house of Cornelius, a centurion and part of the Roman military occupation force in Palestine. Cornelius, already a believer in God, has a vision (verses 1-8). As a result, he invites Peter to visit his household. It is against Jewish law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile, but Peter comes nonetheless, with ‘some ... believers from Joppa’ (verse 23).

The Greek here is rough, full of grammatical errors, unlike the rest of the Acts of Apostles. This may indicate that here we may well have Saint Peter’s unedited, original words and phraseology. He tells the assembled company that God does not favour Jews over others: anyone, whatever his or her nationality, who reveres God and lives in unison with him ‘is acceptable to him’ (verse 35).

In verses 36-38, Saint Peter summarises Christ’s earthly ministry; he applies prophecies found in Isaiah (52: 7 and 61: 1) to Christ. (Psalm 107: 20 says ‘... he sent out his word ...’) Christ is Kyrios, the ‘Lord of all’ (verse 36). In Baptism, the Father ‘anointed’ Christ (verse 38) ‘with the Holy Spirit’ and with the ‘power’ of God. The good news (‘message,’ verse 37) spread throughout Palestine (‘Judea’). He ‘went about’ (verse 38) ‘doing good’ and combatting evil, doing deeds so powerful that it is clear that he was God’s agent: he is a model for all to follow.

He suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence (see Deuteronomy 21: 23): he hung on a ‘tree’ (verse 39) and was cursed. By Christ’s time, the ‘tree’ or pole had an additional cross-arm. But, although cursed, the Father ‘raised him’ (verse 40) and ‘allowed him to appear’ to those chosen by God to be ‘witnesses’ (verse 41).

In Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24: 41-43), Christ eats broiled fish with them, so he was clearly humanly alive again, brought back from death physically, resurrected. Christ the Kyrios is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge both those who are alive and those who have died at Judgment Day (verse 42).

Then in verse 43, we are told he fulfils many Old Testament prophecies. He is the one through whom sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is now available to ‘everyone who believes,’ and not just to Jews.

Introducing the Gospel reading:

‘Noli me Tangere’, by Mikhail Damaskinos, ca 1585-1591, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church of Saint Catherine of Sinai in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Early on the Sunday morning (‘the first day of the week’) after the Crucifixion, before dawn, Mary Magdalene, who has been a witness to Christ’s death and burial, comes to the tomb and finds that the stone has been rolled away.

Initially it seems she is on her own, for she alone is named. But later she describes her experiences using the word ‘we,’ which indicates she was with other women.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, these women are known as the Holy Myrrhbearers (Μυροφόροι). The Myrrhbearers are traditionally listed as: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Joanna, the wife of Chuza the steward of Herod Antipas, and Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Susanna, although it is generally said that there are other Myrrhbearers whose names are not known.

Mary and these women run to tell Saint Peter and the other disciple (presumably Saint John the Evangelist) that they suspect someone has removed the body. The ‘other disciple’ may have been younger and fitter, for he outruns Saint Peter. The tidy way the linen wrappings and the shroud have been folded or rolled up shows that the body has not been stolen. They believe, yet they do not understand; they return home without any explanations.

But Mary still thinks Christ’s body has been removed or stolen, and she returns to the cemetery. In her grief, she sees ‘two angels in white’ sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head, and one at the feet. They speak to her and then she turns around sees Christ, but only recognises him when he calls her by name.

Peter and John have returned without seeing the Risen Lord. It is left to Mary to tell the Disciples that she has seen the Lord. Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the Resurrection.

All four gospels are unanimous in telling us that the women are the earliest witnesses to the Risen Christ. In Saint John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ sends Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples what she had seen. Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

The word apostle comes from the Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstólos), formed from the prefix ἀπό- (apó-, ‘from’) and the root στέλλω (stéllō, ‘I send,’ ‘I depart’). So, the Greek word ἀπόστολος (apóstolos) or apostle means one sent.

In addition, at the end of the reading (see verse 18), Mary comes announcing what she has seen. The word used here (ἀγγέλλουσα, angéllousa) is from the word that gives us the Annunciation, the proclamation of the good news, the proclamation of the Gospel (Εὐαγγέλιον, Evangélion). Mary, in her proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection, is not only the apostle to the apostles, but she is also the first of the evangelists.

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome … went to the tomb (Mark 16: 1-2) – a window in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 16: 1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

In the alternative reading in Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16: 1-8), we are told that on Saturday after sundown, ‘when the sabbath was over,’ Mary Magdalene, a witness to Christ’s death and burial, and others buy spices to anoint Christ’s body. Because he died only hours before the Sabbath, there was no time to anoint it before he was buried. Buying spices on the Sabbath was permitted, but not aromatic oils and salves used for burial preparation.

Early on Sunday morning (‘the first day of the week,’ verse 2), they go to the tomb, wondering who will roll away the heavy disk-shaped ‘stone’ (verse 3) that has been used as a door. A tomb was cut out of the rock, and the stone ran in a track. But they find the tomb open (verse 4) and realise what the empty tomb means: ‘he has been raised’ (verse 6).

Inside the tomb, the ‘young man, dressed in a white robe’ (verse 5) is a heavenly messenger. He probably sits on a shelf intended for a body. It is the faithful women who first hear the Easter message.

In verse 7, the angel tells them to inform Saint Peter and the Disciples that Christ ‘is going ahead of’ them, and that he will appear to them in Galilee, just as he told them during his earthly ministry. The women flee, seized with ‘terror and amazement’ (verse 8) and overcome with awe.

The longer ending of Saint Mark’s Gospel then tells us that Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene, but the disciples would not believe them. He then appears to two walking in the countryside, and only then appears later in the day to the eleven remaining disciples.

‘Noli me tangere’

Noli me tangere ... a Resurrection image in a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In Saint John’s Gospel, when Mary first sees Christ, she does not recognise him. In this reading, the Greek is regularly phrased in the present tense: Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb (verse 1), she sees (verse 1), she runs, she comes, and she says (verse 2); John sees (verse 5), Simon Peter then comes, and he sees (verse 6); Mary sees the two angels (verse 12), they say to her and she says to them that she does not know (verse 13); she then sees Jesus (verse 14); Jesus says to her (verse 15, and again verses 16 and 17) – notice this is three times in all; and she then comes announcing what she has seen and heard.

The language is constantly punctuated with ‘and’ giving it a rapid, fast-moving pace, rather like the pace in Saint Mark’s Gospel. This is a present, real, living experience for all involved, and not one single episode that be relegated to the past.

The Risen Christ does things he did not do before: he appears in locked rooms, there is something different about his appearance, his friends do not realise immediately who he is. This is the same Jesus, but something has changed.

Why does Jesus tell Mary: ‘Do not hold onto me’ (Μή μου ἅπτου, Noli me tangere)?

How do we recognise new life in the Risen Christ?

How do understand the invitation from the Risen Christ to feast with him?

When we accept the new life Christ offers, how does our vision change?

Where do we see the presence of the Risen Christ?

Do we see his presence in the people and places we like and that please us?

Can we see him in the people we do not like to and in the situations we find challenging? – the hungry child, the fleeing refugee, the begging person on the street, the homeless addict sleeping on the street or in the doorway?

Is my heart changed by the Risen Christ?

Where do I see the broken and bruised Body of Christ needing restoration and Resurrection?

Do I know him in the word he speaks to me and in the breaking of the bread?

Is the presence of the Risen Christ a living experience for me, this morning?

Is Easter an every-morning, every-day, living experience for me, or one we all-too-easily relegate to the past and to history?

Preparing for the Easter Vigil at Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick, in 2017

Planning the Easter Vigil

The celebration of Easter may begin after sundown with the Easter Vigil or the Midnight Eucharist on what is liturgically Easter Sunday, although it is still Saturday evening in calendar.

Traditionally, the Easter Vigil consists of four parts:

● The Service of Light

● The Liturgy of the Word

● The Liturgy of Baptism, which may include the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the renewal of Baptismal Promises by the rest of the congregation

● The Eucharist

The Liturgy begins after sundown as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church, in the darkness, often in a side chapel of the church building, but preferably outside the church. A new fire, kindled and blessed by the priest, symbolises the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through the Resurrection of Christ, dispelling the darkness of sin and death.

The Paschal Candle, symbolising the Light of Christ, is lit from this fire. This tall candle is placed on the altar, and on its side five grains of incense are embedded, representing the five wounds of Christ and the burial spices with which his body was anointed. When these are fixed in it and the candle is lit, it is placed on the Gospel side of the altar and remains there until Ascension Day.

This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern. Throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, it reminds all that that Christ is ‘light and life.’

All baptised people present – those who have received the Light of Christ – are given candles that are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic Light of Christ spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness diminishes and dies out.

A deacon or a priest carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation ‘Light of Christ’ or ‘Christ our Light,’ to which the people respond: ‘Thanks be to God.’

When the procession ends, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet, or Easter Proclamation, said to have been written by Saint Ambrose of Milan. The church is now lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, and the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.

The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention as it is the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation.

Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ.

After these readings, the Gloria is sung, and during an outburst of musical jubilation the people’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and the bells rung. The altar frontals, the reredos, the lectern hangings, the processional banners, the statues and the paintings, which were stripped or covered during Holy Week or at the end of the Maundy Thursday Eucharist, are now ceremonially replaced and unveiled, and flowers are placed on the altar.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed, and the Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent. The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.

After the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is blessed, and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated. After these celebrations, all present renew their baptismal vows and are sprinkled with baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.

The Easter Vigil then concludes with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the first Eucharist of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptised receive Holy Communion for the first time, and, according to the rubrics, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.

The Easter Vigil readings (31 March 2018):

Old Testament Readings and Psalms:

Genesis 1: 1 to 2:4a; Response: Psalm 136: 1-9, 23-26;
Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18; 8: 6-18; 9: 8-13; Response: Psalm 46;
Genesis 22: 1-18; Response: Psalm 16;
Exodus 14: 10-31; 15: 20-21 and Exodus 15: 1b-13, 17-18;
Isaiah 55: 1-11; Canticle 23: Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12: 2-6);
Baruch 3: 9-15, 32 to 4: 4 or Proverbs 8: 1-8, 19-21, 9: 4b-6; Response: Psalm 19;
Ezekiel 36: 24-28; Response: Psalm 42 and 43;
Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Response: Psalm 143;
Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Response: Psalm 98.

New Testament Reading and Psalm:

Romans 6: 3-11; Response: Psalm 114.

Gospel: Mark 16: 1-8.

The Harrowing of Hell in a fresco behind the icon screen in the Chapel of the Resurrection in Saint John’s monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour: White (or Gold).

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect :

Almighty God,
through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
you have overcome death
and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that, as by your grace going before us
you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).


