THE prayers in this excellent collection by Max Kramer, Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral, are arranged following the structure of the general intercessions on Good Friday: a bidding encourages us to pray for some particular intention, a gap encourages a short period of silence in which to do so, and a final collect draws everything together, evoking the final response “Amen.”
Kramer has provided a very large number of prayers that deserve to become widely used. There is ample provision for festivals in the Christian calendar, and for a whole variety of needs in the life of the Church and the world. Each one is written with skill and sensitivity, and thoroughly saturated in the Bible and Christian theology.
One writer has described the intercessions as the “most dreaded of Anglican liturgical tortures”, and Kramer gives the welcome advice that the first principle in leading formal prayers “is that they should be brief”. In a short but invaluable chapter at the end on Writing Your Own Collects, he brings his classical training to bear in a masterful analysis of the form and structure of a collect, along with some of the stylistic methods that will enable people to write good ones for speaking out loud.
While all prayer can become formulaic — not least those prayers that their creators think are entirely spontaneous — this particular formula generates a welcome discipline, but also enough flexibility for a whole range of thoughts and feelings to be incorporated. Just occasionally, Kramer’s collects gave me the sense that he was safely steering me into a harbour that I myself might not have chosen — and, indeed, that the collect form itself might sometimes over-prescribe what is to be the final destination of the prayer that we offer.
As we remember on Trinity 12, God is “always more ready to hear than we to pray and . . . wont to give more than either we desire or deserve”.
The Ven. Dr Edward Dowler is Archdeacon of Hastings and Priest-in-Charge of St John’s, Crowborough, in the diocese of Chichester.
The Canterbury Book of New Parish Prayers: Collects for the church and the world
M. J. Kramer
Canterbury Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18