Morning, Daily and Evening Prayer
The first prayer that Jesus would have learnt from his mother, like all other Jewish children, was called the ‘Shema Israel, part act of faith, part prayer. Its first words proclaimed belief in the One God who should be loved ‘with the whole heart and mind and with one’s whole strength’. This embodied the essence of Jewish wisdom that Jesus had come to bring to perfection. The ‘Shema’ was the first prayer to be said on the Sabbath in the synagogue where it was also said three times a day to coincide with the sacrifices made in the Temple. For those who were unable to go to the Synagogue, it was said at work, in the fields, or at home, so that the whole day would be dedicated to the love of God. Although this was the linchpin of daily prayer for the Jews it was surrounded with other prayers, like the prayers said on rising in the morning and before going to bed at night, before, during, and after eating, making the whole day into one long and enduring prayer to God, that sanctified everything that was said and done.
Jesus showed his followers how to transpose the ‘Shema’ from words into action by his teachings and through own personal example. This is the prayer that would eventually supersede the sacrificial offerings made in the Temple, because it would embody the new worship, ‘in spirit and in truth’, that Jesus had promised to the Samaritan woman. In future a ‘true offering’ would not consist in making offerings to God through an intermediary with material sacrifices, no matter how extravagant they were, but by offering oneself. There is no better way of loving God than by offering oneself wholly and totally every moment of every day of one’s life. The first Christians knew that this offering would be received and accepted by God, because it would be offered to him in, with, and through Jesus, propelled, and surcharged by the same Spirit who animated him and inspired everything that he said and did. That’s why it was called a new worship ‘in spirit and in truth’. Every moment of every day would be the time and the place where this offering would be made by the first Christians. Remember that the vast majority of them were, like Jesus, Jews, who would have been taught the ‘Shema’ and the other daily prayers by their mothers.
It would, not only have been easy, but spiritually liberating to learn from Jesus how the essence of the ‘Shema’ would become the new worship ‘in spirit and in truth,’ because it could be practised anywhere and at any time. It would enable them to become their own priests, making every moment of every day the altar on which they offered everything that they said and did to the Father, in the new spiritual Temple, which was then, as it is now, the risen and glorified body of Jesus. Gradually this prayer would develop into what St Paul called ‘the prayer without ceasing’, the prayer that Christ practised at every moment of his life on earth. The Holy Spirit is the salt that gives true Christian prayer its savour, the love that enables it rise to be taken up into the prayer of Christ.
When both the Jews and the Romans denounced the first followers of Jesus as ‘heretics’ they were not only prevented from praying in the temple and in the synagogue as before, but also from praying regularly as a community anywhere, for fear of persecution, except on Sundays, when they had to risk their lives for the celebration of the Eucharist that bonded them together in Christ. The daily prayer once characterised as a communal action within Judaism, soon became characterised as a private and personal act of worship that predominantly took place unseen in the secrecy of the believer’s heart. Now they found themselves doing what Jesus had advised them to do when they prayed, namely to go into ‘the inner room’ unseen and unheard by anyone other than their Father in Heaven.
This way of praying demanded a far greater degree of personal responsibility, however far from separating them from the community, it drew them into it, on a level and to a depth that had never been possible before. For their solitary prayer enabled them to enter into a profound spiritual union with the risen Christ, in whom they found a home and a family with whom they would set out on a sublime mystical journey ‘from here to eternity’. It should not therefore be surprising, that, as St Justin wrote at the beginning of the second century, when the great ‘Amen’ was said at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, when they came together on Sundays, the sound of their voices nearly raised the roof of the ‘church.’
But now it’s time to stop talking about the prayer that took the first Christians up and into the mystery of Christ, for now it’s time to follow their example. And how better to start than by making the sign of the cross to remind us of the context in which all our prayer is made and brought to its completion:-
Begin by Making the Sign of the Cross
When we make the sign of the Cross it is to remind ourselves of three sublime truths. Firstly, that the mystical maelstrom of loving that is God, continually revolves between the Father and the Son, and that this loving is the Holy Spirit. Secondly that it was this same loving that revolved between Jesus and his Father throughout his life on earth. Thirdly it was this loving, that impelled Jesus to give his life for others on the cross. This enabled him to receive his Father’s love more fully than ever before at the very moment of his death. It was then that he became the means of transmitting this love to all who would receive it. The water that flowed from the side of Jesus at his death was witnessed by St John, for whom it was the moment of light, on that dark and harrowing day, for it symbolised the sending of the Holy Spirit on all.
