Teach Us To Pray
I had the privilege today of observing the implementation of the new Roman Missal from the other side of the altar, so to speak. It was my turn to lead our weekly Word and Communion service at the county jail near the parish.
Whatever we feel about the quality of these texts or the process by which they came to us (an issue that I have written about elsewhere), our challenge now is to bring them to life as the common prayer of the Church. Since the texts are no longer as familiar, that is going to require some real study and experimentation so that these prayers begin to sound like real prayers instead of merely recitations.
Since I am not a priest and did not have to deal with the Eucharistic Prayer, I found that my major challenges were the Opening Prayer and the Prayer after Communion. This is not to say the difficulties were huge, but they required some thought. Consider today’s Opening Prayer:
Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ
with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand,
they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
As you can see, the clauses “we pray” and “almighty God” break up the flow of the petition. While I obviously did not want to lose the address to God, I also wanted to make sure the congregation could follow the line of the argument, so to speak. In terms of voicing, I began strongly with “Grant your faithful,” then modulated my voice down a bit for “we pray, almighty God,” and then returned to the same volume level I started with for the “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ…” The hope was that by using the same volume level, the listener would connect the two clauses in their mind.
The Prayer after Communion presented some additional difficulties. Here is the text:
May these mysteries, O Lord,
in which we have participated, profit us, we pray,
for even now, as we walk amid passing things,
you teach us by them to love the things of heaven
and hold fast to what endures.
One of the issues with this translation is that the “them” in the second to last line refers in the Latin original to the “mysteries” mentioned in the first line not—as many English listeners would assume—the “passing things” in the third line.
I’ll be honest here and say that I did not come up with a satisfactory solution. The best I could do was to emphasize the word “mysteries” and vocalize the phrase “as we walk amid passing things” almost sotto voce. I don’t think it really worked, though.
Peter Steinfels may be right that most of us in the pews do not pay much attention to the content of these prayers. That may be so. I think, though, that those of us who lead liturgical prayer need to do our best to convey that content. I’d be interested to see what kind of solutions others have developed.