Above all we praise you
for the glorious resurrection of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
the true paschal lamb who was sacrificed for us;
by dying he destroyed our death;
by rising he restored our life:

Post Communion Prayer:

Living God,
for our redemption you gave your only-begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
you have delivered us from the power of our enemy.
Grant us so to die daily unto sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:


God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ is Risen ... a Resurrection scene in a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for Easter Day (Year B), in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Acts 10: 34-43:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
263, Crown him with many crowns (verses 1-4)
264, Finished the strife of battle now
91, He is Lord, he is Lord
271, Jesus Christ is risen today
96, Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it
102, Name of all majesty
306, O Spirit of the living God
197, Songs of thankfulness and praise
286, The strife is o’er, the battle done
491, We have a gospel to proclaim

Isaiah 25: 6-9:

251, Alleluia! alleluia! Hearts to heaven and voices raise
254, At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
264, Finished the strife of battle now
512, From you all skill and science flow
466, Here from all nations, all tongues and all peoples
467, How bright those glorious spirits shine
270, I know that my Redeemer lives
553, Jesu, lover of my soul
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel
280, Our Lord Christ hath risen

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem (Christ is made the sure foundation)
327, Christ is our corner stone
282, Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good (Surrexit Christus)
714, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Lord Almighty
334, I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart
340, Sing and be glad, for this is God’s house!
678,Ten thousand times ten thousand
78, This is the day that the Lord has made
493, Ye that know the Lord is gracious

Easter Anthems (I Corinthians 5: 7-8; Romans 6: 9-11; I Corinthians 15: 20-22):

258, Christ the Lord is risen again
328, Come on and celebrate
264, Finished the strife of battle now
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
703, Now lives the Lamb of God
108, Praise to the Holiest in the height (verses 1-4, 7)
283, The Day of Resurrection
286, The strife is o’er, the battle done
186, What Adam’s disobedience cost

I Corinthians 15: 1-11:

218, And can it be that I should gain
257, Christ is the world’s Redeemer
286, The strife is o’er, the battle done
248, We sing the praise of him who died

John 20: 1-18:

256, Christ is risen, as he said
87, Christ is the world’s light, he and none other
258, Christ the Lord is risen again
74, First of the week and finest day
265, Good Joseph had a garden
271, Jesus Christ is risen today
338, Jesus, stand among us
424, Jesus, stand among us at the meeting of our lives
273, Led like a lamb to the slaughter
274, Light’s glittering morn bedecks the sky 277, Love’s redeeming work is done
107, One day when heaven was filled with his praises
283, The Day of Resurrection
288, Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son
115, Thou art the Way: to thee alone
290, Walking in a garden at the close of day

Mark 16: 1-8:

255, Christ is risen, alleluia!
258, Christ the Lord is risen again
74, First of the week and finest day
271, Jesus Christ is risen today
274, Light’s glittering morn bedecks the sky
279, O sons and daughters, let us sing (verses 1-3, 9)
107, One day when heaven was filled with his praises
109, Sing alleluia to the Lord
115, Thou art the Way: to thee alone
491, We have a gospel to proclaim

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Risen Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene (1899), a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne in Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 19 March 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 25 March 2018,
Palm Sunday

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … an icon by Theodoros Papadopoulos of Larissa, who is leading a workshop in Knock, Co Mayo, later this year on 8 to 13 October 2018

Patrick Comerford


There is a complicated set of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for next Sunday, Palm Sunday, 25 March 2018.

For the Principal Service, the provided readings for the Liturgy of the Palms are: Mark 11: 1-11 or John 12: 12-16; and Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29. And for the Liturgy of the Passion, the readings are: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; and Mark 14: 1 to 15: 47, or Mark 15: 1-39 (40-47).

As many of us, due to tradition, probably going to mark next Sunday with the Liturgy of the Palms, these notes look at the two Gospel readings for the Liturgy of the Palms, which continue the readings from Saint Mark for Year B, which we have been following this year and the readings from Saint John we have been following this Lent. There is a separate note at the end of these notes about the Feast of the Annunciation, its celebration this year, and how it is transferred in the Calendar of the Church of Ireland.

Mark 11: 1-11 (NRSV):

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately”.’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

John 12: 12-16 (NRSV):

12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

The Entry Into Jerusalem ascribed to Fra Angelico (1387-1455) in Saint Mark’s, Florence

Reflecting on the readings:

I suppose that, like me, many of you wake up each morning to talk radio, and to the early morning warnings about traffic hold-ups and traffic delays.

Many of our parishioners, I am sure, find themselves wondering are these delays going to get in their way, going to delay them, are they going to get stuck, to be late.

We live in a time when time is precious, when time is money.

And so, when we hear traffic warnings in our own area, we think of ourselves but seldom think of the problems they create for those at the heart of them:

A mother trying to get her children to school and late for the job she is desperately clinging onto. Maybe her car has had a brush with someone else’s, she has to wait for the gardai; now she is worried about her children, her job, and someone is behind, hooting.

The bus driver who has a full load of passengers, each of whom complains in a nasty way because the bus has broken down. But who thanks him when he is on time, or when he squeezes in a few more people, even if it means breaking the rules.

A young business man, trying to clinch that export contract. That traffic warning leaves him fretful, worried that he is not going to get from here to the airport on time. He is going to miss his flight and lose that contract.

An elderly man with a heart complaint, stuck on his way to hospital. He is worried he is going to miss his appointment, and worried his worries are now compounding his heart problems.

But, by now, I am stuck behind one or more of them. I am wondering why they are not moving.

Did the lights not change to green 10 minutes ago?

Why am I stuck here?

Do they not know I am late?

Do they not care?

We have all been there, stuck in that traffic jam, stuck in that car.

We all know how selfish we can become, how self-centred, how self-focussed we can be. My priorities come Number 1, and everyone else should know that.

If Christ was to enter the city this morning, I could imagine he would create the same problems.

Just imagine it. Telling two of the disciples to go down the road, say to Mungret, where they can find a fairly new car, a 2015 car, waiting for them.

The owner is delighted to hand it over. He has the highest regard for Jesus, they went to school together, worked on great projects together. He even thinks this Jesus is special.

And so the disciples happily fit out the car, and off they head with Jesus into Limerick.

As they continue along the Dock Road, the crowds are gathering. This is a big show. They follow him in a convoy, whooping and hooping. By the time they arrive at the hospital, AA Roadwatch is already warning people that bottle necks are building up on every road into the city centre.

Well, that only helps to bring out more people to see the show. Some people come out to see who is this crazed preacher who has arrived from west Limerick or north Kerry?
They wonder:

Did anything good ever come from Tralee?

Why can they not just move on, and let us get on with the busy demands of daily life?

Can they not see I am trying to get to see my mother in a nursing home?

Do they not know a big match is on in Thomond Park today?

Do they not know we are still recovering from celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day – why do they bring religion into everything?

Others want to give Jesus the red-carpet treatment, today’s equivalent of cutting down branches and spreading them out before him.

If you can imagine a scene like that today in contemporary Limerick, then your imagination allows you to know also why the Gospel writer tells us that on that first Palm Sunday in Biblical Jerusalem, ‘the whole city was in turmoil.’

That chaos, that turmoil in Jerusalem, in the days immediately before Christ’s death, echoes the chaos in the city in the days immediately after Christ’s birth.

The last time there was such a fuss in Jerusalem in the life of Christ was just after Christmas. Saint Matthew records that Herod became seethingly jealous and outraged at what the Wise Men said when they called to visit him. He tells us: ‘When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him’ (Matthew 2: 3).

So, in the first Gospel there is a link between the birth of Christ and the death of Christ, between the arrival of the three kings in Jerusalem after Christmas and the arrival of Christ as king in Jerusalem before Easter.

That link between birth and death, between Christmas Day and Good Friday, between Epiphany and Easter, is captured succinctly by TS Eliot in his poem, Journey of the Magi:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

With Palm Sunday, we enter into the last week with Christ in the days before his Crucifixion. In Saint Mark’s account, Christ arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to great solemnity.

Saint Mark’s description of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem sounds the note of majesty and kingship before the Passion narrative begins. But the Gospel writer gives us hints too that we should be also looking forward to Christ’s second coming.

Palm Sunday begins on the Mount of Olives (verse 1) but it points to Mount Calvary. Yet it also points to the second coming of Christ (see verses 9-11), for the Messiah was expected to arrive on the Mount of Olives, and to sweep down through the Kidron Valley and up into the city, taking with him in his royal procession the living and those who were raised from the dead.

Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is the entry of the king into his capital. And the crowd acclaims him as king when they say: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ This phrase from the Psalms was used as a title for the Messianic king (Psalm 118: 26).

Many in the crowd expected a new liberating king. But did anybody on that first Palm Sunday really realise who Jesus truly is?

Their expectations of him are high, but deep down their attitude towards Christ is unchanged. For most of them, he may still be a prophet in their eyes, but that is less than he actually is. He may be a king, but they want a king who will deliver what they want, not what he has come to give them.

The crowd that welcomes him in is soon to turn him out. He is an outsider coming in, and if he disappoints them, if he fails to give them what they want, rather than what they need, then it is inevitable that they are going to turn on him.

When he fails to meet their expectations, he loses his popularity. When he refuses to accept the expectations they lay on his shoulders, they force him to carry the cross on his shoulders. When their hopes die, he must die.

Christ choses the way he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But he abandons all choice about how he is going to be taken outside the city to die a few days later. And Christ, who receives a lively welcome into the city on Palm Sunday, is taken outside the city and crucified on Good Friday.

● Christ upsets our priorities.
● Christ makes demands on our time.
● Christ makes demands on our commitments.
● Christ challenges us about where we are going.
● And yet, Christ offers no quick fixes.

Christ steps into the comfort zones of the people in the city, and offers no quick fixes for the masses. They change their attitude, and there is a rapid, radical change in the social climate in Jerusalem that first Holy Week.

Things get out of hand, and Christ has no control over what happens. God in Christ has emptied himself of all choice and control.

So often we want to be in control, we want to have the choices. And yet life is not like that. When we find we cannot control the agenda, we get upset, we get frustrated. It happens every morning in traffic.

When we can control the agenda, when we have the choices, so often we act in our own interests, rather than in the interests of others. But, you know, we are never fully human when we are alone. We are never fully human without relationships.

Some years ago, I was taught a lesson when I saw the community in Skerries in north Co Dublin showing its true humanity, its true capacity to love, it showed Christ-like priorities, when the people gave, shared and abandoned their own priorities to search for two missing fishermen who were drowned at sea.

The images that came to the fore from that community throughout that search reminded me constantly of the Good Shepherd and his search for the lost sheep.

I am least like Christ when I put my own selfish interests, my own gain, my own immediate demands, before the needs of others.

When we value relationships, when we consider the needs of others, when we show that community matters and show that relationships lead to love, we become more like Christ.

Palm Sunday teaches us about getting our priorities right. Good Friday shows us how God gets those priorities right.

Good Friday appears to be the end. But it is only the beginning.

As TS Eliot says at the end of East Coker, the second of his Four Quartets:

Home is where one starts from …
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter ...

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
… In my end is the beginning.

Palm Sunday seemed like a triumphal beginning. Good Friday seemed like a frightening end. But in the end we find the beginning, our hope is in our Easter faith.

Easter gives us the hope that when we get our priorities right, when I turn from me to us, from self to relationship, then I not only become more human, but I become more like Christ-like. And, when we become more Christ-like, we become more like the person God created us to be.

Palm Sunday depicted in a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour:

Red (or Violet):

Penitential Kyries (Passiontide and Holy Week):

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day (Palm Sunday):

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ's blood; for he is our peace (Ephesians 2: 17).


Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for the Sixth Sunday in Lent (Year B), Palm Sunday, in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

The Gospel (Mark 11: 1-11 or John 12: 12-16):

217, All glory, laud and honour
347, Children of Jerusalem
570, Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning (omit verse 1)
(Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising)
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
124, Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes
714, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Lord Almighty
223, Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest
131, Lift up your heads, you mighty gates
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour
134, Make way, make way for Christ the King
231, My song is love unknown
238, Ride on, ride on in majesty

Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29:

683, All people that on earth do dwell
326, Blessèd city, heavenly Salem
(Christ is made the sure foundation)
327, Christ is our corner stone
714, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, the Lord Almighty
334, I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart
678, Ten thousand times ten thousand
78, This is the day that the Lord has made
493, Ye that know the Lord is gracious

Palm Sunday ... an icon of the Triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem

A note on the Feast of the Annunciation:

In the Church Calendar, the Feast of the Annunciation is normally celebrated on 25 March, nine months before Christmas Day. Because 25 March falls on Palm Sunday this year, many may wonder when this feast is celebrated this year. This question may arise in parishes where this feastday is marked by the Mothers Union, or in parishes with a church named Saint Mary’'s.

