[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary—19 March, Saint Joseph, Thursday in the Third Week of Lent
[The image is of a Benedictine monk engaged in lectio divina]
The Other Book of the Covenant
And he said, “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD; for it is a terrible thing that I will do with you.
“Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take heed to yourself, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither you go, lest it become a snare in the midst of you. You shall tear down their altars, and break their pillars, and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they play the harlot after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and one invites you, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters play the harlot after their gods and make your sons play the harlot after their gods.
“You shall make for yourself no molten gods.
“The feast of unleavened bread you shall keep. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib; for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt. All that opens the womb is mine, all your male cattle, the firstlings of cow and sheep. The firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the first-born of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.
“Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; in ploughing time and in harvest you shall rest. And you shall observe the feast of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders; neither shall any man desire your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year.
“You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left until the morning. The first of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”
And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
De Oratione 28-29 (Corpus Christianorum Latina 1:273-274)
Prayer is the spiritual offering that has replaced the ancient sacrifices. What good do I receive from the multiplicity of your sacrifices? asks God. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and I do not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats. Who has asked for these from your hands? What God has asked for, we learn from the Gospel: The hour will come, it says, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. God is spirit, and so he looks for worshipers who are like himself.
We are the true worshipers and the true priests. Praying in spirit we offer prayer to God as a sacrifice. Prayer is an appropriate and an acceptable sacrifice to God. It is the offering he has asked for and the offering he expects. We must make this offering with our whole heart. We must fatten it on faith, prepare it by truth, keep it unblemished by innocence, spotless by chastity, and we must crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns. Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God. What can God refuse to prayer offered in spirit and in truth, when he himself asks for such prayer? How many proofs of its efficacy we read about, hear of, and believe!
Of old, prayer brought deliverance from fire and beasts and hunger even before it received its pattern from Christ. How much greater then is the power of Christian prayer! It does not bring an angel of comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or shut the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. The grace it wins does not remove all sense of pain, but it does endow those who suffer with the capacity to endure and the faith to know what the Lord will give those who suffer for the name of God.
In the past prayer caused plagues, routed armies, withheld the blessing of rain. Now the prayer of good people turns aside the anger of God, keeps vigil for their enemies, pleads for their persecutors. If prayer once had the power to call down fire from heaven, is it any wonder that it can call down from heaven the waters of grace? Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should work no evil: all the power he has given it is for good.
All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look up to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.
What more need be said about the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honour and power for ever and ever. Amen.