One of the glories of the Anglican tradition is its Book of Common Prayer, which provides written prayers for Sunday liturgies, weekday devotions, and many other occasions. Some Christian traditions rely more on spontaneous prayers. Both written prayers and spontaneous prayers are valuable. The Book of Revelation shows, through images and metaphors, that in heaven we will praise God in words that are both spontaneous and shared. For example:
Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory. (Revelation 19:6-7)
One advantage of written prayers is that they reflect the judgment of generations of Christians. A spontaneous plea may seek forgiveness for a particular bad deed, but the written confession reminds us that we can sin in “thought, word, and deed.” Written prayers also provide the comfort of familiarity and the knowledge that we are joining with millions of others around the world in the same prayers of petition, thanksgiving, liturgy, and praise; in short, in “common prayer.” We must of course guard against having the recitation of written prayers become stale. Our challenge is to see it as a window to God constructed by many who have gone before us and maintained in good order by our active worship.
One example comes to us from what is known as “The Great Litany”. It is used as both worship and corporate prayer. Centuries old, it first appeared in Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s “Exhortation & Litany” 1544. It was included in subsequent Books of Common prayer, most notably the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer. We see it here in the Anglican Church of North America prayer book and we pray:
From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood;
from plague, pestilence, and famine,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence,
battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us.
Good Lord, deliver us. (BCP 2019 ACNA)
Originally written at a time when England was engaged in a war on two fronts as well as facing the ordinary threats of the day. These prayers are indispensable when words fail us. They assure us that God is still there in spite of civil unrest, a world wide pandemic or the uncertainties of everyday life.