On Liturgical Prayer

I’ve been challenged by my pastor to write a liturgical prayer. I’ve, for a couple of years, felt that liturgical prayer should play a bigger role, and seems more authentic to me than prayers of individuals.

A difficulty with this task is writing the prayer itself. While I have participated in liturgical prayer, I have never written one. This has led to a short expedition into the land of liturgical prayer. In doing this exercise, I have found this document from the Orthodox church particularly helpful, if not in the writing of this prayer, at least in what a liturgical prayer is. It says the following about liturgical prayer, which I find particularly interesting:

“Liturgical prayer is not simply the prayers of individual Christians joined into one. It is not a corporate ‘prayer service’ of many persons together. It is rather the official prayer of the Church formally assembled; the prayer of Christ in the Church offering His ‘body’ and ‘bride’ to the Father in the Spirit. It is the Church’s participation in Christ’s perpetual prayer in the presence of God in the Kingdom of heaven. (cf. Hebrews 7:24-25, 9:24) The model of liturgical prayer is in the book of Revelation, and not in the gospel events of Jerusalem or Galilee.”

The prayer itself brings us into the Kingdom of Heaven. This, so far as I can tell, is not a symbolic or metaphoric move, but an actual move. The prayer of the church, together, brings us into the Kingdom. God is present in the prayer, within the community of believers. In this act the individual is one in community. At one and the same time the individual is both individual and not individual. There is both individual and community, with neither taking priority over the other. This is presented in the third paragraph of the document.

“When one participates in the liturgical prayer of the Church, he should make every effort to join himself fully with all the members of the body. He should not ‘say his own prayers’ in church, but should pray ‘with the Church.’ This does not mean that he forgets his own needs and desires, depersonalizing himself and becoming but one more voice in the crowd. It means rather that he should unite his own person, his own needs and desires, all of his life with those who are present, with the church throughout the world, with the angels and saints, indeed with Christ Himself in the one great ‘divine’ and ‘heavenly liturgy’ of all creation before God.”

I think that this move is huge, as it undermines the individualism that is present within our Western liberal ethos in favor of a communitarian one. The church through the liturgical prayer brings a profound oneness of community where God becomes present. As I go through the process of attempting to write a prayer for community, it will be helpful to remember these understandings of prayer within a community.

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