The Book of Common Prayer (2004) advises: ‘When ... the Annunciation of our Lord falls on a Sunday in Lent or in Holy Week [it is] observed on the Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter or at the discretion of the minister on another suitable weekday in the same week’ (page 21). The Church of Ireland Directory 2018, therefore, recommends transferring these celebration this year from 25 March to Monday 9 April.

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Saturday 17 March 2018,
Saint Patrick’s Day

The reliquary made for relics of Saint Patrick, now in the Hunt Museum, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Saturday [17 March 2018] is Saint Patrick’s Day, and the celebrations may mark a welcome break in Lent as we move into Passiontide the following day, Sunday 18 March.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) are: Tobit 13: 1b-7; Psalm 145: 1-13; II Corinthians 4: 1-12; John 4: 31-38. There is a direct link to readings HERE.

These are some resources that be helpful in planning for Saint Patrick’s Day:


1, A sermon preached in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Saint Patrick’s Day 2017 is HERE.

2, A sermon preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Saint Patrick’s Day 2013 is HERE.

Saint Patrick depicted in a window by Catherine O’Brien in the south of porch Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thinking about Saint Patrick:

Four papers on Saint Patrick delivered at a Readers’ Retreat Day in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, in March 2016 are available through these links:

1, Who is Saint Patrick?

2, Saint Patrick’s writings and his message

3, Celtic Spirituality, is there something there?

4, The Eucharist, with a short sermon.

Saint Patrick with mitre, crozier, Bible and shamrock on the side of the chapel in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical Colour:

White (please note that Green is not the Liturgical Colour for Saint Patrick’s Day).

Penitential Kyries:

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who trust in him.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Lord ransoms the live of his servants
and none who trust in him will be destroyed.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Come my children, listen to me:
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Almighty God,
in your providence you chose your servant Patrick
to be the apostle of the Irish people,
to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error
to the true light and knowledge of your Word:
Grant that walking in that light
we may come at last to the light of everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Peace be to you, and peace to your house, and peace to all who are yours (I Samuel 25: 6).


To this land you sent the glorious gospel
through the preaching of Patrick.
You caused it to grow and flourish in the life of your servant Patrick and in
the lives of men and women, filled with your Holy Spirit,
building up your Church to send forth the good news to other places:

Post Communion Prayer:

Hear us, most merciful God,
for that part of the Church
which through your servant Patrick you planted in our land;
that it may hold fast the faith entrusted to the saints
and in the end bear much fruit to eternal life:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


God, who in days of old gave to this land the benediction of his holy Church,
fill you with his grace to walk faithfully in the steps of the saints
and to bring forth fruit to his glory:

Saint Patrick alongside Saint Cuthbert, Saint Finbar and Saint Laurence O’Toole in the stained glass windows in the baptistery in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March, in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Tobit 13: 1b-7:

No suggested hymns.

Alternative, Deuteronomy 32: 1-9:

668, God is our fortress and our rock
539, Rejoice, O land, in God thy might
540, To thee, our God, we fly (verses 1-3, 7)

Psalm 145: 1-13

24, All creatures of our God and King
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty
358, King of glory, King of peace
360, Let all the world in every corner sing
104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
365, Praise to the Lord, the almighty, the King of creation
368, Sing of the Lord’s goodness
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended 374, When all thy mercies, O my God
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

II Corinthians 4: 1-12:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
613, Eternal light, shine in my heart
481, God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year
324, God, whose almighty word
569, Hark, my soul, it is the Lord
96, Jesus is Lord! Creation’s voice proclaims it
195, Lord, the light of your love is shining
228, Meekness and majesty
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers

John 4: 31-38:

305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us
46, Tá an fómhar seo go haerach, céad buíochas le hÍosa
(The harvest is bright, all thanks be to Jesus)
141, These are the days of Elijah

Also suitable:

611, Christ be beside me
459, For all the saints who from their labours rest
461, For all thy saints, O Lord
460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verses 1, 2c and 3)
464, God, whose city’s sure foundation
322, I bind unto myself today
322, I bind unto myself today (vv. 1, 2, 8 & 9)
536, Lord, while for all the world we pray
471, Rejoice in God’s saints, today and all days
473, Síormholadh is glóir duit, a Athair shíorai
(All glory and praise to you, Father above)

Saint Patrick … a stained glass window in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 12 March 2018

Maintaining a sustainable
life of daily prayer that
supports us in ministry

An icon of the Pharisee and the Publican ... standing beside others in prayer should mean helping them in prayer

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick

A day with clergy and readers in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert:

12 March 2018

Part 1:

I have divided our work today into the following sections:

1: Opening prayer, reading and discussion

2: Introduction

3: What is prayer?

4: Growing and developing in your own prayer life

5: Teaching others to pray

6: Identifying prayer needs and types

7: Intercessions and personal prayer

8: Prayer and the Eucharist

9: Praying the Daily Office

10: Praying the Jesus Prayer

We may not work our way through all of this this morning and this afternoon, but a full version is available online, along with three appendices and a select bibliography:

1: New Testament understandings of prayer;

2: Helpful hints on working with parishioners who are uneasy about vocal prayer;

3: Learning from others: Islam.

Opening Prayer:

Let your merciful ears, O Lord,
be open to the prayers of your humble servants;
and that they may obtain their petitions,
make them to ask such things as shall please you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 289, the Collect of the Tenth Sunday after Trinity).

Opening Reading:

Luke 18: 10-14 (NRSV):

[Jesus said:] 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”


We are all familiar with the story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18: 10-14). In that parable, both characters pray for themselves, and both bare themselves before God.

The Pharisee gives thanks to God when he prays, and by all the standards of the day he is a good man: he fasts, tithes – indeed, tithes more than he has too – and prays regularly. Yet neither man prays for the other man in his company.

The Pharisee gives thanks to God. He prays. In fact, by all the current standards of and means of measuring Jewish piety, he is a good man. Look at what he tells God and us about himself. First of all he thanks God that he is not like other people. The Morning Prayer for Orthodox Jewish men, to this day, includes a prayer with these words: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast not made me a gentile, … a slave, … a woman.’

Thanking God that I am not like others is not an expression of disdain for others; it is merely another, humble way of thanking God for being made the way we are, in God’s image and likeness. The Pharisee’s prayer is not unusual.

The Pharisee then goes on to tell God that he obeys all the commandments: he prays, he fasts and he tithes – in fact, he tithes more than he has to, and perhaps also fasts more often than he has to – and he gives generously to the poor. He more than meets all the requirements on him under Mosaic law, and goes beyond that. He is a charitable, kind and faithful man. Anyone who saw him in the Temple and heard him pray would have gone away saying he was a good man, and a spiritual man.

Why then is the Pharisee condemned for his prayer, but the Publican is not?

The Pharisee does not pray for the needs of others, in so far as we are allowed to or can hear his prayers. But then, neither does the publican. So neither man is condemned for not being heard to pray for the needs of the other. What marks the prayers of the Pharisee out from the prayers of the publican is that, in his prayers, the Pharisee expresses his disdain for the needs of others.

If prayer is only about me and my needs and does not take account of the needs of others, have I been praying truly?

Part 2,


Bishop Frank Weston ... ‘Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good.’

Prayer is both an individual and a collective action. And even when we pray individually, we pray for ourselves and we pray on behalf of others. Praying must not be a neglected activity and a forgotten part of our life. The person who wants to learn how to pray is a person who wants to get closer to God. Without praying, how can I establish a deeper communion with God?

When you were ordained or commissioned as a reader, yousoon realised that people expected you to be a person of prayer, someone who would pray with them, pray for them, teach them to pray and lead a life that had a rhythm of prayer.

But perhaps you have noticed since then that old styles of prayer are less satisfying, that old formulas no longer have the same meaning, or that you sometimes find it difficult to maintain a life of regular prayer at the level you expect and hope for.

If we are going to help others to pray, then we must first develop and strengthen our own prayer life and to watch, tender and nurture it carefully.

What are your spiritual disciples, and how do they make bridges between these three:

● Your personal prayer life.
● Your engagement with the prayer life of the Church in Word and Sacrament?
● Your commitment to the mission of the Church and God’s mission?

Sometimes I wonder how many of us notice a large gap between our prayer lives and our spiritual lives, on the one hand, and between our personal prayer life and our role in leading others in prayer.

We often think of our life of prayer and spirituality as something internal: as something that I keep in here; something that is part of my prayers, my inner thoughts, my religious emotions; but not something to be expressed publicly – in some cases not even connected with how I pray in Church.

The dysfunctional relationship between private prayer life and the public life of discipleship was recognised and addressed by Bishop Frank Weston in his closing address at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, when he reminded those present that their spiritual life must coupled with a true devotion to Christ in the poor and downtrodden:

‘Christ is found in and amid matter – Spirit through matter – God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have … you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages.

‘You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums. … You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.’

We often discuss different styles of prayer and different approaches to prayer as choices that we can make, as if prayer methods, styles and approaches were merely choices available as commodities to us as consumers. But when people have problems or difficulties with prayer, it is often too late to realise that the problems were not about choice or variety, but that they were not given permission, freedom or encouragement to pray in a way that suited their own spirituality and their own personality.

People need permission, freedom and encouragement to find the way of prayer that best suits their needs and personality. For many people the style of prayer that suits them individually is not the style of prayer they were taught at home as children or in Sunday School or, for clergy, even at their theological college.

When we are honest with ourselves, most will admit that prayer does not always come easily. But the same style of prayer does not suit every personality, and nor does the same type of prayer suit every time and situation. None of us would expect the same style of prayer to work in individual prayer, spontaneous one-to-one prayer, group prayer and liturgical prayer. So why should we expect everyone to accept the same approach to prayer when it comes to their spiritual life, growth and development?

Part 3,

What is prayer?

It is easier to describe what prayer is or ought to be than to say what type of prayer is appropriate or inappropriate for different settings and different individuals. Most writers agree that prayer is the practice of the presence of God. As the Benedictine writer and theologian, Sister Joan Chittister, says, ‘The function of prayer is to change my own mind, to put on the mind of Christ, to enable grace to break into me.’ It is the place where pride is abandoned, hope is lifted, and supplication is made.

In prayer, we should be mindful of the needs of others, and for those of us in ordained ministry we should be willing to – we are expected to – help and teach others to pray. But what is prayer? What are we expected to do when it comes to helping others to pray?

The Eastern Fathers of the Church insist that prayer is primarily the action of God.

Prayer can be described as conversation with God, allowing the Word to penetrate mind and heart. As the Carmelite Rule says, prayer can be described as ‘meditating on the law of the Lord, day and night.’

Rosalind Brown describes prayer as ‘the intimacy of our life with God. Prayer is being lost in wonder, love and praise.’

The Lord’s Prayer is the Model Prayer. It teaches us that prayer:

● Must be addressed to God as our Father.
● Must ask for his will.
● Must pray for his Kingdom.
● Must include for daily needs.
● Must seek forgiveness.
● Must pray for God’s guidance and leading.
● Must ask for deliverance from evil.
● But must also assure us that God hears and answers our prayers.

Benedictine prayer – which shares several characteristics with Anglican prayer – leads to a spirituality of awareness rather than one of consolation. Both Benedictine and Anglican prayer are regular, they are universal, they are converting, they are reflective, and they are communal.

For Joan Chittister, prayer is not to take people out of the world to find God. Prayer is to enable people to realise that God is in the world around them. ‘Prayer is meant to call us back to a consciousness of God here and now, not to make God some kind of private getaway from life. Prayer is the place of admitting our needs, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon God. Prayer is the needful practice of the Christian. Prayer is the exercise of faith and hope. Prayer is the privilege of touching the heart of the Father through the Son by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is being lost in wonder, love and praise.’

