Offering of Prayer
This reading was
taken from the treatise On Prayer by Tertullian and can be
found in the Office of Readings for Thursday of the third week of
Prayer is the
offering in spirit that has done away with the sacrifices of old.
What good do I receive from the multiplicity of your sacrifices?
asks God. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and I do
not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats. Who has
asked for these from your hands?
What God has asked
for we learn from the Gospel. The hour will come, he says,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
God is a spirit, and so he looks for worshipers who are like
We are true
worshipers and true priests. We pray in spirit, and so offer in
spirit the sacrifice of prayer. Prayer is an offering that belongs
to God and is acceptable to him: it is the offering he has asked
for, the offering he planned as his own.
We must dedicate this
offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it
by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through
chastity, and crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of
God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns.
Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God.
Since God asks for
prayer offered in spirit and in truth, how can he deny anything to
this kind of prayer? How great is the evidence of its power, as we
read and hear and believe.
Of old, prayer was
able to rescue from fire and beasts and hunger, even before it
received its perfection from Christ. How much greater then is the
power of Christian prayer. No longer does prayer bring an angel of
comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of
lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. No longer
does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others.
But it gives the armor of patience to those who suffer, who feel
pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that
faith may know what it is suffering for the name of God.
In the past prayer
was able to bring down punishment, rout armies, withhold the
blessing of rain. Now, however, the prayer of the just turns aside
the whole anger of God, keeps vigil for its enemies, pleads for
persecutors. Is it any wonder that it can call down water from
heaven when it could obtain fire from heaven as well? Prayer is the
one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should
work no evil, and has given it all power over good.
Its only art is to
call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to
give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the
possessed, to open prison cells, to free the innocent from their
chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps
out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to
the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves,
confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the
fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand
All the angels pray.
Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee.
As they come from their barns and caves they look up to heaven and
call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds
too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their
wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to
what seems to be a prayer.
What more need be
said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be
honor and power for ever and ever. Amen.