Our Duty And Our Salvation
I recently went to a synagogue to celebrate a dear professor’s birthday. Shabbat service was 4 hours long, consisting of readings from the Torah, chanted in Hebrew by members of the congregation, as well as times for personal prayer and a lot of sung psalms and other prayers.
Talking with my boyfriend afterward (who is also Catholic), we were both struck by how much of the service was spent simply praising God – not asking for favors, not making deals with God, not focusing on how the service was benefitting or appealing to the congregants. Rather, the faithful there truly saw it as their duty to worship God, and they were grateful to be able to fulfill that duty.
How often do we bring an attitude of thanksgiving to the offering of the Mass? How often do we kneel before our Lord and Savior not because it’s what we were taught to do, and not because we’d really like this job or relationship to go this way, but simply because He is our Lord and Savior?
The beginning of Eucharistic Prayer II reads, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.” It is our duty and salvation. In a palliative culture that is most comfortable with religion when it’s wrapped in good feelings – when we say “mercy” and mean “permissiveness” -- it can be all too easy to let ourselves slip into a mindset in which prayer is for us. A mindset in which prayer should leave us refreshed, peaceful, and inspired to take on the day – and if it doesn’t, something must be awry.
While prayer is certainly capable of these positive results and much more, bringing personal expectations to prayer breeds attitudes of false entitlement that tell us we deserve something out of prayer. Needless to say (as I have learned from personal experience), this is not exactly a recipe for a firm, steadfast, sustainable faith life. How much less, then, is it a recipe for a spiritual life built upon the love for God not because He is the giver of good gifts, or because He is our savior, but simply because He is God and we, His creatures, owe Him our praise?
My favorite poem, “Little Gidding” by T. S. Eliot, the narrator sits in solitude in a war-torn chapel and says to himself:
You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
Our duty and our salvation. In the midst of a bout of spiritual dryness, I began praying the Liturgy of the Hours every morning and evening to unite myself to the Universal Church and to attempt to steer away from prayer that veers too strongly toward the indulgent. In making this switch, I’m beginning to see the fruits of understanding prayer as a duty. Rather than praying when and how I want, I pray when and how it is prescribed. In doing so, prayer becomes an integrated and integral part of my day around which my schedule is shaped. I am learning, through the Liturgy of the Hours, to pray not because it makes me feel good (though it often does), but because I am a Christian, and praying is what I do. Because I am a child of God who owes her life to the omnipotent Creator, and thus, offering Him my thanks and sacrifice is right and just.
I’m not saying that prayer should not involve bringing our wounds and worries to Jesus, laying them at His feet in spontaneous or impromptu prayer. Nor am I suggesting that the Liturgy of the Hours is the only “right” way to pray. We can and should ask the Lord in our own words for help in our individual circumstances, as this greatly pleases Him! Rather, I am offering an invitation to join me in praying in a spirit of greater humility, seeing prayer not as a means but as its own end. In doing so, may we grow in gratitude, faith, hope, and love.