The Eucharistic Foundation of Christian Prayer
The Eucharistic Foundation of Christian Prayer
Rev. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
April 26, 2016
Today let us take a fresh look at Christian prayer. But unlike presentations I've been exposed to (and maybe you have too) I have no plans today to provide you with a dogmatic review. Nor to burden you with urgent exhortations to pray more often, faithfully, or ardently. Nor do I intend to teach you any newly discovered technique that will make your prayers more "effective." All such enterprises ring hollow because they suffer from the same fatal flaw. They understand prayer in abstract terms. As something having a life of its own, apart from the church, and her worship of the triune God.
My first assertion, then, is that prayer proceeds from Divine Liturgy! That Christian prayer, which is Christian worship, is something the Spirit accomplishes among God's people; in and through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the church's Liturgist.
Prayer is a baptismal reality because it is by holy baptism that we are made children of God, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ. Such that our prayer is his prayer and his prayer ours. As holy Scripture states, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen."
Thus when we consider Christian prayer it is corporate, and not personal prayer, that should first to come to mind. This is not the case for Protestants. For those sects and denominations that deny the gospel by way of the sacraments, and for whom the locus of prayer is the shrine of their own heart, instead of the flesh of Christ that graciously resides on the Christian altar. The prayer of the Body has primacy. This is the prayer uttered "with one voice" in the church's Eucharistic worship which is the church's chief worship, and her principle time and place of prayer. The Mass is the "closet" or "secret place" of Matthew 6:6 where the church has fellowship with her Father in secret, and from which he glorifies her openly with the remission of sins, life and glorious salvation.
?C?orporate prayer comes first. Especially the prayers the Bride prays in close proximity with the Holy Intimacy she is about to enter with her Holy Groom. Here perfect glory, laud and honor are rendered to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here all "sorts and conditions of men" are prayed for well. This is what St. Paul teaches the church in Philippians 4:6 when he writes, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with Eucharistia let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God which surpasses understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
What does this mean? It means that the prayers offered at this point in time, in closest proximity with the Eucharistia, are the heart and soul of Christian prayer.
The church has always demonstrated this by consciously embedding the Prayers of the Faithful within the Liturgy of the Sacrament. And more specifically after the Preface and as close to the consecration as possible. With few exceptions this is schematic of every catholic liturgy, western or eastern, from apostolic times to the present.
The church raises good and true prayers throughout her worship, because her worship is prayer, and her prayer is worship. But we should learn to think of the Holy Communion as the fountainhead of all prayer, even as it is of all mercy! Not only on account of St. Paul's instruction, and 2,000 years of Christian practice. But because of the Lord's High Priestly Prayer. A prayer that flowed from his sacred lips at the intersection of the first Divine Liturgy, and the sacrificial death he suffered for us on the cross. Here is pure liturgy! Here is perfect prayer! Here the Divine Conversation of the triune God, that occurs in every Divine Service, is revealed to the ears of redeemed mankind. Here "the Word of God, spoken in eternity and from all eternity, is now heard by man, seen by man, believed by man, followed by man, experienced by man." We are those men.
Once we clearly understand the source and nature of Christian prayer; and are fully convinced that the Christian altar is the wellspring of it; then we can safely speak of its other manifestations and extensions/continuations.
Family prayer, too, is worship. Tobias and Sarah prayed in their nuptial chamber. Cornelius the Centurion, and the Philippian Jailer gladly heard God's word, received holy baptism, and offered prayers together with their households. Family prayer strengthens the bond of love between husband and wife. It fortifies them for the arduous task of raising a family. It cultivates religious feelings within the plastic hearts of children, creates an atmosphere of moral fragrance in the home, and leads the family back to the altar from whence true prayer proceeds, so that the life of a Christian is a continuous circuit to and from the altar of the Most High.
Also proceeding from liturgical prayer is personal prayer which, too, is worship. Which, too, is indispensable. The examples we have from Scripture and the saints of the ages are numerous, inspiring and instructive. Jonah in the belly of the whale, the three men in the fiery furnace, Peter on the housetop, the countless martyrs and confessors who under great torment offered prayers to their God. And above all our Lord Jesus Christ who, "in the days of his flesh offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear."