Now it is time to recite slowly and prayerfully the ‘Our Father’. After that, pause for a moment to let the full meaning of what has just been said sink in. Then with all these threeprofound truths in your mind, draw them together into your heart, concentrating them in such a way that they infuse the two words Our Father, with all that they meant for Jesus himself. Then simply recite slowly and prayerfully – ‘Our Father is loving me now’– several times over, as the ultimate preparation for prayer. If you prefer a shorter prayer simply say the words Our Father or the word, Abba.This word Abba sums up even more succinctly than any other the precise nature of the way our Father wishes to love us – NOW.
The beginning of Morning Prayer, or of any prayer for that matter, is the time to remember that God, Our Loving Father, is loving us now in this present moment, which is the only time that we can receive his love and try to return it in kind, not just in a word, but in a life consecrated to him. The whole point and purpose of Morning Prayer is to do this now and in the forthcoming day. Now take the next step:-
It starts with the words with which St Benedict first taught his monks to begin the divine office, and is then followed by three prayers using the first word of the Our Father- OUR – to act as a memory jog-
O God come to my aid
O Lord make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father and to the son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O God you are my God for you I long;
For you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
Like dry weary land without water. (Ps 62)
OUR O – Offering – The Morning Offering
God Our Father, I wish to consecrate all that I say and all that I do to you, in this forthcoming day, just as Jesus did every day of his life on earth. Please accept my offering and unite it with the perfect offering that Jesus continues to make to you in heaven now. I offer to you my joys and my sorrows, my successes as well as my failures, because these especially show how much I have need of you. I make my prayer in with and through Jesus in whom we all live and move and have our being. Amen
OUR U – Union – Union
Father, I know that the more your Holy Spirit draws me into your son Jesus, the more I am united to all who are within him. I therefore pray with and for all other Christians both living and dead. May my poor prayers help them and may their prayers help mine. I also pray for my family and friends, and all who have asked me to prayer for them. May they benefit from the forthcoming day, as I try to offer all I say and do to you, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen
OUR R – Resolutions Resolutions
Jesus, help me to review the day ahead, to anticipate all that I must do and all that I should do, so that I can love God as you did through everything that I do, and love my neighbour too, as you did. Help me to forgive, as you forgave, my enemies as well as my friends. And give me the grace to seek forgiveness from those I have offended, and never cease trying to be like you and behave like you in all I do. (Short pause to make resolutions for the day ahead)
Jesus my Lord and my God,remake me, make me new, so that others may see that you are alive again and risen from the dead. Let them learn from the way they see you living and acting in me, that you are alive and loving and ready and willing to enter into all who would receive you. For no matter what they have done in the past, no matter how low they have fallen in the present, there is always forgiveness and redemption for those who know their need of you, for with you all things are possible. Amen
After repeating the same beginning used for Morning Prayer, Daily prayer comprises six prayers. Each letter of the word FATHER will act as a memory jog to prompt you:-
FATHER – Faith
Father I know and believe that you are all loving, that your love has been permanently transformed into human loving through the human nature of your son Jesus. I know and believe that his love is perpetually poised to possess me at this moment and at every moment. Penetrate and possess me now, permeate my whole being as I try to turn and remain open to receive you. Melt my heart of stone, re-make it, and re-mould it, so that it can at all times be open to receive you. “For unless you enthral me I shall never be free, nor ever chaste except you ravish me”.
FATHER – Abandonment
Father, you have freely chosen to share your own inner life and love with me now, through Jesus, as a foretaste of the ecstatic joy that you have planned for me, and for all who love you in heaven. As there is no limit to the way you have poured your loving goodness and mercy on me, I now abandon myself to you in return. I solemnly concentrate every moment of every day to you and to your honour and glory, in and together with your son Jesus Christ. Amen.