Prayer is not a shopping list that we tick off, and then use to tick off God when our shopping trolley has not been filled. We often reduce prayer to requests for healing and for the solution of our own problems, only to find that the answers we hoped for often do not come. Or we pray because prayer is a duty. We were taught as children to pray each morning and each night, but when it becomes a routine and a chore it loses its delight, and the habits of childhood disappear easily when we are adults. Or, as we find personal prayer loses its lustre and appeal, we start relying on our community prayers in the parish, allowing public prayer to fill the gaps when I have started to falter in private prayer.

When we pray in church on Sundays, we are often asked merely to respond with our ‘Amen.’

When the laity are asked to lead the prayers of the people or the intercessions on a Sunday, they are often given sheets of paper with a shopping list that has already been dictated by the rector or the parish priest so that no longer can be truly called the prayers of the people.

When clergy are called on unexpectedly for a prayer at the beginning or end of a meeting, we often fall back on reciting a collect from memory. We have not been taught that it is OK if I do not know what to say when someone in a gathering asks me to pray.

What is wrong with praying: ‘Lord, we confess we don’t always know how to pray by ourselves. But we thank you that you know our needs before we can even find words to express them. We give this time to you and ask you to continue speaking to us and through us.’ When people complain that visiting clergy fail to pray during a visit to a hospital bedside or a bereaved household, it may be because we have failed to develop the skills of praying extemporaneously or with spontaneity, or that we have not been trained in identifying the spirituality of those we are visiting and so cannot find styles of prayer that are appropriate for those we are with.

Part 4,

Growing and developing in our own prayer life:

The Apostle Paul encourages us to ‘pray without ceasing.’ But how can we encourage others to do this unless we first may attention to our own prayer patterns and prayer life? How is one to pray?

Only the Holy Spirit can guide us to pray as we should. Just as a child learns to walk by walking, one can best learn to pray by praying, trusting in the help of God.

1, Review your approach to prayer:

Put your whole soul into your prayer. Think about the meaning of every word you pray. Make every prayer your own personal prayer.

2, Be regular and persistent:

Be persistent in prayer. Do not yield to carelessness or neglect. Strengthen your prayer through a lively faith in the Lord, a spirit of forgiveness toward others, and genuine Christian living.

3, Fix a pattern:

Fix a pattern for prayer. Using the office (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer each day, or one of the shorter forms available in either the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 136-138, or in Celebrating Common Prayer) may be a good start.

The Daily Office is one of the great treasures of our Anglican heritage. The Eucharist and the Office complement each another.

The Daily Office is the daily worship of the Church Catholic. It is both symbolic of and an aid to Saint Paul’s advice to ‘pray without ceasing.’ Its constant round of Psalms and Scripture gives us food for our daily spiritual feeding and action. It binds us into the unceasing worship of the whole Church – Militant, Expectant, and Triumphant. It forms us as Christians. It is one of the great gifts that we have to offer to the divided and broken Body of Christ. It is a fragment of the treasure of the whole that we have preserved and, in this time, we may find that we can offer it back to the whole Church for the edification and rejoicing of all.

In praying the daily office, a clearly defined structure for intercessions can be helpful at times of prayer.

The most common structure in Anglican worship is:

● prayer for the Church;
● prayer for the World;
● prayer for Our Community;
● prayer for Others, especially those in need
● remembrance of, and thanksgiving for, the faithful departed.

4, Value silence

Silence allows me to learn to rejoice in new ways of spending time with God. I know one student who regularly goes for a cup of coffee with God during the week. When I go for a cup of coffee with my friends I don’t take the newspaper or a magazine to read with me, I don’t keep my iPod in my ears.

Use silence in your prayers. This should not be frightening. You don’t have to fill every gap in times of private prayer with sounds or words, not even sounds and words within your heart. If I talk regularly to God, then I should be prepared to give God space to talk to me too.

5, Be regular at the Eucharist

The sacrament of the Eucharist is both reconciling and nurturing. If you feel guilty at times about not praying for everything, then the Eucharist can help overcome this. For the Eucharist is the great thanksgiving; all our prayers are caught up in it, and if you are regular in attendance and eventually in celebration you will be bringing the whole of existence and creation before God. Nothing can be or is left out then.

6, Pray as you read Scripture, don’t just study it

7, Think simply

Think simply and use simple word. And don’t try to reduce prayer to an exercise in theology

Think simply because if you try to pack too many ideas into your prayers, you fall into the danger of thinking more about your thoughts than your prayers, and thinking more about the way you are praying than the God you are praying to.

Use simple words and simple ideas: don’t find that you’ve packed so much into one package that you have forgotten what went in first by the time it comes to owning that prayer with an ‘Amen.’

Keep to one idea or stay focused on one idea at a time before moving on to the next idea.

Avoid the temptation to teach yourself – and to teach God – anything during prayers. Praise is one thing. But your personal prayers are between you and God. God doesn’t need a theological lesson each time you pray, nor do you. God already knows of his majesty, creativity and power. He doesn’t need me to remind him at the beginning of each petition.

8, Be aware of who are you addressing

Be aware of the movement and direction of your prayer. Are you talking to yourself? Are you talking to God? Are you talking to God as Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit?

It will help you too if you know where your prayers are going. This frees you to pray, and to respond to the Spirit’s prompting.

9, Make a sacred place

When they stop to pray, it takes time for their minds to change track and to focus in on God. You may find it can be good to ease yourself into prayer gently, perhaps by listening to music on a CD, or by reading a psalm or a passage from the Bible, or simply by reflecting on what we have to be thankful for. Then we can enter into a conversation with God with our minds properly prepared.

Create a place you know you can pray in. This could be your room. It could be in your car. It could be in your parish church. Or you could create the space for prayer anywhere simply by creating the atmosphere for prayer. This can be done by attending to the appropriate background sound, by listening to music you associate with prayer. This could be on your walkman or iPod, but you need to know you are doing this to create the appropriate atmosphere, not so you can simply listen to the music for its own sake or for your pleasure.

10, Pay attention to your physical posture

Many of us were taught as children to say our prayers kneeling beside our beds. Certain physical gestures and postures often accompany prayer. Some you may be familiar with others may be outside your tradition.

There are traditional gestures such as genuflection, making the sign of the cross, kneeling, bowing and prostrating.

Frequently in Western Christianity the hands are placed palms together and forward as in the feudal commendation ceremony. At other times, the older orans posture may be used, with palms up and elbows in.

11, Use aids to prayer

Think about the creative use of icons, candles, prayer beads, or placing an open Bible or an open Book of Common Prayer placed before you during your time of prayer.

12, Try different styles of prayer.

Are you familiar with the Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divinia, speaking in tongues, or the practice of meditative prayer?

But balance experimentation with stability.

13, Pray when you can’t pray

If you are someone who has a difficulty in finding appropriate words when you come to pray, then you may find it helpful to learn some collects off by heart so that they come to mind immediately on those occasions.

Remind yourself that others have the same difficulties, and remember that God knows what your prayers should be any in case.

And remember these moments so that you will never put someone else on the spot or make them feel embarrassed by being asked to pray in public.

When you can’t pray, have prayers to hand that express that too. For example: ‘Father, we now bring before you in the silence of my heart those I have forgotten to pray for, and those who are too afraid to ask for prayers.’

Or: ‘Lord God, I don’t know what I should be praying about when it comes to [the conflict in Syria/ the European, Brexit crisis/ …] but I bring these situations before you in silence and in my heart.’

14, Think of singing

For some people, it may be useful to suggest they think of singing. Saint Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms stated that those who sing pray twice. Many people forget that they are praying when they are singing, whether this is in private or in public. When they are reminded of this, it can sometimes become easier for them to pray in private or in public. You sing in church, but have you ever thought of singing as part of your private prayer?

15, Teach others to pray

Praying must not be a neglected activity and a forgotten part of our life. The person who wants to learn how to pray can learn too teaching others how to pray, which is a great privilege and responsibility.

As you try to teach people to pray, you will hopefully find that, of course, it is the Spirit who teaches people to pray, and teaches you to pray

16, Face difficulties in prayer honestly

Many people start off praying with great enthusiasm but when they begin to flounder and to experience difficulties they need understanding, help and stimulation from one who has gone the same way.

Even when people pray regularly and pray often, the most common barrier to prayer is wandering thoughts. One survey found over 80% of respondents find this at least ‘sometimes a problem.’

Two-thirds also found noise or other distractions a problem. A similar survey found that ‘keeping concentration’ was also an issue, with 40% of respondents mentioning this as a barrier to prayer.

It is important not to worry about your minds being distracted. You can learn to gently bring it back to focus on God, and the area you were praying about.

Just as when we are in conversation with others, our minds naturally have some apparently irrelevant thoughts, and need to return to the topic at hand.

Saint Francis de Sales said: ‘Even if you did nothing in your meditation but bring your heart back, and place it again in our Lord’s presence, though it went away again every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.’

Remember too that difficulties with prayer also come with going through different stages of faith. We than old prayers lack meaning or significance, and find it difficult to find new prayers. For some, if they are not helped through this stage, the problem becomes more difficult.

Others have difficulty in prayer because of personal tragedy or their personal difficulties with God. But these difficulties often reflect the stage of faith they are at. Help them to grow in that stage rather than pushing them on, and they will mature.

Part 5,

Teaching others to pray:

Teaching others how to pray is a great privilege and responsibility.

Teaching people how to pray is part of the task you will face in parochial and pastoral ministry. But as you try to teach people to pray, you will hopefully find that, of course, it is the Spirit who teaches people to pray.

Prayer is both an individual and a collective action. And even when we pray individually, we pray for ourselves and we pray on behalf of others.

One of the most public ways people pray for others is during the intercessions in Church. And one of the first areas in which those who are new to ordained ministry are asked to help others to pray is in the preparation of the intercessions.

The word intercede literally means to go between, to be one who stands between the people and God, to be one who stands in the breach.

This is the role of the intercessor, for example, that was explained to Ezekiel: ‘And I sought for anyone among them who would repair the wall and stand in the breach before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22: 30).

Interceding is more about where we stand, and being willing to stand there, than about what we say. And those intercessors who stand in the breach, between God and us, need others to stand beside them and to help them in their intercessions.

Saint John the Baptist knew the advantage of being a prayerful servant of God and also taught his disciples to pray.

Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, by word and by example. When they ask how to pray, he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 1-5). But he also gives example of prayer in parables – the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the Temple.

So, he teaches them to pray by taking as examples how others pray, and he also teaches them directly by giving them an example of model prayer.

The early disciples of Jesus realised the value of prayers, and so were willing to be taught how to pray. Praying together has been a hallmark of Christian life since the beginnings of the church, as the opening reports from the Acts of the Apostles make clear.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to ‘pray without ceasing.’ But how can we encourage others to do this unless we first teach them to pray?

Difficulties in prayer:

Many people start off praying with great enthusiasm. But when they begin to flounder and to experience difficulties, they need understanding, help and stimulation from someone who has gone the same way.

I think we can all identify a number of shared difficulties in our prayer lives, such as wandering thoughts

When it comes to praying out loud and in groups, many people find it difficult, no matter how attentive they are to their private prayer lives, to pray aloud with other people, for different reasons.

If you are someone who has a difficulty in finding appropriate words when you are asked to pray in public, then you may find it helpful to learn some collects off by heart so that they come to mind immediately on those occasions when you are put on the spot.

Be aware of those difficulties and remind yourselves that others have the same difficulties. Never put someone else on the spot or make them feel embarrassed by being asked to pray in public.

