Thursday, 2 December 2021

Spiritual Communion in
Lichfield Cathedral and
praying alone in Askeaton

‘The Word was made Flesh’ … the Altar in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral … the Prayer of Spiritual Communion is said at the mid-day Eucharist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

As new pandemic restrictions are introduced this week, I am sure many priests may wonder what sort of Christmas we are facing.

It is difficult to describe the spiritual loneliness of a priest presiding at the Eucharist in an all-but empty church on Christmas Day and on Easter morning, recording reflections for Holy Week or school assemblies alone, or planning the choice of hymns weeks in advance for carol services that may never take place.

But then, priests ought to have the daily experience of praying the daily office alone without feeling spiritually lonely.

The Revd Dr Thomas Plant, chaplain at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and formerly chaplain at Lichfield Cathedral School, tweeted earlier this week: ‘… priestly prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, is authentic priestly ministry. This conviction will help priests avoid the tendency to reduce it to a mere private devotion as if time devoted to prayer … were somehow time robbed from the ministry.’

I blog early each morning about my own morning prayers, reflections and readings. These are not private personal prayers, but part of my ministry too, and a fulfilment of the vows a priest takes at ordination. So, I have the morning habit of sharing these with parishioners through the parish Facebook page.

Often, in the middle of a busy working day in the Rectory, before taking a break for lunch, I also take time to watch the celebration of the mid-day Eucharist in the Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral.

At this daily celebration, the priests habitually use the Prayer of Spiritual Communion on behalf of those who are watching but who cannot receive the Eucharist in person. This prayer, which I was made aware of in Lichfield Cathedral seven weeks ago, and which was used again at the mid-day Eucharist today, is based on the Prayer of Saint Richard of Chichester:

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.

Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally,
I ask you to come spiritually into my heart.

O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

So, priestly ministry is never exercised on its own, and should never truly be a solitary, isolated, or lonely experience for me or any other priest.

Prayerful thoughts in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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