THE SPIRITUAL OFFERING
(A READING FROM THE TREATISE OF TERTULLIAN [c.160 – c.222] ON PRAYER)
Prayer is the spiritual offering which has abolished the ancient sacrifices. ‘What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams; I have no desire for the fat of lambs or the blood of bulls and of goats. Who looked for these from your hands? ‘We learn from the Gospel what God has asked for. ‘The hour will come,’ we are told, ‘when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. God is spirit, and so this is the kind of worshipper He wants.’
We are the true worshippers and the true priests: praying in the spirit, we make our sacrifice of prayer in spirit, an offering which is God’s own and acceptable to Him. This is the offering which He has asked for, and which He has provided for Himself. This is the sacrifice, offered from the heart, fed on faith, prepared by truth, unblemished in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, which we must bring to God’s altar, in a procession of good works, to the accompaniment of psalms and hymns. It will obtain for us from God all that we ask.
What will God deny to a prayer which proceeds from spirit and truth, seeing it is He who demands it? How great are the proofs of its efficacy which we read and hear and believe. The old prayer, no doubt, brought deliverance from fire, wild beasts and hunger, and yet it had not received its form from Christ: how much more fully efficacious then is Christian prayer!
It does not station the angel of the dew in the midst of the fire, nor block the mouths of lions, nor transfer to the hungry the peasants’ dinner. It has no special grace to avert the experience of suffering, but it arms with endurance those who do suffer, who grieve, who are pained. It makes grace multiply in power, so that faith may know what it obtains from the Lord, while it understands what for God’s name’s sake it is suffering.
In the past prayer induced plagues, put to flight the hosts of the enemy, brought on drought. Now, however, the prayer of righteousness turns aside the supplication for persecutors. Is it surprising that it knows how to squeeze out the waters of heaven, seeing it did have power even to ask for fire and obtain it? Prayer alone it is that conquers God. But it was Christ’s wish for it to work no evil: He has conferred upon it all power concerning good.
And so its only knowledge is how to call back the souls of the deceased from the very highway of death, to straighten the feeble, to heal the sick, to cleanse the devil-possessed, to open the bars of the prison, to loose the bands of the innocent. It also absolves sins, drives back temptations, quenches persecutions, strengthens the weak-hearted, delights the high-minded, brings home way-farers, stills the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, rules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports the unstable, upholds them that stand.
The angels too pray, all of them. The whole creation prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray, and bend their knees, and in coming forth from their stalls and lairs look up to heaven, their mouth not idle, making the spirit move in their own fashion. Moreover the birds taking flight lift themselves up to heaven and instead of hands spread out the cross of their wings, while saying something which may be supposed to be a prayer. What more then of the obligation of prayer? Even the Lord Himself prayed: to Him be honour and power for ever and ever.
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, You Yourself have given me the most perfect example of a person who prays. I commit myself to follow Your example. Thank You, Lord. Amen.
Taken from THE DIVINE OFFICE II – LENT AND EASTERTIDE – The Office of Reading – The Second Reading, pages 162-164.
A Christian Pilgrim