What should the Christian soul pray for? First for pardon and cleansing from sin, for we cannot make it through a single hour without falling prey to perverse thoughts, venomous words, and duplicitous deeds. Old Adam cannot be reformed but only mortified by repentance, and the New Man fortified by mercy. Mercy richly granted us as often as we pray. Nor can we exist for a single day without prayers for the strength to live a godly life, for patience, consolation, wisdom, and protection from evil so that we might live a quiet and peaceable life.
A great deal could be said on this topic, but let us make just one point at the moment. Namely, that the prayers we offer as pastors, like the Eucharist we bring to our sick, proceed from the altar, and are Christian worship. It follows then that as often as we offer pastoral prayers for those who share the altar with us, they may be prayed in the first person plural. However, when praying with people of unknown confession, or no religion at all, we should pray in the first person singular. It's a small but important difference I ask you to consider.
Only let us be careful not to think of prayer in the abstract; as something having a life of its own apart from the church's worship. Let us be on guard, too, so that we might never think of prayer as an individual enterprise, for no Christian ever prays alone, but always in chorus with his Lord, and the full church of heaven and earth. This is the meaning of the communion of saints we confess in the creed. And let us especially caution against understanding prayer as an adversarial relationship. One in which we must enlist "prayer warriors", "prayer chains" and "national days of prayer" to over-power our gracious God, till he raise the white flag and relent.
Text Books for Prayer
Let us turn now to the textbooks from which we learn to pray. First is Holy Scripture itself which is not, as many suppose, a database of divine information. But first a liturgical book, given by the Spirit, for the true worship of God. From it we learn how to believe, worship and pray. The lessons it teaches, to say nothing of the full blown prayers it provides, are so deep and wide and high as to resist summary in this brief presentation; but is the study of a lifetime instead.
And so for now let us learn to pray from the great expositors of Scripture, the foremost of which (as we have said) is the Divine Service. Which is not only a teacher of prayer, but is prayer itself! Is worship itself! Is the Word of God. These are the prayers we know best due to their beauty and repetition. These are the ones we can pray when pressed so hard that no words will come to our lips: Lord have mercy. Our Father. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy upon us. These are the goodness and mercy that follow us all the days of our life, until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Hymnals and Service Books
The resources of the church's Hymnals and Service Books are numerous. But skimming the surface let us take note of the Daily Hours of Matins, Vespers, Compline and Evening Prayer. While these are commonly used in the daily worship of monasteries, they are also well-suited for weekday services in the parish, ecclesiastical gatherings such as Synodical, District and Circuit gatherings, and for family and personal prayer as well.
Consider, too, the prayers supplied for the various occasions and situations. Prayers of confession. Prayers of thanksgiving. Prayers in times of illness, trial, war, calamity, the church in conflict, for those who have erred, for mothers, fathers, grace, charity, humility and patience. Prayers against temptation. Prayers for purity, the Holy Spirit, divine illumination, and a happy death. There are long prayers, short prayers, general prayers, litanies and canticles as well.
And let us not forget the church's hymnody when we think of prayer, for in the words of St. Augustine, "He who sings prays twice." Whether the hymn be an outright prayer. Or whether it be didactic, or proclamatory in nature, to sing hymns is to pray, praise, give Christian thanks, find Christian calm, gain godly confidence, peace and celestial help in all our troubles.
And don't forget the prayers of the Small Catechism. Luther's Morning and Evening Prayers to begin and end each day. Prayers to offer before and after meals, along with the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. Were a Christian soul to pray these and no others he would be well engaged in true piety and godly fellowship every day.
LBS Pastoral Companion
There is hardly a better resource to help both the pastor and the people to whom he ministers than this excellent little book. It includes the Collects for all Sundays and holy days, prayers with hymns that are apropos to various situations. For the sick, end of life decisions, the dying and bereaved. Prayers for cases of suicide, homicide and violent crime. For guilt, shame, mental illness, mental anguish, persistent grief. Prayers for home, family, birthdays, anniversaries and many other special occasions and situations.
In summary to pray, to liturgize God and to be a Christian are one and the same thing. Whoever believes and is baptized, worships; and whoever worships, prays. However, due to the distractions of the devil, flesh and world instruction is needed, discipline is useful, and reminders are "not irksome but safe" for our people.
 Hebrews 8:2
 Romans 11:36
 Romans 15:6.
Canon, General Prayer, Great Intercessions, Prayers of the Church
The Great Oblation
 Thus the church's deep love of the Eucharistic Prayer.
 William Weinrich's Commentary on John vol. 1.
 Tobit 8:4ff
 Hebrews 5:7
 Philippians 3:1?