The Spirit in the Prayerbook (Part 3):
As we saw in the first two essays, though the Prayer Book reflects the Reformation’s re-centering of the church’s faith and worship on Christ and his work of redemption, and the grace of God that is received through faith in him, the work of the Spirit is not neglected. Last week we looked at the direction in the Order for Morning and Evening Prayer to seek “true repentance and his Holy Spirit” if we are to gain access to God by remission of sins, engage in worship that pleases him, and attain everlasting joy. Today we look at another significant reference to the Spirit’s role, in the Collect for Purity at the beginning of the Order of Holy Communion. Cranmer seems to have specially chosen it for this position, since he did not take it from his usual source, the Sarum Missal, but that of York.
Though it is usually the first prayer the congregation hears, the rubric directs it to be said after the Lord’s Prayer (which the priest may recite in a low voice). This order is significant; for in the Lord’s Prayer, Christ established the template for the prayer of his disciples (It might also be called the Disciples’ Prayer). By beginning from the Lord’s Prayer, the service indicates that the Church’s worship begins not from itself but from Christ. It is only through Christ that we have access to the Father in prayer, and it is in obedience to his teaching and discipling that we learn how to pray. In doing so, we make our own the priorities of the Son. As the Son is entirely oriented in heart and mind to the Father, so his disciples must be also, in devotion to his glory, and in dependence upon his grace. We seek first the hallowing of the Father’s name, the coming of his kingdom, the fulfilment of his will; and we do so in the confidence of humble trust in his fatherly goodness to supply all our needs – for provision, for pardon, for protection.
Thus following the Lord’s Prayer, the Collect for Purity is a type of epiclesis or invocation of the Spirit on the worshippers, “to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts…that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name”. If the Word of God in the Lord’s Prayer sets out the hallowing of the Father’s name as the chief end of worship, in the Collect for Purity we are directed to the Spirit to obtain the grace whereby we may ‘love’ and ‘magnify’ the name of God in accordance with his Word. The Spirit is the “executive” of the Godhead, for he executes what the Father decrees in his Word; and apart from the Spirit, we have no share in the redemption Christ has accomplished for us, in bringing us to the Father. What is outwardly declared in the Word becomes inwardly real in us by the Spirit; and it requires the purification of the “thoughts of the heart”. “Purity of heart” said Kierkegaard, “is to will one thing”; and by the Spirit’s purifying work in our hearts and minds we are enabled to will that one and perfect good, the Name of the Father, which he shares fully and equally with the Son and the Spirit, as one God in three persons.
In light of the Collect for Purity, the Spirit’s work can be recognized in in the New Testament response to the Old Testament Commandments, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law”, and, “write all these thy laws in our hearts”. “Incline our hearts” is an echo of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple, that God “may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers” (1 Kings 8:58, cf Joshua 24:23; Ps. 119:36, 112; Jeremiah 7:24, 11:8). “Write these thy laws in our hearts” is an echo of God’s promise in the new testament foretold by Jeremiah, in mercy not only to forgive his people’s sins, but also to put his law “in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 3:31-34). It is a work which Ezekiel saw must require the regeneration of our moral powers: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: …. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27). In the Spirit we receive not only the forgiveness of our sins, but the regeneration of our souls, by which we may respond to God’s Word in faith and the obedience of faith; and it is his regenerating and renewing grace for which we pray in the petitions of the collects, and look to receive in the ministry of Word and Sacrament that follows.
This essay was published in the St. John’s Parish Paper for Sunday, June 6, 2021. If you have questions or topics for a featured story, please send them to Rector Gavin Dunbar.