Then there those people who are going through different stages of faith, who now find that old prayers lack meaning or significance, and who are finding it difficult to find new prayers.

For some people, if not helped through these problems in prayer, then the problem becomes more difficult, and prayer becomes more difficult, sometimes to the point that they give up praying and believe it is impossible to pray.

And there are those people who are dealing with personal tragedies, including tragedies than have given them difficulties in their relationships with God. Be sensitive to those difficulties, and be gentle with those people.

1, Prayer and worthiness:

To return to the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, it is worth remembering that sometimes people think that because they have sinned they should not pray.

But the story of the story of the Pharisee (apparently good) and the Publican (apparently bad), in Luke 18: 10-14, tells us that the Pharisee prayed easily, while the publican could not even lift his eyes to heaven but smote his breast and prayed, ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’ Jesus tells us it was the publican who ‘returned home justified,’ not the Pharisee.

The publican wants to pray even when he feels guilty of sin. We do not have to wait until we feel righteous, like a Pharisee, so we can pray. Such prayer is almost useless. I know I can all too easily pray the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner,’ more readily when I am feeling righteous than when I realise I am a sinner.

Religious feelings can be deceptive in the extreme. When I think we feel like praying, we are in fact feeling ‘pious.’ And it’s a deep tragedy. We are not ready to pray to pray at this stage. Instead, we are consumed with ourselves as pious people of prayer.

When I feel like a Publican, then I can pray like a Publican. Many times people will tell you, ‘I can’t take Communion … lead the intercession … serve at the altar today, because I don’t feel worthy.’ But surely I’m in much greater danger when I do feel worthy.

When does someone ever say, ‘I’ve been so good this week I haven’t felt in the least like a sinner, and this is a great sin and deception.’ Now we would be getting somewhere with prayer.

Help people to pray like a publican. They will find so many more times available for prayer if they do. And while they are there, you and I should pray for those who are praying like a Pharisee, so that God may free us from our delusions.

2, Wandering thoughts:

When people ask us to help them to pray, we need to be aware of these difficulties.

Even when people pray regularly and pray often, the most common barrier to prayer is wandering thoughts. One recent survey found that over 80% of respondents find wandering thoughts are at least ‘sometimes a problem.’

Two-thirds also found noise or other distractions a problem. A similar survey found that ‘keeping concentration’ is also an issue, with 40% of respondents mentioning this as a barrier to prayer.

It is important to assure people not to worry about their minds being distracted. They can learn to gently bring the mind back to focus on God, and to the area they were praying about.

Just as when we are in conversation with others, our minds regularly have some apparently irrelevant thoughts, and need to be returned to the topic at hand. So this is not a problem to worry about in prayer. It happens to everyone and everyone can deal with it.

Many people lead busy lives, with their minds working in overdrive to cover all of the things that they need to think about. When they stop to pray, it takes time for their minds to change track and to focus in on God. You may find it can be good to ease people into prayer gently, perhaps by listening to music on a CD, or by reading a psalm or a passage from the Bible, or simply by reflecting on what we have to be thankful for.

Then we can enter into a conversation with God with our minds properly prepared.

Many of us probably learned to pray as a small child kneeling at our bedside. But even when people are comfortable about praying in their own rooms, or joining in the responses in Church, they are uncomfortable praying in public.

But try to remember. Have you ever been caught off-guard when you have been asked to say a prayer at the beginning of a meeting, or to say grace before a group sat down in dinner?

There is a large section of people who regard prayer as something private. Then there are others who are reluctant to pray out loud in case they may make a mess of it, in case they’ll fluff it, in case they sound stupid.

But on this last point you can assure them by asking them whether my task in prayer is to converse with God or to give those who are listening something that will seem wise and knowledgeable?

3, Singing and praying:

For some people, it may be useful to suggest they think of singing. Saint Augustine in his commentary on the Psalms stated that those who sing pray twice. Many people forget that they are praying when they are singing, whether this is in private or in public. When they are reminded of this, it can sometimes become easier for them to pray in private or in public.

4, Some helpful hints:

If you are someone who has a difficulty in finding appropriate words when you are asked to pray in public, then you may find it helpful to learn some collects off by heart so that they come to mind immediately on those occasions when you are put on the spot.

Be aware of those difficulties and remind yourselves that others have the same difficulties. Never put someone else on the spot or make them feel embarrassed by being asked to pray in public.

Helping those who lead prayers or intercessions in church:

One of the opportunities people in ordained ministry have in teaching people how to pray is when we help people who have been asked to lead the prayers or intercessions in church.

There is an important difference between private prayer and leading corporate intercessions. When we are leading the intercessions, we are leading God’s people in prayer, rather than praying on their behalf. And so, the way that we pray should be different from our own private prayer.

The corporate act of intercession is the sum of the individual thoughts and prayers, combined with the words and prayers spoken from the front. So, for corporate prayer to take place effectively, the congregation will be praying along the lines laid before them, and extending them as individual hearts and minds engage with the topics for prayer.

It is important that the people in the congregation hear what is being prayed. So those leading the intercessions need to be audible, and they need to speak clearly and slowly.

A clearly defined structure to the intercessions helps people to pray.

It will help others if they know where the prayers are going. This frees them to pray, and to respond to the Spirit’s prompting. The most common structure in Anglican worship is:

● prayer for the Church;
● prayer for the World;
● prayer for our Community;
● prayer for others, especially those in need
● remembrance of, and thanksgiving for, the faithful departed.

A congregational response is a good way of marking out the structure, and bringing silences to an end.

Some helpful hints on congregational prayer:

If you are using a congregational response, it is a good idea to introduce it clearly at the beginning, unless it never varies from week to week. Even then, it’s worth mentioning it occasionally since there may well be newcomers coming into the church.

Using silence in these prayers can be very powerful. Silence in corporate worship allows a transition from corporate prayer, where we join in common petitions, to private prayer, where we spend time individually with God.

Often it is a good idea to direct people’s prayers into the silence, either as a part of the prayers, for example, ‘Father, we now bring before you in the silence of our hearts those who are known to us to be in need.’ Or you could say: ‘We’ll keep a short time of quiet when we can pray about our response to the situation in Syria.’

Watch your language! Leading prayer is most effective in simple, clear everyday language. Complex phrasing and long words make it difficult for those who are listening to unpackage and own the prayers, and they add to the reluctance of many to take a leading role in public prayers. Try to use simple language. Avoid ‘churchy’ jargon and acronyms.

Keep up to date: keep up to date with the news, both national and local news, and also the current status of those who will be prayed for. Before leaving for church, check the news.

Arrive in time to check on important news in the parish: who needs to be prayed for, who is in hospital, who has been bereaved, who has had good news.

Do not pray for everything. The Eucharist is the Great Thanksgiving. All our prayers are caught up in it. If we pray for everything beforehand, if we give thanks for everything beforehand, what is left to pray for in the greatest prayer? Prayer is not a shopping list being presented to God!

Avoid being too specific in every intercession. Try to count in everything, and we’ll go on all day. Try to name everyone, and some will inevitably feel left out.

Avoid the temptation to teach during prayers. Prayers are from the people to God, they are not an opportunity to say what we think God should be teaching others.

Be careful when praying about subjects which may be sensitive to members of the congregation. Examples include divorce, abortion, sexuality, and politics.

Prepare thoroughly. Whether you use a script, or just use notes is up to you. But I am always lacking in my ability to do justice to my responsibility to God and my responsibility in leading God’s people in prayer. Spend some time in prayer beforehand. Good preparation does not limit your ability to change your plans, building in appropriate links with the sermon. You might like to use wide margins on your paper so that you can make notes. But preparation should also include a time of private prayer, praying through the topics you will lead prayers for.

Part 6,

Identifying prayer needs and types

Spirituality types, based on the work of Corinne Ware and Urban Holmes

Teaching others how to pray is a privilege and responsibility, but when I was on the staff of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, I learned of the need for clergy to develop the skills of identifying the different approaches to spirituality that mean individuals have different needs in prayer styles. An individual’s spiritual life can be affirmed and can grow by identifying with appropriate approaches to prayer.

Two Anglican writers in particular have made important contributions to identifying the different spiritual types and their prayer needs: Urban T Holmes was Dean of the School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, until he died in 1981 at the age of 51; Corinne Ware is a pastoral psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Ascetical Theology at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Similarly, in the Roman Catholic tradition, Monsignor Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey have found that many people feel they are shut out of the prayer life of their parishes or congregations because of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to prayer, spiritual exercise and meditation.

Holmes and Ware and Michael and Norrisey continue in the long tradition, begun by William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, of analysing religious experience from the standpoint of psychology.

Drawing on the four personality types described by Katherine C. Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in their theory of personality types, and using the spiritual typology of Holmes and her own experience as a spiritual director and pastoral counsellor, Ware has provided a framework for people to name and understand their spiritual experience and prayer needs, and helps explain why different people prefer and benefit from different styles of and approaches to prayer. Holmes and Ware identify what can be called four spiritual types: 1, those who prefer ‘head’ spirituality; 2, those who prefer ‘heart’ spirituality; 3, the ‘mystics’; and 4, the visionaries. In a more developed exploration of these ideas, Ware speaks of two ‘axes of preference’ or directions in which people are drawn: Thinking-Feeling and Abstract-Concrete.

The vertical speculative-affective axis intersects with the horizontal apophatic-kataphatic axis forming quadrants. Within these quadrants, identified by the bordering poles, we find the four spiritual types. In which quadrant would you place yourself? Quadrant 1, for instance, is influenced by the two points, speculative thinking and concrete or ‘kataphatic’ imaging of God. Each of us has a different approach to our style of spirituality so that it has a bearing on how I fit into a congregation, how I pray, how I respond to or have certain needs in spiritual direction.

Type 1, the speculative/kataphatic or head spirituality, is an intellectual or thinking spirituality that favours what it can see, touch, and vividly imagine. It can be expressed theologically in concepts, such as God as Father, or the centrality of Christ and the incarnation. The choices of this group will be based mostly on activity and on corporate gathering. Their spirituality relates comfortably to the spoken word, and so they appreciate study groups, better sermons, and some sort of theological renewal within the worshipping community.

The contribution of those with Type-1 spirituality to the whole is invaluable. They produce theological reflection, debate ethical issues, provide critique and engage in education and publication. They seek to make sense of experience and to name it. They codify and so preserve the faith story from generation to generation, and seek guidance primarily in Scripture and from the sermon – that is, from words. ‘God speaks to them through the written word,’ Ware explains.

As Ware points out, people who feel close to God through their minds are, perhaps, the most common among Anglicans. Prayer for people in this quadrant is almost always language or word-based prayer, whether aloud or silent. For people who love words and ideas, reading is the avenue of God’s speech, and written prayers, including the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer, are most helpful for them in their prayer life. Reading, journaling, and specific meditation with a definite focus are fruitful activities.

Growth for such people lies in their gradually sensing their interior connection with God. The danger lies in ‘falling outside the circle’ through an over-reliance on rationalism, an over-intellectualisation of the spiritual life and a consequent loss of feeling. To enrich their experience they can benefit from the emphases of the opposite quadrant, Type 3, on fostering solitude, introspection, and silence, risking the unstructured, the solitary, and the silent.

People in Type 2, the affective/kataphatic or heart spirituality type, still emphasise the anthropomorphic representation of God and the centrality of scripture, but are combined with a more affective, charismatic spirituality that aims is to achieve holiness of life. The transformational goal is personal renewal and holiness, and so Type-2 people find God through the heart, in feelings and in the moment.

Characteristically, they emphasise evangelism and transformation, and value corporate worship that includes time for witnessing, testimonials and music. They stress the immanence of God over the transcendence of God, and the words of their prayers are less formal than they are among words than Type-1 people, and praying is usually extemporaneous. Physically, they express their joy in such ways as raising their hands. Although prayer is made up of words for this group, the words can be less formal than the words for people in type one, and praying is often extemporaneous.

