THE SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR
Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works, begun, continued and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.
As a newly ordained curate with an evangelical background firmly grounded in extempore prayer, I listened with curiosity to older priests ending meetings with a rapidly recited prayer obviously deeply familiar to them. Perhaps my own familiarity with the BCP was lacking but it was a long time before I discovered where these prayers came from. It has to be said that it would have helped if those using these prayers had spoken more slowly but I quickly became captivated by the phrase ‘in all our works begun, continued and ended in thee’ and began to use it in my own prayers.
The prayer for this week is one of a number provided by Cranmer for occasions when there was no communion and only the first part of the service was used up to and including the offertory. It is one of those 16th century prayers where the meaning of a word has changed significantly and ‘prevent’ needs explaining or changing for those who think God might be being asked to put a blockade in our path to righteousness.
Petitioning him to go before us is a very different matter and reminds us that Jesus himself promised his disciples that he has gone on ahead to help us face the final and greatest hurdle of all (Jn 14:2) Even better than this he is at the same time alongside us to help us with his continual help.
Another prayer, St Patrick’s Breastplate, describes this all-encompassing nature of God’s embrace in poetic form: ‘Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me’ and so on.
The phrase that struck such a chord with me is redolent of the communion service, which looks back with sorrow and thankfulness to the cross, forwards to the heavenly banquet when God’s kingdom will come in all its fulness and strengthens us with his grace to live in the present moment. The cross is all-encompassing and we are covered by God’s forgiving love shown there. He beckons us forward, conscious of his daily presence so that we are enabled to see everything in the light of his saving grace. We dare not therefore begin any project off our own bat, try to get through the day in our own strength or reach the end of a task triumphing in our own achievements. We have not been left alone to manage as best we can or to pass some kind of initiative test. The aim of all we are and do is to glorify God’s holy name. If we need any reminder of our dependency the final words of the prayer remind us of the promise of eternal life which can only be received through his mercy.