By Charles Hoffacker
The Book of Common Prayer, together with the supplemental liturgical books of the Episcopal Church, set forth patterns for public worship. These resources also help to shape the personal devotions of those who become familiar with them. One rewarding way in which this can happen involves the Suffrages in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.
Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer each have two forms of Suffrages labeled A and B. The language of Suffrages A and B in Morning Prayer comes ultimately from the Psalms. Suffrages A is the same in both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Suffrages B in Evening Prayer differs from the other suffrages in both style and content: it is a brief Byzantine litany with an unvarying response and is not so clearly dependent on biblical texts.
Suffrages A and B in Morning Prayer together comprise 12 pairs of versicles and responses, with each pair marked V. and R. People familiar with the prayer book office are usually familiar with these versicles and responses.
Extracted from their setting in the daily office, any of the 12 suffrages can serve as an effective prayer form in its own right. Each of them is short. They are poetic in character. They are rooted in the Scriptures. They are general without being vague. Like any good spoken prayer, these suffrages are durable.
Their brief and rhythmic character commends the Morning Prayer suffrages to individual use in connection with patterns of breathing, walking, and other activities. They can be readily offered, whether aloud or silently, in circumstances and places characterized by the need for such intercessions.
Each of the 12 suffrages is especially suitable to certain occasions and needs. Here are some examples.
Lord, keep this nation under your care.
And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
During the months leading up to the 2022 midterm elections throughout the United States, I had a desire to pray, but was dissatisfied with sending the Holy One the equivalent of a partisan flier listing my preferred candidates and referendum options. Then this familiar suffrage came to mind. I found it easy to offer it repeatedly on many occasions.
Let your way be known upon earth;
Your saving health among all nations.
This intercession can be offered for a broad variety of concerns. For me it functions as a prayer for worldwide environmental responsibility and the healing of our beleaguered planet. The vastness and complexity of the environmental crisis is surpassed only by the radical simplicity of God’s insistent desire that living creatures on earth should thrive.
In you, Lord, is our hope
And we shall never hope in vain.
Here is a prayer for times when hope seems absent or in very short supply. These circumstances can involve bullets, emergency rooms, political disappointments, and much more. Some crises happen in the blink of an eye. Others unroll over many generations. Calling on the eternal and ever-present God is always in order. God wants us to open room for grace.
Give peace, O Lord, in all the world:
For only in you can we live in safety.
At every moment, warfare and violence produce death and destruction around the globe. As followers of the Prince of Peace, Christians must ask God for the gift of peace on behalf of a broken world. We must desire the realization of God’s vision of peace and safety for everyone. So pray for allies and enemies; for all who suffer; for people working for peace.
Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Jesus tells of a deeply afflicted man named Lazarus who lay within the sight of a rich neighbor but was ignored. People like Lazarus continue to be ignored today. They are not taken into account. Overlooking them amounts to removing their hope. Everyone’s future requires resisting this sin of indifference, recognizing everyone as God’s child, and caring for each other.
Suffrages are short. They are little treasures of the Church. Do not leave them on the pages of the prayer book. Recycle them in personal prayer. Allow these jewels to glitter in new ways.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington who lives in Greenbelt, Maryland.