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what is common prayer?

Like the word “Christian”, we use “common prayer” often enough, but maybe when we try to define it we end up with a spectrum with different people and groups having varying edges beyond which their definition stops.

So – what is common prayer? For the purpose of this post, not a rhetorical question but a discussion opener. Everyone using the same words, ritual, robes… we are probably all happy that that is common prayer. But what about:

1) Using the same words with significantly different ritual and understanding. Eg. two Anglican churches using 1662 in the 1950s – exactly the same words, but one following Anglo-Catholic understanding, with eucharistic vestments, incense, etc. and the other in cassock, surplice, and scarf at the North end of the table…

2) Using different translations of the same text. Rite 1 and Rite 2 (Elizabethan and contemporary English) in TEC’s BCP. This Sunday, TEC’s translation cf. the current RC translation of the same Latin collect. The NZ RC Office translation is different to the USA RC Office translation – both are authorised. Other translations of the same text (eg. Universalis) are not authorised. The Vatican does not regard them as satisfying the requirement to pray the office.

3) Praying different texts. Different eucharistic prayers from the same prayer book or missal. Is it common prayer merely because these are bound together in the same book? Or authorised by the same authority? The NZ Anglican prayer book has different eucharistic rites with barely any resemblance to each other, at least verbally. NZ Anglicans can be praying quite different texts as their daily office – all authorised. If one person is praying one set of psalms and another person is praying another set are both praying “the prayer of the Church”? RC monasteries regularly end up praying quite a different selection of psalms than RC priests, yet both would regard themselves as praying “the prayer of the Church”, common prayer.

4) Following different readings. NZ Anglicanism has several different lectionaries authorised, with options within each. Does the RC Extraordinary Form follow the 3 year lectionary or use the traditional one?

What do you think? What is common prayer?

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9 Responses to what is common prayer?

  1. For me common prayer is about connectedness. A connectedness with fellow worshippers in the one family if tradition and connectedness with worshippers in the church in the widest sense. This common prayer then being connected with the unceasing prayer offered beyond time and space. I think common does not mean uniformity but rather a deep sense of common purpose and connectness with one another and with God whom we worship. I believe God can hold all our wealth and poverty of language, tradition, style and our little idiosyncrasies in the breath of his being drawing all expressions together into one beautiful and rich commmon prayer.

  2. Common prayer is what “we” pray, not what “I” pray.

    It isn’t the texts pre-eminently, it’s the gathering of our prayers together. Any and every congregation (including online) prays in common.

    Yet the distinction is often lost among Protestants, I fear, especially in hymnody. The old revival song is “What a Friend WE Have in Jesus,” not what a great pal I have.

    Anybody can pray for/about anything, but when two or three are gathered together, God is in the midst of us.

    In heaven she’s got billions of clerks to sort out the differences in texts. They joke that it’s busywork, but God hears them all anyway, and all those junior angels have fun. “Oh, Lordy, they’re babbling in New Zealand again! Must be morning there.”

  3. Do you read Tui Motu, Bosco?
    In the Oct 2010 edition Neil Darragh is very interesting on the new Missal. He suggests that “we do not all have to say the same thing.” As one for instance, he suggests that it would not matter if some continued to say “We believe in God” while others followed the new (or renewed) “I believe in God.” Another is the creative work of the priest: “The priest proposes that he will do his part to make the priest’s parts of the Mass more intelligible without being bound to every word of the official text and invites people to help him to do this.”

    It is interesting to reflect on whether ‘common prayer’ is elastic enough to mean (in my description) “We all have a common text to share, but what the leader, the congregation, and all together say, may only approximates to the actual words in the text”!

    • Thanks for all these comments so far.

      The Tui Motu article referred to is interesting as it implies that when the priest says, “The Lord be with you” it doesn’t matter at all if some in the congregation say, “The Lord bless you”, others, “And also with you”, others “And with your spirit”, others “And with thy spirit”, others “Good morning, Father”, others “Strength and honour!”, and others “er, G’day”. It is an interesting perspective from a NZ RC liturgical expert in a national RC magazine.

      More than one have mentioned the rolling liturgical celebrations. I’m certainly very very conscious at each significant festival of (in NZ) setting off the world’s wave of celebration. I am also very conscious of the way we (sadly) don’t share celebrations on the same day.

  4. Does “Common pray” mean “Universal prayer”? Even as the same words are read, or said, because individual people of God are involved it is perceived differently, within the contexts and spirit that is moving in and among GODS’ people. As pointed out, the same text in different times and/or different places can be entirely different, but perceived as “common” by the people praying it. I pray the Office, but sometimes supplement it with the Celtic Daily Prayer. It is comforting to know that there is a network of others being directed or lead in a similar path of prayer, even if at different times around the globe.

  5. I am also very conscious of the way we (sadly) don’t share celebrations on the same day.

    Meaning that our denominational/provincial calendars commemorate things sometimes on different days? Such as some Anglicans/Episcopalians remembering Henry Newman on 11 AUG and the RCs on 9 OCT?

    • Adulcia, you are welcome here – please don’t apologise or be reticent about contributing 🙂 In essence I think what you say is what makes all prayer in the end the prayer of the church.

      Yes, David, that is a very sad new difference. I also had in mind our inability to agree to a shared Easter Day.

  6. May I offer a non-Anglican perspective?

    I think prayer can be “common” even across denominations, not because we’re praying the same words (we’re not) but we’re praying through the same Holy Spirit to the same Lord.

    I think of it as being like in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul uses the analogy of the body. Each member of the body acts in a different way, but taken together becomes a coordinated whole.

  7. One thing that I find annoying is the variety of different readings for the Office, even within the same denomination.

    I think this is because (1) we are generally told “it is better to pray the Office together with other people (as the text itself seems to anticipate) when you have the opportunity, rather than sit alone and read it by yourself”. Yet (2) the BCP readings, at least, take one chapter-by-chapter through the entire Bible, so jumping out of sequence (e.g. because you went to Evensong at church on Sunday, rather than reading the BCP on your own) means having to skip a chapter or two (or make it up with a super-long reading the next day).

    But it’s more than just an annoyance, of course: it is slightly sad to attend Evensong, or cathedral Morning Prayer, etc., and to find that the rest of the church is doing something quite different. It breaks that sense of quasi-monastic solidarity that could be such a part of reciting the Office along with the whole church (or at least just one’s own denomination); as an RC permanent deacon once said, it is a powerful thought that, as I finish Morning Prayer, people in another timezone are just starting it (or perhaps even Evening Prayer!).

    To look on the bright side, there is a mild sense of such solidarity in the celebration of certain holy days across the denominations, e.g. St Luke’s day on Monday. I find this to be a strong symbol of apostolicity and catholicity throughout the (divided) church.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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