The Type-2 person may respond well to a loosely-structured daily spiritual discipline. They respond to art, music, and fellowship. These people focus on personal service to others but often with the caveat that the service provides an opportunity to witness about their faith. They often need permission to acknowledge anger, disappointment, sadness, and doubt, and to be less than ideal. Their spirituality is enriched by being able to see other expressions of faith as having value and making a contribution. With their emphasis on “pietism,” they can become too exclusive, not allowing themselves to acknowledge the spiritual experience of others – especially when it different – and they can be closed to the risk of new thought. They could be encouraged to risk new experience on their own and to trust God to be with them in their journeys, seeing God as nurturing rather than punitive.

Type 3 is the affective/apophatic approach, which can be described as mystic spirituality. With Type-3 people, hearing God rather than speaking to God is important. People attracted to this type of spirituality are often contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world. God is ineffable, unnameable, and vast beyond any known category. Austerity and asceticism are appealing to many in this quadrant as they listen attentively to the inner voice. They often find themselves uncomfortable and not fitting in, especially within Western Protestantism, but will value the works of Thomas Merton and Anthony de Mello, or appreciate the apophatic approach of Eastern Orthodox spirituality or a creation-type theology.

‘For them,’ Ware says, ‘prayer is not addressing God but is listening to God.’ The Desert Fathers and the mediaeval mystics are examples of this type. ‘People attracted to this type of spirituality love walking the labyrinth,’ Ware says. Often by nature they are contemplative, introspective, intuitive, and focused on an inner world. For them, ‘being’ is more important than ‘doing.’ Many in Type-3 write and publish and provide the especially inspirational and uplifting spirituality that fuels our daily lives with a sense of the Holy. They provide much of the intellectual interpretation of the theological writing by those in Type-1, and they seek to push the frontiers of spirituality.

Those in Type 3 need permission to retreat and seek solitude because they may feel guilty as they carefully hide their desire for the nourishment of solitude and silence. The danger in this quadrant is of falling into wrong sort of ‘quietism,’ with an exaggerated retreat from reality and from interaction with the world and a spiritual passivity that deprives the world of the treasured gifts of mysticism. The mystic who lacks the balance of the other spiritual expressions is also deprived of the blessing of interaction with others. Of course, there are those who have a calling to solitary prayer, but retreat time needs to be balanced with involvement and interaction.

Type 4, the speculative/apophatic type, includes the visionaries who emphasise kingdom spirituality. People in this quadrant are usually the smallest group, making it the most difficult to describe. They are at prayer as they work for the Simon Community, Christian Aid or with a human rights campaign, as they feed and clothe others. For these people, prayer and theology are best expressed in action. For them, work and prayer are the same thing. Type-4 people may include the Hebrew prophets, the Apostolic Fathers, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

Visionaries want nothing less than the transformation of society, to right the wrongs of the world, and they are often willing to suffer for a cause. They are single-minded, with a deeply focused type of spirituality. They care less about affiliation with organised religion than many others do, seeking first to obey God and to witness to his coming kingdom. They have a passion for transforming society. They can sacrifice their personal lives for their hope that the kingdom will be realised on earth, and can be angry and exasperated with authority figures. But they are also in danger of an excessive and unbalanced spirituality that is moralistic and unrelenting.

Assessing Holmes and Ware

The value of the approach by Holmes and Ware is not in being able to pigeon-hole myself or others, but in helping myself and others to identify our appropriate styles of prayer, worship and approaches to spirituality.

The message of the work of Ware and Holmes is that once we have found where we fall within the total circle, we then have opportunity to grow by acknowledging and strengthening our present gifts, growing toward our opposite quadrant, and appreciating more perceptively the quadrants on either side of our dominant type.

People who find their spirituality represented in several quadrants may be encouraged to see that they can benefit from several styles of prayer and worship. Each category is of value, yet all are different.

Type-1 people can benefit from the method known as Lectio Divina, for example. Type-2 people need experiment in prayer, liturgy, and music with musical expression. Type-3 people can benefit from silence in prayer, and from being asked to pray privately.

Retreats for Type-1 or Type-2 people will need planned group activities, speaker, and programme. But for Type-3 these are interferences, this only interferes and they need a director to lead in meditation or reading, and directed periods of silence. Type 4 people are praying when they engage in causes and campaigns.

Using the spiritual typology of Holmes and her own experience as a spiritual director and pastoral counsellor, Ware has provided a framework for people to name and understand their spiritual experience and prayer needs. Being aware of these differences, and how they complement each other, can help in seeking a greater understanding of how people learn to pray, engage with liturgy and can come to celebrate God. But they also help to explain why there may be tension in parishes around such issues as the form, style and content of the worship service and our approaches to pray, both private and public.

Balancing temperaments

Similarly, Chester Michael and Marie Norrisey have found that many people feel they have been shut out of the prayer life of their parishes or congregations because of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to prayer, spiritual exercise and meditation. They drew on the four personality types or temperaments defined by Carl Jung, enhanced by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Cook Briggs, and the popularised by David Kiersey: the artisan or ‘free-spirited’ temperament, the guardian or “practical” temperament, the idealist, and the rationalist.

The ‘Practical’ type (40 per cent of the population), is steady, reliable, a realistic decision-maker, seeks order, dislikes ambiguity, is conforming, fastidious and is often moralistic, can be intolerant and can be over-controlled. The ‘Rational’ type (12 per cent) is analytical, likes independence, takes pride in his/her objectivity and calmness, is visionary, attentive to theory and model, is often clever, and can be indifferent to others and even condescending. The ‘Free-Spirited’ type (36 per cent) is an adaptable realist who is focussed on the here-and-now, is good with tools and instruments, hates boredom, wants to be audacious, values generosity, and can be inattentive or even unstable. The ‘Idealistic’ type (12 per cent) is tender-minded, enthusiastic and insightful, seeks new projects and complexity, is flexible, aesthetic, non-conforming, and can be snobbish, self-pitying and dreamy.

Using the objectivity/personality type theory, Michael and Norrisey suggest ways to get over certain prejudices that hinder our legitimate religious experiences. We are each unique in temperament. For our prayer life to be most fulfilling there is a prayer form that is best suited to our temperament.

Michael and Norrisey define four prayer forms – the Ignatian, Franciscan, Augustinian and Thomistic – that map to the four distinctive temperaments, and give each temperament something like a patron saint whose spirituality seems to match the temperament’s spirituality. For instance, the hard-nosed Ignatius is matched with the practical temperament. Practical people like to follow the rules, and they like predictability and order. The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises provide plenty of steps and order that temperaments more taken with spontaneity would find difficult.

On the other hand, they argue that all the exercises and forms of prayer and meditation they describe are for every temperament. They suggest that all the forms should be tried, but that the practitioner ought to return to the form of meditation she finds most comfortable and profitable.

Their meditative forms and prayers are loosely connected with the four steps in Lectio Divina, a method of prayer and meditation associated with the Benedictine tradition, moving from the head to the heart. These four steps are: 1, Lectio (seeking truth, or seeking God’s word); 2, Meditatio (making God’s word personal); 3, Oratio (our response to God’s word, including adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication); and 4, Contemplatio (union of love between God and us).

Each step in Lectio Divina calls on one of the four specific types identified by Michael and Norrissey. Since Briggs and Myers say we each have a favourite or ‘dominant function’ among these four ways, each of us will tend to favour one part of the Lectio Divina and one of its meditative forms.

Part 7:

Intercessions and personal prayer:

There is a well-known saying that there are no atheists in foxholes.

But we all have our own inner foxholes. What do you pray for in the depths of your soul?

What do you pray for?

There is a very useful theological principle that says: Lex orandi, lex credenda. It means not just that our beliefs should shape how we pray, but when we pray truly we show what we believe truly.

What do you really pray for?

Think about it for a moment. Ask yourself not what prayers did you say ‘Amen’ to in Church on Sunday, but what do you really wish for, hope for, long for, want?

The Lord’s Prayer and the Intercessions on Sundays are two ways of encouraging us to pray in a way that shapes our discipleship and our priorities.

Which part of the Lord’s Prayer do you say Amen to? ‘Thy Kingdom come’? ‘Thy will be done on earth?’ ‘Give us … our daily bread?’ ‘Forgive us our trespasses?’ Teach us, liberate us, to forgive others? ‘Deliver us from evil?’

Do you truly pray for us to live in the kingdom? For us to have daily bread? For us to be forgiven and to forgive? For us to be saved from evil?

Have you noticed how this is a prayer written in the plural. I had a problem while celebrating the Eucharist last year in a parish where I was filling in on behalf of a priest colleague. Unexpectedly, the reader prompted everyone to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if it were a moment of personal piety and spirituality before the fraction and reception. But the Lord’s Prayer is precisely not that. Our individual ‘Amen’ is part of the collective ‘Amen’ to the spirituality and the mission of the Church.

Individual prayer only has meaning within the totality of the spirituality and the mission of the whole Church.

And a similar problem arises with the intercessions at the Eucharist in most parishes.

Who frames and writes the intercessions in your parish?

How often are they written by the priest, even though they are supposed to be the prayers of the people?

How often are they simply a shopping list, simply telling God what we want, like a Miss World entrant saying she wants to travel the world and work with children?

How seldom is there any connectedness with each item in the intercessions?

For example, how seldom do we pray for the diocesan bishop, so that any connection with the Church and the Church Universal is disjointed?

How often are mission priorities just top of the list as priorities rather than a point of real prayer for parishioners?

How much effort is put into seeing that the intercessions reflect what people have been praying about in the previous week, and what they pray about in the coming week?

Empowerment, particularly spiritual empowerment, is an important constituent of both ministry and mission.

Part 8,

Prayer and the Eucharist

The Last Supper, an image now missing from the former Bridgeman’s workshop in Lichfield ... Word and Sacrament are reduced to piety and pious devotion if they are not empowering us for mission (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The intercessions and the peace – and there is a connection between both – should form the bridge between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship itself is a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Romans 12: 1). And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes (I Corinthians 11: 26).

In his prison cell in Johannesburg, even when he was in isolation and refused access to the elements of bread and wine, Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, an Irish priest, was aware of the mission dimension of the lonely ‘spiritual communion’ he celebrated on his own in front of the cross-shape he picked out on the bars of his prison cell. He wrote:

‘And you know, it was a reality. ‘Therefore, with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven’ – I don’t think I have ever known the reality of the company of heaven as I did in that prison cell ... I’m no mystic. But I felt the presence of the Church, both in heaven and on earth’”

Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling and undergirds the forms of public witness we engage in.

There was a short-lived Facebook group called ‘Comfortable Words,’ formed by people who said they were keen on maintaining the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Its name was inspired by the Comfortable Words at the beginning of the Eucharist, which include those comfortable words in John 3: 16: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son …’

The original Greek conveys better than the 1662 English that God bestowed on the world, God sent into the world, God gave as a present to the world … well, not actually, the world, but, as it says in the original Greek, the Cosmos. ‘God so loved the Cosmos that he sent …’

At the beginning and the end, in Gloria and in Agnus Dei, we recall that in the Incarnation Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. Incarnation is not to be reduced to personal faith and salvation, my spiritual priorities are not to enhance my feel-good factors.

The sin of the world – what alienates the world from God, what hinders creation from realising the potential of the incarnation – is at the very heart of the five points of mission, and at heart of what we pray about in the Eucharist.

So, it is with very good reason that the intercessions come between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. The world and its needs are a bridge between Word and Sacrament.

