John Lilburne's journal about public prayer and private prayer, referring to Matthew 6:5-6 from the Ash Wednesday Gospel.

 

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1707 L Wed 13 Feb 2002

The Church has a challenging gospel reading for today, Ash Wednesday. It emphasizes doing things in secret: fasting, alms giving and praying. For example Matthew 6:5-6 has Jesus saying:


And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Despite this we have plenty of public prayer. In the first document of Vatican II in 1963 the Church said:

The liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. ....

Still, the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church's power flows. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 9 - 10).

Even Matthew later in his Gospel seems to encourage communal prayer rather than prayer in secret, in Matthew 18:19-20.

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

So I suppose it is a case of establishing a balance of public prayer and private prayer. The Church needs to organise things publicly, such as seasons of fasting. But there is also a need for people to be contributing privately.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne 13 February 2002. Bible verses from the Revised Standard Version.

Links to other sites:

The Australian Editorial today, the second one is on Lent