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the pseudo-prayer

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 11, 2008

Painful. And embarrassing too. We -- and by "we" I include Reuters and the Sisters of Loreto -- have been given a preview of the orations, liturgical and other, to be used during the papal visit to the U.S. By the dispensation of an inscrutable providence, the prayers specific to the occasion are of local manufacture, composed in the style favored by the USCCB. Worst of all is the orison to be offered by the Pope at Ground Zero:

O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness. Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope. We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth. Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred. God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all.

Nota bene: This is not a prayer. Prayer is addressed to God, and this little speech (except in a purely formal sense) is not. It is serial posturing intended, like the successive poses of a fashion model on a catwalk, to show off the virtues of the manufacturer to their best advantage. Though grammatically camouflaged as an entreaty, this pseudo-prayer is performed not to be heard but to be overheard -- primarily by the viewing audience and the op-ed writers.

We're familiar with this gambit in more pedestrian circumstances. Think of the school principal who enters the third grade classroom and, in the hearing of the students, asks their teacher her hopes for the year. The schoolmarm picks up the cue and uses the pretext of her "answer" to drive home the points she wants her pupils to take in: "... I'm confident my students will all behave in class, Mrs. Overton, and do their homework neatly and return their insurance forms, signed by their parents, before next Friday at the latest." In the same way the Ground Zero oration is staged in order to be overheard. In fact, if it weren't such an overtly crass specimen of bishops conference salesmanship -- one notes the complete exclusion of Trinitarian language -- it would border on sacrilege.

Let's examine it posture by posture:

O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.

"People of many faiths and traditions." Does God need to be told this? Is He to be wooed by the consideration that the "us" includes those who deny His existence or benevolence? Does it make sense to call God's attention to "incredible" (= not believable) violence?

We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.

God does not need my lie, said St. Augustine. Neither does He need to be reminded of the date of the catastrophe, or coached as to the heroism of the "first-responders" or the innocence of the victims ("simply because their work or service brought them here ..."). He's got the point, OK?

We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Not to be confused, Lord God, with Shanksville, Tennessee, home of Darrell's Discount Auto Parts, whose Spring Super-Sale ends Tuesday.

Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

Well, are our hearts one with "theirs"? How do we know? What does it matter? Is it important that God hear that the prayer we are notionally addressing to Him embraces their suffering -- and not just their pain?

Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain.

This bit of Gettysburg Addresserie is, in context, theological nonsense. A human leader might encourage the living to take up the unfinished task of the slain, because from his point of view that task has desirable intra-historical purposes. But what could the notion of "lives lost in vain" mean for an all-knowing and all-powerful God who brings every life into existence for the purpose of eternal happiness with Him?

There's nothing wrong with giving voice to Catholic sympathy for the slain and injured, even in prolix circumstantial terms. This could be done perfectly well by reading a statement in which that sympathy was expressed straight-up. But combining a public address to God with a manifesto is a bad idea. A prayer is not the place to publish an op-ed.

I suppose it's too much to hope that Pope Benedict might omit this Ground Zero Sack Dance from the repertory when he shows up on the spot. It contains no direct assertion of heresy, and it has already been released and received media comment in anticipation of its utterance. Should the Pope have the chance to speak spontaneously on the subject, we can be confident that whatever he says will be superior to the script both in theological acuity and Christian sincerity. No pulpit Rotarian, Benedict can address the God he believes in.

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Show 14 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Apr. 14, 2008 4:01 PM ET USA

    Where I come from (the Catholic) School Principals never venture into the classrooms. I'm not sure if that's a benefit or a defecit ?! Reading drivel written by other is not prayer, it's speechwriting. I'll bet he never utters a word of this.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 12, 2008 8:04 AM ET USA

    Its a bizarre sign of the times when the laity start pontificating and the Pope does not.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 12, 2008 12:32 AM ET USA

    I can understand it, but do not enjoy it: the outright crankiness of so many "traditionalist" Catholics. Crankiness was what marked many -- even most -- of the criticisms of the prayer connected with the Pope's visit.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 7:52 PM ET USA

    At an English language prayer service in Norway after 9/11, held with the local pastors with English speaking communities, each of the 6 or 7 pastors gave a 5 minute prayer, leaving that odd Cathoic priest for last. He wore a beautiful and ancient cope. What could he add to the voluminous prayers already offered? A one-liner something like this: "Heavenly Father, we beg you to have mercy on the many who died on 9/11 without the benefit of time to prepare for their deaths." THAT'S CATHOLIC!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 6:41 PM ET USA

    Isn't the Pope capable of composing his own prayer? Since when does he need someone else to do it for him?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 5:52 PM ET USA

    The rubrics indicate that the Pope will spend several minutes kneeling in silent prayer before speaking these words. The image of the Vicar of Christ (or to the secular world, the leading public figure of Christianity) kneeling in silent prayer speaks more profoundly than whatever anyone, even the Pope, could write. It would have brought to mind the shortest line in Scripture: "And Jesus wept."

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 5:45 PM ET USA

    Right out of the USCCB, as you say!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 3:45 PM ET USA

    Very apt criticisms! This kind of "prayer" is, by the way, very prevalent in the military chaplain corps, including priest chaplains. Your parsing (notwithstanding "ratzinger"'s remark) echoes the criticism leveled by Rome at the ICEL versions of the orations where the Almighty is to be told or informed, apparently, of various facts. Nothing whatsoever "infantile" about your critique, in my opinion.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 2:10 PM ET USA

    One of the greatest attractions of the Tridentine Mass is that there are no modern invocations parroting the emotional impulse ofthe day. One is left to lift his heart and mind to God without the mindless dribble of some committee which thinks up invocations.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 1:59 PM ET USA

    It's a prayer on behalf of all of those who died that day. For God's sake let up on the infantile parsing.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 9:46 AM ET USA

    There's nothing pastoral about sloppy talk. I've had just about enough of it.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 8:06 AM ET USA

    Why does this prayer bear an uncanny resemblance to the intentions offered at Sunday masses where they seem to be composed largely by the "peace and justice" committee in ecumenical concert with the Unitarian service down the street? Now what was that Jesus said about the needless multiplication of words being mostly a pagan manifestation?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 6:19 AM ET USA

    I don't know what I'd do without you, Di. At first I thought that prayer OK if long-winded, but now I like this almost as much as your previous entry.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 11, 2008 6:09 AM ET USA

    When Pope Benedict refers to "our" firefighters, police officers etc, will he mean his and God's? If so, how did they become the firefighters etc of a German Pope?

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