On the Feast of Corpus Christie I gave a lift home to Sis Columba, a dear friend and great source of inspiration, after the service. Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ is a celebration of the Institution of the Holy Communion. It is a great festival of joy and many countries still make it a very public event. What can be more appropriate than to process the ‘Corpus Christi’ the Body of Christ through the street of our cities. The Tradition is still alive in many cities of the United Kingdom. I was sent the image of a procession above from All Saints, Margaret Street in London. For our own part in Aberdeen, we gathered on King Street outside the St Andrew Cathedral Church (SC 001058) sang the hymn of praise, ‘Now thank we all our God’ in Scots and Igbo!
On the way home, Sr Columba challenged me, yet again, the lack of 'Epiclesis' in the Liturgy we used at the Thursday morning Holy Communion. What is your problem now, with Can’t Pray – Won’t Pray: you may wonder?! Well, it is simply this. In the service of the Holy Communion, the bread and the wine are set on the Altar. The People of God gather around the Altar and offer prayers. It includes prayers of Confession, prayers of Intercession and the Great Prayer of Consecration i.e. the prayer offered by the community in Thanksgiving for bounteous Gift of God in Christ Jesus who is present, mysteriously, in the bread and in the wine. The Ordinary is transformed into Superordinary in and through prayers. Any more discussion on this mystery will only expose my ignorance.
Epiclesis is part of this Great Thanksgiving prayer when the Priest invokes God to send the Holy Spirit upon the Bread, the Wine and the People gathered around it. It is my most favourite part of the prayer where we enjoy the wonderful moment. Some churches make this explicit and the others implicit. The implicit is powerful as it avoids the risk of some people misunderstanding their power to summon!
‘Send you Holy Spirit upon Us and upon this Bread and this Wine’ are the words used to summon. It was suggested to me that if a priest has a propensity for dominion, this prayer could fuel their problem and make governance of a community, a very difficult process. This risk is avoided when it is implicit, I am told.
I took this matter to a friend, in a monastic community, to reflect. He said, he loved the simplicity of the Eucharistic prayer of Addai and Mari. This is a prayer from the Eastern Syriac ancient Christian community. The beauty of this prayer is its simplicity. The friend said that all we regard as important such as the words spoken by Jesus also knows as the words of ‘Institution’ and the ‘Epiclesis’ the invocation of the Holy Spirit is beautifully diffused in the simplicity of the prayers by Saints Addai and Mari that it reaches the core of the soul with the message of love. I was overwhelmed to hear it put across in such a profound manner because I know this to be true from experience.
In 2001 I was invited by the then Bishop to consider the role of the Rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen. After due process, the Trustees invited me to be their Rector. The People’s Warden, Tom Ferguson Sr and his wife Jessie, cradle Episcopalians, devout and deeply committed to the Mission of the Church had a single desire to grow the church community, spiritually and numerically. They were the core members of a midweek Eucharist on Wednesday evenings meeting the choir vestry. This small group met for a simple form Eucharist prayer and Songs from Taizé. Numbers were added to this congregation as a member of the church who also served as a psychiatric nurse brought people to this service. After much thought and prayer and in consultation with those who formed this community felt that the simplest form of prayers would be most appropriate given the mental state of some people attending regularly. The prayers of St Addai and St Mari was chosen. While questions were raised by a few liturgical puritans about the appropriateness of the use of this form of prayers, the benefits were very evident as it happened to be the most efficient and direct vehicle of delivery of the message of the Gospel delivered direct to the troubled souls of people with mental health issues.
For Darren and Mark, the simplicity of prayers are most effective when the soul is longing for God. it is this simplicity at the heart of ‘Peace Makers’. The prayer for peace from the First World War would be an appropriate end this three part reflection on, I can’t Pray. I won’t Pray. Lord teach us to pray.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.