Word and Sacrament are reduced to piety and pious devotion if they are not empowering us for mission. The prayers after communion include a fundamental commission of each and every one of us as missionaries, as Christ’s mission partners in the world: ‘Send us out in the power of your spirit to live to your praise and glory.’

Or: ‘May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life; we who drink his cup bring life to others; we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.’

The dismissal: ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’ calls for the response: ‘In the name of Christ. Amen.’ We say ‘Amen’ to our missionary commission Sunday-after-Sunday. Mission is not separate from, or divorced from the spiritual priorities in celebrating the Eucharist.

Candles light up the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral after Choral Evensong ... the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are commissions to mission too (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Part 9,

Praying the Daily Office

One of the ways we can help other people pray is to introduce them to the practice of praying the Daily Office.

Modern liturgical revision in most of the Churches has restored the Eucharist to its primary place as the key rite for the gathered Christian community on Sundays. But sadly this has also led to the neglect of the daily office among both clergy and laity.

The Daily Office is one of the great treasures of our Anglican heritage. The Eucharist should not replace our need for and practice of the Offices. Rather, the Eucharist and the Office complement each another.

The Daily Office is the daily worship of the Church Catholic. It is both symbolic of and an aid to Saint Paul’s advice to ‘pray without ceasing.’ Its constant round of Psalms and Scripture gives us food for our daily spiritual feeding and action. It binds us into the unceasing worship of the whole Church – Militant, Expectant, and Triumphant. It forms us as Christians. It is one of the great gifts that we have to offer to the divided and broken Body of Christ. It is a fragment of the treasure of the whole that we have preserved and, in this time, we may find that we can offer it back to the whole Church for the edification and rejoicing of all.

However, none of these things will happen if we do not pray it and teach others to do likewise.

A good starting point in learning to pray can be learning how to pray the Daily Office.

If you are going to use it in your own prayer life and daily discipline, then we should learn how to capture the internal spirit and logic of the office. It is not a liturgical straight-jacket. We can mix, adapt and learn what works best for each of us.

To take full advantage of the Daily Office and its riches, we need to be aware of the resources that are available to help us. These include the Book of Common Prayer, books of prayer such as Celebrating Common Prayer, online resources such as Oremus, and other websites with prayer resources.

Praying the Daily Office is best done and is intended to be done in community. Anyone can start this ministry. No priests, clergy, or church professionals are needed for a full and proper celebration of the Daily Office. But what is needed is an informed body of people with the commitment to see it through and to see it done well, done consistently, done respectfully, and done reverently.

The daily-ness of the office leads to stability, to obedience and to conversion of life. It is a tool of enormous spiritual power, and no parish should ignore it.

Most people in congregations do not easily talk about prayer. Too often we think running church services and the task of leading public prayer is the priest’s job. And so, equipping lay people to be confident officiants at the Daily Office will quickly change that.

Daily morning prayer is a great way to start the day.

The Office and a Daily Rhythm of Prayer

Westminster Abbey ... can inspire a teenager with a sense of reverence and relevance

Some years ago, I spent a few days with my elder son in London. He was still in his late teens and he wanted to see the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum as part of his classical studies. But the highlight of our visit for him was not the marbles, nor the Tower of London, not the dome of Saint Paul’s, nor the Millennium Bridge, the Globe Theatre, Big Ben, the Changing of the Guard, No 10, Buckingham Palace, Madam Tussaud’s … The highlight for him was Choral Evensong in Westminster Abbey, where we sat in the choir stalls.

Don’t tell me Choral Evensong and Evening Prayer are no longer appealing to a younger generation. The sung offices continue to inspire a sense of reverence and relevance, and make the compelling demands for mission.

I miss the regular worship, twice-a-day, day-by-day, that was part of the rhythm of life when I was a member of the staff at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

It is an Anglican tradition to pray in the versicles and responses and in the intercessions for our governments. Praying for them recognises that they always need to be prayed for, not always because we agree with them, and often because they need to change.

The tradition of prayer in the Daily Office also includes the canticles traditionally associated with Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

In the canticle Venite, we are told about God: ‘In his hands are all the corners of the earth.’

We prayed this canticle most mornings in the chapel at the CITI, and, as I heard and prayed those words, I cannot help smiling as I recall those games at summer camps where we all stood around holding a blanket or a parachute, kept shaking it up higher and higher, and eventually hoping to hop in under it, like a tent.

When God holds all the corners of the earth in his hands, then praying for the earth, all who live in it, and for its sustainability, its resources and its environment, becomes a mission challenge that is part of our spirituality.

In the canticle Benedictus, we ask God:

‘To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
for the remission of their sins …

‘To give light to them that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death:
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

In Evening Prayer, for generations, we have reminded ourselves in the Canticle Magnificat:

‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat
and hath exalted the humble and meek.

‘He hath filled the hungry with good things:
And the rich he hath sent empty away.’

Now, in the simple spirituality of the Anglican offices, that’s what I call praying through the Five Points of Mission in the Anglican understanding of mission.

In Evensong, in the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, we are reminded that God’s salvation has ‘been prepared before the face of all people.’ The Christ Child is ‘to be a light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.’ Here personal piety, Anglican spirituality, Gospel demands and mission priorities come into focus together.

I could take further examples, for instance, from the Litany, which we prayed most Friday mornings in the chapel at CITI, and the ways in which it prays for the needs of the Church, our communities and the world.

Part 10,

Praying the Jesus Prayer:

The Jesus Prayer: an image from Balamand Monastery

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό

There is a dictum in The Philokalia, ascribed to Evagrius the Solitary, which says: ‘If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian’ [Treatise on Prayer, 61].

To pray truly, we can learn from the traditions of others. There are rich treasures in each and every Christian tradition that we can draw on without compromising our own Christian tradition, experience and spirituality. The Orthodox insights into and traditions about prayer have influenced many Anglicans, including Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Archbishop Rowan Williams. Many in the Western world have been helped to pray through the books of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom.

To pray does not mean to think about God to the distraction of thinking about other things, or to spend time with God in competition with spending time with our family and friends. To pray means to think and live our entire life in the Presence of God. The Russian theologian, Paul Evdokimov (1900-1969), the biographer of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, remarks: ‘Our whole life, every act and gesture, even a smile must become a hymn or adoration, an offering, a prayer. We must become prayer – prayer incarnate.’

The practice of the Jesus Prayer is one of the rich treasurers in the Orthodox tradition than can help each of us to develop our own practice of prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is one of the best-known traditions within Orthodoxy. Its words say simply: Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό (‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner’). The Jesus Prayer is a short, simple prayer that has been widely used, taught and discussed throughout the history of Eastern Christianity.

In order to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and to come to grips with the Scriptural challenge to pray unceasingly, the Orthodox tradition offers the Jesus Prayer – which is sometimes called the Prayer of the Heart by some Church Fathers – as a means of concentration and as a focal point for our inner life.

The exact words of the prayer have varied from the most simple possible involving the name ‘Jesus,’ or ‘Lord have mercy,’ to the more common extended form: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

For the Eastern Orthodox, the Jesus Prayer one of the most profound and mystical prayers and it is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice.

The practice of repeating the prayer continually dates back to at least the 5th century. The earliest known mention is in the writings of Saint Diadochos of Photiki (400-486), a work found in the first volume of The Philokalia, a collection of texts on prayer compiled between the 4th and the 15th centuries. In that collection, Saint Diadochos ties the practice of the Jesus Prayer to the purification of the soul. He also teaches that repetition of the prayer produces inner peace.

The Jesus Prayer is also described by Saint John Cassian (died 435) in his description of the repetitive use of a passage of the Psalms.

The use of the Jesus Prayer is recommended by Saint John of Sinai (523–603) in The Ladder of Divine Ascent and in the work of Saint Hesychios (?8th century), Pros Theodoulon, found in the first volume of The Philokalia.

Later, the theology of the Jesus Prayer was most clearly set out by Saint Gregory Palamas (1296–1359). Its practice became an integral part of Hesychasm, and the subject of The Philokalia. Today, Mount Athos is a centre of the practice of the Jesus Prayer.

The use of the Jesus Prayer according to the tradition of The Philokalia is the subject of the Russian classic, The Way of a Pilgrim. The Russian pilgrim in The Way of the Pilgrim discovers the Jesus Prayer and with it finds the answers to many of his questions in that key compendium of Orthodox spirituality and prayer.

In The Way of a Pilgrim, the anonymous pilgrim recounts his desperate longing ‘to pray without ceasing.’ He wanders, with Bible in hand, in search of someone who can teach him. Eventually, the pilgrim takes a wise monk as his spiritual father or staretz (стáрец). He instructs the pilgrim in prayer, and gives him The Philokalia to read.

The pilgrim recalls the conversation: ‘Read this book,’ he said. ‘It is called The Philokalia, and it contains the full and detailed science of constant interior prayer, set forth by 25 Holy Fathers. The book is marked by lofty wisdom and is so profitable to use that it is considered the foremost and best manual of the contemplative spiritual life …’

‘Is it then more sublime that the Bible?’ I asked.

‘No, it is not that. But it contains clear explanations of what the Bible holds in secret and which cannot be easily grasped by our short-sighted understanding.’

The staretz compares the Bible to the Sun and The Philokalia to a small piece of glass that allows a person to view its rays, and he reads to the pilgrim instructions from Saint Simeon the New Theologian quoted in The Philokalia:

‘Sit down alone and in silence. Lower your head, shut your eyes, breathe out gently and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. Carry your mind, that is, your thoughts, from your head to your heart. As you breathe out say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’ Say it moving your lips gently, or simply say it in your mind. Try to put all other thoughts aside. Be calm, be patient, and repeat the process very frequently.’

At first, the pilgrim is bored, is sleepy and is distracted by other thoughts. The staretz encourages him to persevere, gives him a prayer rope (Greek κομποσχοίνι, komboschini; Russian chotki), and tells him to use it as a counter as he repeats the Jesus Prayer. He tells him to repeat the Jesus Prayer 3,000 times a day, ‘quietly and without hurry … without deliberately increasing or diminishing the number. God will help you, and by this means you will reach also the unceasing activity of the heart.’

After the first few days, the pilgrim no longer finds that he has been set a hard task, but soon finds that he is praying again, both ‘easily and joyfully.’ His spiritual father increases the number to 6,000 and then to 12,000, so that the pilgrim reaches the point where the prayer wakes him up early in the morning. Now his whole desire is fixed on saying the Jesus Prayer and he is filled with joy.

The Pilgrim, the anonymous author of The Way of the Pilgrim, reports that the Jesus Prayer has two very concrete effects upon his vision of the world:

Firstly, it transfigures his relationship with the material creation around him. The world becomes transparent, a sign, a means of communicating God’s presence. He writes: ‘When I prayed in my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvellous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man’s sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang his praise.’

Secondly, the Jesus Prayer transfigures his relationship to his fellow human beings. His relationships are given form within their proper context: the forgiveness and compassion of the crucified and risen Lord. ‘Again I started off on my wanderings. But now I did not walk along as before, filled with care. The invocation of the Name of Jesus gladdened my way. Everybody was kind to me. If anyone harms me I have only to think, ‘How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!’ and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all.’

This story in The Way of the Pilgrim became familiar to many readers in the west in the 1960s through the popularity of JD Salinger’s novel, Franney and Zooey, when the distressed young woman describes the Jesus Prayer to her boyfriend over lunch in a restaurant. But what are the Scriptural and theological foundations of the Jesus Prayer?

The Jesus Prayer, in its simplicity and clarity, is rooted in the Scriptures, and its words are based on:

● the cry of the blind man at the side of the road near Jericho, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’ (Luke 18: 38);
● the cry of the ten lepers who called to him, ‘Jesus, Master, take pity on us; (Luke 17: 13);
● the cry for mercy of the publican, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Luke 18: 14);
● and the sentiments of the cry of the penitent thief on the cross (Luke 23: 42).


