Friday, July 13, 2012

Liturgy Review: Paraclete Press


Pennington, M. Basil, OCSO. Praying the Holy Scriptures (Ancient Spiritual Disciplines). Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012. 61 Pages. Paper. $4.95. http://www.paracletepress.com/ (L)

Ford-Grabowsky, Mary. Praying with Mary (Ancient Spiritual Disciplines). Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012. 77 Pages. Paper. $4.95. http://www.paracletepress.com/ (L)

Mathewes-Green, Frederica. Praying the Jesus Prayer (Ancient Spiritual Disciplines). Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011. 61 Pages. Paper. $4.95. http://www.paracletepress.com/ (L)

Martin, Linette. Praying with Icons (Ancient Spiritual Disciplines). Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011. 63 Pages. Paper. $4.95. http://www.paracletepress.com/ (L)

McGuckin, John A., Translator and Editor. Prayer Book of the Early Christians. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011. 199 Pages. Cloth. $23.99. http://www.paracletepress.com/ (L)

Oremus.

That is how chapel begins at our Classical Lutheran Grammar school four times a week. We have Lutherans, Baptists, Christian and Missionary Alliance folks, and a couple Seventh Day Adventists at our school. And we pray and sing liturgy, psalms, and hymns in English....and in Latin.

I get to preach at least five times a week. More occasions arise with funerals, weddings, and shut-in visits. And I catechize a lot of new members. Many were raised Roman.

This review will focus on ancient prayer resources for 21st Century people. All are from Paraclete Press.


Designed for any 21st-century Christian, this prayer book gathers prayers and rituals from the ancient Church (especially early Greek Christianity), representing them for the use of Christians at home, in small prayer groups, and house churches. Harkening back to worship of the early Christians, this prayer book offers structure of offices and blessing rituals for all times of day and year, and articulates many prayers for religious needs including bereavement, house blessing, praise, and thanksgiving.
(Publisher's website)
In addition to the volume above, we also received samples of four shorter books in the Ancient Spiritual Disciplines series, all available in paperback and digital formats.
 

I spent a pleasant evening reading all five books. That may sound like a lot, but that's what I do. I read voraciously. Thankfully I have a book review gig to feed my habit!

Since then, I've had time to ponder the long-term implications of these forms of ancient prayer. The arrival of this box of review books is not my first exposure to any of these forms of prayer.

And I'd like to think that the response of a liturgical, confessional, and Biblical Lutheran Christian wouldn't be as predictable as it sounds: there was a Reformation of the medieval liturgy for a reason.

Some brief points will tell you more about my perspective.
  •  "Take, eat. This is my body." The consecrated host, both bread and the Body of Christ, is to be eaten, not reserved and prayed to (Scriptures, 11). Contemplative prayer (21) is problematic from a Lutheran who asserts with a great teacher, "Mysticism begins in the mist, centers on 'I,' and ends in schism."
  • Dr. Luther had great respect for Mary. I fear that respect for her and recitation of Scripture about her let to inappropriate worship of her. She is neither mediatrix nor redemptrix. She is not the "one mediator between God and men" that Jesus IS. I will imitate her according to our common vocations, yet I reject what is said about and/or to her on the basis of what she sang: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior" (cf Luke 1:46-55, Mary). She needed a Savior just like I do.
  • Mainline Lutherans have struggled with this "new approach to Paul" that sounds a lot like the theosis taught by Eastern Orthodoxy and alluded to here (Jesus Prayer, 25, et al). I am always in favor of repentance and for the forgiven believer to pray for mercy. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" may be faithfully and edifyingly used as long as we avoid the errors Jesus taught us to avoid in Matthew 6.
  • I appreciate Icons as art. Lutherans who see an iconostasis may confuse its function with that of an altar rail. Our rail is meant for function, not as an obstructive barrier. I could imagine pushing the icon wall behind the altar so that the communicants would properly see the mysteries (since the curtain was torn in two) and be comfortingly surrounded by angels, archangels, and the whole company of heaven. I learned something from the Icons booklet. The stylized "written" pictures portray more than a photorealistic world. They are intended to reveal a deeper spiritual reality.
All four booklets will give the Christian food for thought and an exercise in historical and liturgical theology. Lutherans will be reminded why we pray as we do.


With regard to the ribboned, blue hardcover, Prayer Book of the Early Christians, there is much to commend. 

I could imagine an interested American Christian could pick up the book and be exposed to the Daily Office for the first time. 

Further, such a one could perhaps contemplate Psalms as prayers for the first time. 

Additionally, many are averse to printed prayers these days. I always counter that with, "But what if I mean them from my mind and heart?" 

Praying what ancient Christians prayed grants us fellowship with them as well as new words and thoughts when the Lord opens our lips for praise and prayer.

I love the Trisagion Prayers. They form the beginning of our Committal rite in the Pastoral Care Companion, a part of Lutheran Service Book, as a resource for The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. I must reject "The Seal," found on the bookmark and commonly throughout the Office of the Orthodox: "Through the prayers of our holy Fathers and Mothers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us." I shall replace it with "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison" and be more ancient than the ancients.

As noted before, I must refrain from praying to any creature, living or dead, whether Mary, angel, or Saint, and rewrite the prayers to address Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all the while thanking the Lord for them, in accordance with Augsburg Confession 21:
Our churches teach that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling.
Thus revised, very nearly the whole Prayer Book of the Early Christians is commended for Lutheran use.


Christians are given to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth.  
Benedicat et custodiat nos
omnipotens et misericors Dominus,
Pater, et + Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.

The almighty and merciful Lord,
the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless and preserve you.

Amen.


 
The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.