One of the themes that we are returning to on a regular basis during the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany seasons is the need to maintain our relationship with God by praying on a regular basis. Whether that is with a short prayer of thanksgiving for food before eating (a grace) or a longer prayer, perhaps before bed, at the end of the day or most especially before the start of a service, whatever the reason may be the importance of maintaining a regular prayer life is the same.
Prayer is a means of opening oneself up to God and maintaining your relationship with Him, both by laying before Him those things that have disturbed you since last you prayed and also of being open to listening to God’s plans for you. As such the importance of a period of silent reflection or of just being still cannot be stressed to highly. The long darker nights of this time of year make it an ideal time to just spend a few minutes in a quiet, darkened or dimly lit, room perhaps even lit by a candle as a reminder of the light of Christ before you collect your thoughts in prayer.
For those of you who are adults a time of prayer, reflection and quiet in church, instead of chatting to or disturbing others unnecessarily before the service begins allows you to be properly prepared to receive the Lord into your heart and mind. It gives you and those around you the opportunity to focus on the real reason for being in church and will doubtless make the social time after the service that much more enjoyable as you should by then be at peace with God.
I have frequently heard it said that ‘I do not know what to pray’. My answer, as always, is ‘if all else fails you then pray the Lord’s Prayer’, therein is everything that a prayer should have. For it contains - Praise of God and submission to his mighty will and power; Prayer for others and a willingness to forgive and to be forgiven by those whom you have offended and by those who have offended you; and lastly prayer for oneself and for God to protect you.
When praying at home it is not a bad idea to have a pen and paper with you, so that if the troubles and cares of daily life intrude you can note them down and not be distracted by trying to remember something until you have finished your prayers, this is especially useful if you have been doing a shopping list earlier in the day!. In church, as I said at the Feast of Christ the King, there are prayers for use both before and after the service printed in the front and back covers of our red service booklets, these are in no way meant to be exhaustive but are a good basis for proper preparation and thanksgiving at the Mass.
Some people are of the opinion that their prayers, especially those at the end of the day should cover everything that they have done that day, a noble thought in one respect though not always practical and frequently distracting as you spend more time thinking about the minute detail rather than actually praying. Additionally there is the great danger of winding up with, what I refer to as a ‘Shopping List’ of prayers; a list that is so long and detailed as to then have little real value.
It is important to remember that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent and that as such He sees all things hears all things and knows all things thus, it is sufficient, once you have prayed for the truly important things that have affected your relationship with God to conclude with words along the lines of ‘and for the needs of all your people and of your world’.
The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany are ones that are frequently very hectic and stressful for all of us Firstly as we rush around buying presents and food to share with friends and family. Secondly as we worry over whether we have brought the right thing and over whether there is enough food or that it will not all be ready on time. Thirdly as the bills start to arrive for the things we put on ‘the plastic’, and we wonder how we will ever pay for it all. Fourthly we fret about whether we still have the receipts for the things they hated and will the shop give us our money back or stick us with a credit note we’ll never, ever use! All these things and a great many more keep us from maintaining our relationship with God and indeed lead us into a secular lifestyle without us even realising it..
In an effort to reduce at least some of your stress and to help you in your prayers I have copied below some of the prayers that we use either in church or in the Vicarage during this season, some are taken from the Book of Common Prayer, some from Common Worship© (and themselves appear on our pew sheets) and others are ones I have gathered from various sources over the years, especially from the Northumbrian Community.
A Prayer for Advent
God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.
God in Trinity, eternal unity of perfect love: gather the nations to be one family, and draw us into your holy life through the birth of Emmanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ.
A grace for your Christmas Dinner
Bless, O Lord, this food we are about to eat, and we pray you, O God that it may be good for our body and soul, and if there is any poor creature hungry or thirsty walking the road may God send them in to us so that we can share the food with them, just as Christ shares His gifts with all of us.
A Prayer for the New Year
This day is a new day that has never been before. This year is a new year the opening door. Enter, Lord Christ we have joy in your coming. You have given us life and we welcome Your coming.
I turn now to face you, I lift up my eyes, be blessing my face, Lord, be blessing my eyes. May all my eyes look on be blessed and bright.
My neighbours, my loved ones be blessed in Your sight.
You have given us life and we welcome Your coming. Be with us, Lord we have joy, we have joy. This year is a new year the opening door. Be with us, Lord we have joy, we have joy
A Prayer for Epiphany
Creator of the heavens, who led the Magi by a star to worship the Christ-child: guide and sustain us, that we may find our journey's end in Jesus Christ our Lord.
A Celtic Blessing
May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be ever at your back.
May the sunshine warm upon your face, And the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again. May God hold you, May God hold you Ever in the palm of his hand.
My prayer for all of you during the coming season is that God will remain firmly in the centre of your lives and that you will have a very Happy, Holy and wonderful Christ Mass followed by a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year. And I as I pray for all of you on a daily basis, may you find time in your lives to pray for all of us in the Vicarage.
We do not know what interesting and challenging things will come our way in 2012 but with God’s grace we will face them together in love, unity and prayer.
God Bless you all
Fr. Martin, Jan and family
© Common Worship material is copyright to the Archbishop’s Council