The Cry of the Thief Crucified by Pavel Chesnokov (Track 13, Authentic Russian Sacred Music).

Three levels of praying the Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which the first step taken on the spiritual journey is recognising my own sinfulness, my essential estrangement from God and the people around me. The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which I admit my desperate need of a Saviour. For ‘if we say that we have no sin in us, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (I John 1: 8).

In order to offer some broad, general guidelines for those interested in using the Jesus Prayer to develop their inner lives, Saint Theophane the Recluse (1815-1894), a 19th century Russian spiritual writer, distinguishes three levels in the saying of the Jesus Prayer:

1, It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, a simple recitation which Theophane defines as prayers’ ‘verbal expression and shape.’ Although it is very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and is only the first step, for ‘the essence or soul of prayer is within a man’s mind and heart.’

2, As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction. Saint Theophane remarks that at this point, ‘the mind is focused upon the words’ of the Jesus Prayer, ‘speaking them as if they were our own.’

3, He describes the third and final level as prayer of the heart. At this stage, prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer is a gift of the Spirit, and is to return to the Father as the Prodigal Son did (Luke 15: 32). The prayer of the heart is the prayer of adoption, when ‘God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit that cries that cries ‘Abba, Father!’’ (Galatians 4: 6).

This return to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit is the goal of all Christian spirituality. It is to be open to the presence of the Kingdom in our midst.

There is a very great emphasis on humility in the practice of the Jesus Prayer. There are many warnings about the disaster that will befall those who would use it in pride, arrogance or conceit. And in many texts, it is said that those who use the Jesus Prayer must only be members of the Orthodox Church in good standing.

When it is practised on a continuing basis, the Jesus Prayer becomes automatic.

In the Eastern tradition, the Jesus Prayer is said or prayed repeatedly, often with the aid of a prayer rope (Greek κομποσχοίνι, komboschini; Russian chotki). It may be accompanied by prostrations and the sign of the cross.

The American Orthodox blogger and writer, Frederica Mathewes-Green (Facing East, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp 144-145), gives a vivid and realistic example of how the person who uses the Jesus Prayer constantly prays throughout the day and deals with ordinary, every-day thoughts and distractions.

The person praying the Jesus Prayer never treats it as a string of syllables whose ‘surface’ or overt verbal meaning is secondary or unimportant. He/she considers a bare repetition of the Jesus Prayer as a mere string of syllables, perhaps with a ‘mystical’ inner meaning beyond the overt verbal meaning, to be worthless or even dangerous.

While s/he maintains this practice of the Jesus Prayer, which becomes automatic and continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week, s/he rejects all tempting thoughts, paying extreme attention to the consciousness of his/her inner world and to the words of the Jesus Prayer, not letting his/her mind wander in any way at all.

The practice of the Jesus Prayer is in the mind in the heart, free of images. The stage of practice known as ‘the guard of the mind’ is a very advanced stage of ascetical and spiritual practice. But attempting to accomplish this prematurely can cause very serious spiritual and emotional harm.

Appendix 1: New Testament understandings of prayer

Prayer is doxology, praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication and intercession to God.

In the New Testament, prayer is presented as a positive command (Colossians 4: 2; I Thessalonians 5: 17). The people of God are challenged to include prayer in their everyday life, even in the busy struggles of marriage (I Corinthians 7: 5) as it is thought to bring those who believe closer to God.

Throughout the New Testament, prayer is presented as God’s appointed method by which those who believe obtain what he has to bestow (Matthew 7: 7-11; Matthew 9: 24-29; Luke 11: 13).

Lengthy passages in the New Testament are prayers or canticles:

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13; Luke 11: 1-5);

Christ’s prayer before his arrest, ‘may this cup be taken from me’ (Matthew 26: 36-44);

The prayer for forgiveness (Mark 11: 25-26);

The Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55);

The Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79);

Christ’s advice to ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation’ (Luke 22: 39-46);

Jesus’ great thanksgiving prayer in his final discourse at the Last Supper (John 17);

The Believers’ Prayer (Acts 4: 23-31);

Exclamations such as, ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 1: 3-14);

Saint Stephen’s Prayer (Acts 7: 59-60);

The prayer of Simon Magus (Acts 8: 24);

Maranatha (I Corinthians 16: 22).

The Apostle Paul’s advice to ‘pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men’ (II Thessalonians 3: 1-2).

Prayer, according to the Acts of the Apostles, can be seen at the first moments of the church (Acts 3: 1). The Apostles regarded prayer as the most important part of their life (Acts 6: 4; Romans 1: 9; Colossians 1: 9). They frequently incorporated verses from the Psalms into their writings. For example, in Romans 3: 10-18, the Apostle Paul borrows from Psalm 14: 1-3 and from other psalms.

Appendix 2: Helpful hints on working with parishioners who are uneasy about vocal prayer:

Encourage: Encourage a daily time of individual prayer and devotion: Talking with God in private is the best foundation for talking aloud to God, in a group.

Understand: Be understanding towards those who are uneasy praying with others. Make sure nobody feels under an obligation to pray out loud.

Affirm: Affirm the value of silent prayer.

Provide opportunities: Provide beginners with an opportunity to start with simple public prayer, perhaps asking them not to lead grace but to say a short simple prayer before we eat.

Model simplicity: Model simplicity yourself, and avoid ‘churchy’ language; try to be conversational with God.

Count others in: Think about encouraging others present to add to your prayer. When asked to say grace before a meal, or a prayer before an evening event, we could follow it by saying: ‘Has anyone else got something to say as well?’

Trust in God: Trust that the full Word of God is not in any one person – not even the priest – but in the Church as a whole, as the Body of Christ.

Be confident and honest: It is OK if you do not know what to pray when someone in a gathering asks you to pray. What’s wrong with praying: ‘Lord, we confess we don’t always know how to pray by ourselves. But we thank you that you know our needs before we can even find words to express them. We give this time to you and ask you to continue speaking to us and through us.’

Say thanks: Be quick to thank and show appreciation. For beginners it matters especially when you say: ‘Thank you for praying today.’

Be gentle: Above all, be gentle with others. In a competitive, performance-oriented world, those who are shy or embarrassed about praying out loud should know the church as a place of acceptance and safety.

Appendix 3: Learning from others: Islam

All Saints’ Cathedral, Cairo ... I woke to the sound of the call to prayer from a storefront mosque

Some years ago, I stayed on a few occasions in the Deanery beside All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral in Cairo. I expected to be woken by the bells of the cathedral, but instead was woken each morning by the call to prayer by a muezzin using a large megaphone in a storefront mosque in the street below.

It was a reminder that others can remind us of how our day needs to be punctuated by rhythm of prayer, and how in our casual slumber we need to be reminded that prayer provides deeper rest than sleep.

In Muslim countries I have found myself not merely adapting my prayer life but being challenged and transformed by Muslim attitudes to prayer and faith. The following are examples:

1, For Muslims, prayer is submission. This is implied in the name Islam and is made visible in the posture of prostration.

How much of our prayer is less what God demands of us and more about what we demand of God?

How willing are we to submit to God in prayer?

How often are we more likely to find in prayer that we are asking God to submit to us? This is often expressed physically. Most of us were probably taught to pray in the morning and at night, kneeling by our bedside.

How many of us find this too childish and too humiliating today?

2, For Muslims, prayer requires that coming properly prepared; hence the ritual of a Muslim washing face, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet before prayer.

Do we prepare to pray, in the same way that we would prepare to eat, or prepare before wetting out in our cars on our journey?

If not, what does that say about the priority of prayer in our daily activities?

3, For a Muslim, prayer is individual. And so a Muslim takes off his or her shoes and enters and stands bare-footed before God. Do you expose yourself to God in prayer? Or do you protect yourself from God in prayer?

4, Paradoxically, for every Muslim, prayer is collective too. Muslims stand toe-to-toe with those beside them in public prayer. There is no escaping the other, and therefore no escaping the needs of the other. My needs are only worth considering when I consider the needs of the other.

5, Moving out, for Muslims, prayer is also universal. In prayer, all face towards Mecca, so that all are facing the same way, in concentric circles that are spreading out around the globe.

6, And prayer embraces the whole kosmos. Those circles can keep on spreading out, like the ripples in the pool. But within the circles, Muslims constantly turn to their left and right, to those things, seen and unseen, which are then incorporated into prayer.

How often do want to be left alone at prayers, at intercessions, at the peace, even at the reception during the Eucharist?

It is easy for Christians to see that Islam is a missionary religion. Do you think Muslims see Christianity as a missionary religion?

I could draw parallels with what I have said about prayer in Islam with the spiritual disciplines and expressions of faith in Islam. The ‘Five Pillars of Islam’ are spiritual disciplines rather than doctrinal norms, and they are:

1, Shadah (Profession of Faith): This is a simple credal confession … how often do we know and concisely express what is at the heart of our beliefs? This simple credal formula has a mission thrust for Muslims. Anyone who says it becomes a Muslim.

Where is mission at the heart of our Creeds?

2, Salat (Prayer): Muslims are expected to pray five times a day.

How often is the daily life of a Christian punctuated with the rhythm of prayer? Someone becomes a Muslim through a simple confession of faith. It is said one stops being a Muslim when one stops praying.

Do we consider that when we stop praying we stop being Christians?

Is your day punctuated with prayer?

3, Sawm (Fasting): For Muslims fasting is first and foremost a practice associated with Ramadan but it is a spiritual discipline at other times too. Nor is it simply about abstaining from food during day-light hours – it includes fasting from smoking, from sex, and more especially from all expressions of anger. If fasting had the same central place in Christian spiritual discipline, imagine what we could do prayerfully during Lent and Advent.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that teaches us, helps us to realise how, the whole body needs to be committed to prayer and not just, in the Anglican way, the brain and the intellect.

4, Zakat (giving alms): this giving is a spiritual discipline that is a duty for Muslims. It is not charity – as one Muslim explained to me, charity is that giving that begins when duty ends. We still see giving as charity and not as a duty. Islamic attitudes to the spiritual discipline of giving would probably mean USPG and other mission agencies did not have to face up to their present financial problems.

5, Hajj (Pilgrimage): There is an old spiritual song that includes the lines: “This land is not my home, I’m only travelling through.” Muslims make pilgrimages not only to Mecca and Medina, but to Jerusalem, to Hebron, to the graves of prophets, saints and Sufi mystics and poets. Life is a pilgrimage. I have a pilgrimage at least once a year to Lichfield, where I had my first adult experience of faith, and my first call to ordained ministry. It is a way of saying thank you to God, a way of reminding myself of God’s blessing and call to me, a way of not becoming too fixed in my ways. Pilgrimage is a spiritual disciple that keeps us on the move, that keeps us ever-engaged in God’s mission.

Select bibliography:

Joan D. Chittister, Benedictine Prayer: a larger vision of life: living the rule of Saint Benedict today (San Francisco and New York: Harper, 1991).
Urban T. Holmes, A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction (Harrisburg PA: Morehouse, 2002, the Library of Episcopalian Classics), first published in 1981 by Harper Collins, Scranton PA.
Urban T. Holmes, Spirituality for Ministry (Harrisburg PA: Morehouse, 2002, the Library of Episcopalian Classics), first published in 1982 by Harper Collins, Scranton PA.
CP Michael and MC Norrisey, Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types (Open Door, 1991 revised ed), first published in 1984.
Corinne Ware, Discover Your Spiritual Type: a guide to congregational growth (Herndon VA: Alban Institute, 1995).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Director of Education and Training in the Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert. These notes were prepared for a training day with Clergy and Readers in Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Monday 12 March 2018.