FATHER – Thanksgiving
Father, although you are infinitely distant you are infinitely near too, for you inhabit the very marrow of my being, from where I now humbly thank you for being with me and for all you have given me today. I thank you for life itself and for all and everyone who has made it worth living. Give me the grace to praise honour and thank you, as much as I am able, and more than I am able, not just in words, but in a life that I now freely dedicate to you. Amen
FATHER – Holy Communion
Jesus, at the Last Supper you promised to make your home in all who would obey your new commandments, help me to obey them now and at every moment of my life. For when I love the Father and love my neighbour, as you did, there is nothing to stop you making your home in me and me making mine in you. Let the joy and the peace that comes from abiding in your love suffuse all I say and do, that others may be drawn into the Holy Communion that begins in this life and come to its completion in the next. Amen
(Now is the time to remain still and silent for a few moments of Contemplation to relish what, or rather who we receive in this Holy Communion.A short prayer could be repeated gently whenever distractions threaten to draw the attention elsewhere. A prayer such as Come Lord or Come Lord Jesus would be ideal or some other short prayer of your choosing. If time permits this would be an ideal time for Lectio Divina.)
FATHER – Examination of Conscience
‘Lord that I may see’ so that all that prevents you making your home in me may be ‘spirited way’. Strengthen me to live the new commandments as you lived them, so that the same Holy Spirit who filled you, guided you, and raised you from the dead may do the same for me. Show me the sins that keep you out and give me the power to overcome them, for without you I have no power to do anything. Amen
A Prayer for Reconciliation:-Father, I ask your forgiveness for the sins that have prevented you from possessing me as you would wish this day. (A short pause to review our behaviour in the past day.) I am deeply sorry for failing you yet again, and with your grace I will never let my pride delay me from turning back to you the moment I fall. Until I can love everyone as I should, help me to do them no harm and give me the sympathy and compassion of the person in whose footsteps I wish to walk. Amen
FATHER – Repentance
Father, teach me to keep turning back to you at every moment of every day, through all I do, through all I say, and through all I pray. Let my whole life be one long prayer, one long offering in Spirit and in Truth, so that I may come to practice the prayer without ceasing, in, with and through your son Jesus, as he leads us back home to you from here to eternity. Amen
Conclude with one “Our Father” one “Hail Mary” and one “Glory Be”
A Night Prayer
Father I will be good for nothing tomorrow unless you help me to get a good night’s rest. Whilst I am asleep act within me to revitalise my mind and body. When I wake, fill me with the spiritual and physical vigour that I need to offer another day to you and try to live it, as I should, in and through Jesus Christ your son our Lord. Amen
One final suggestion from practice used by the Desert Fathers: –
When getting into bed, take a short prayer and repeat it slowly and prayerfully. It might simply be the word Jesus, or the full Jesus Prayer: – ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. This prayer and others like it came to be used, most particularly in the Eastern Church, with slow rhythmical breathing. It was not just a device for relaxation, but for reminding the believer of the all-pervading action of the Holy Spirit. The ancient Jews believed that a person’s breath was their life-principle, their spirit, so naturally they believed that God’s breath was his life-principle, his Spirit. So the deep rhythmical breathing that often accompanied short ‘prayers of the heart’ helped remind them of the ever-incoming Spirit who dwelt within them with ever-increasing power, the more they prayed.
It can be a reminder to us, too, particularly when preparing for sleep. The prayer ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, for instance, can accompany the slow intake of breath, followed by the prayer ‘Conceive Christ in me’ as we breathe out. With the next breath, pray again, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, followed by ‘Fill every part of me’. And again with the next breath, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, followed by ‘Bring Christ to birth in me’. Then the three prayers could be repeated again and again. Other short prayers could be used, like ‘Come, Lord’, or ‘Come, Lord Jesus’, or whatever short prayer you feel helps you best. When this practice becomes a habit, it can be far more effective than the sleeping pills that many turn to today – and there are no side effects either! Whenever you have finished trying to pray, be at peace. You have done the best you can, now leave the rest to God, remembering the words of Padre Pio: – ‘Pray, trust and don’t worry’.
When you take love out of prayer, whether it is Christian, or Jewish prayer for that matter, all you are left with is magic – the pagan belief that reciting set formulas would somehow enable you to induce God to act as you would wish, for your benefit and for your wellbeing. And when you take love out of religion all you are left with is an ever increasing proliferation of laws, of rules and regulations, with lawyers and ‘legal eagles’ to interpret them. The innocent are brainwashed into believing that the only way to please God and show your ‘love’ for him is by observing a thousand and one man made rules and regulations. It’s the same with marriage, once love goes out of the door the lawyers move in to sort out the myriad misunderstandings, the moral mayhem and the misery that ensues. For the Fathers of the church, religion was the call to a mystical marriage with God made possible through the love of Brother Jesus who is the Way the Truth and the Life.