Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Prayer of the Day -- Now With Extra Clauses!

The Prayer of the Day offered by Evangelical Lutheran Worship for the fourth Sunday in Lent during Year A of the lectionary is as follows:
Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father ... 
It's not a terrible prayer.  But doesn't it seem a little cluttered?  Of course it does!  And why?  because, as we never tire of pointing out, the ELW editors never saw a prayer they didn't think could be improved by more words.

The Latin original comes from the Gelasian Sacramentary (#1173), where it reads:
Uoci nostrae quaesumus, Domine, aures tuae pietatis accomoda et cordis nostrae tenebras lumine tuae visitationis inlustra; per … 
Or in rough English:
O Lord, we ask that the ears of your mercy might hear our voices, and the light of your presence brighten the darkness of our hearts; through Jesus Christ, etc.
It is easy enough to see where the ELW team got their extra ideas.  (i) Christ's "coming among us" -- a fair translation of visitatio - is defined here as his life and death. (ii) The Spirit's unction is probably an allusion to Christ's "smearing" mud on the eyes of the Man Born Blind, in the Gospel reading for the day.  (The NRSV's "smeared" is a weak translation of the Greek epichrisen, "anointed," found in the major manuscripts apart from Vaticanus.) But the fact that an addition can be explained does not mean it should have been added in the first place.  The original prayer was noble in its brevity, and surely easier for listeners to follow.

It is also possible that the editors are attempting to conform the original prayer to a common model, according to which the form of a collect requires an invocation, which in turn includes a relative clause identifying God's action -- for instance, "O God, who became incarnate among us."  The problem with conforming ancient prayers to this model, obviously, is that the model is drawn from analysis of the ancient prayers.  If some of them lack the "right" parts, it isn't the prayers that are wrong, it is the model.

The sad thing is that, as we look ever more closely at the ELW collects, we can see just how much labor went into reading a variety of classical prayers and then padding them with unwelcome fluff.

No comments: