O Master, O Nazarene, O Bright-rayed, O everliving Satisfaction, O Tree of life, O true Heaven, O true Vine, O Rod of the stem of Jesse, O King of Israel, O Saviour, O Gate of life, O choice Flower of the field, O Lily of the Valleys, O Rock of strength, O Corner-stone, O heavenly Zion, O Fountain of the Faith, O innocent Lamb, O Diadem, O gentle Sheep, O Redeemer of the human race, O very God, O very Man, O Lion, O Calf, O Eagle, O Christ crucified, O Judge of doom, have mercy upon us.
- Mugrón, Litany of the Trinity, Irish, 14th century
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isaiah 9.6
These Irish litanies came late in the period of Celtic Christianity – almost five centuries after the last great flourishing of the Celtic Revival. Yet they recall some of the rich devotional life of that period.
They’re fascinating to read, because you get the sense the writer, as he prepared these as aids to personal prayer and devotion, was straining to encode in writing something deeply personal and spiritual. He was hoping to provide words others could use in coming before the Lord according to His greatness, to seek mercy and grace to help in his time of need.
The excerpt for today is a brief portion of a long prayer for mercy, in which the suppliant calls upon God, and in particular, our Lord Jesus Christ, using many of the names or titles by which He was pleased to make Himself known. Each name or title appeals to a different aspect of the Lord’s mercy and grace. Together they invoke His power, celebrate His marvelous excellence, and engage His life and sovereignty. It’s only in the light of the greatness and majesty of the Lord that the writer can see his true need for mercy and expect that he will receive it.
Imagine praying like this each day, in which, before you even voice the smallest request to the Lord, you recite His many excellencies and virtues, His names and titles, His works and judgments. How would this affect your demeanor in prayer? Your expectations of what the Lord might do? Your love for and confidence in Him?
Isn’t that where Jesus taught us to begin our prayers (Matt. 6.9)?
Let’s face it: We’re not exacly proficient when it comes to prayer. We don’t do much of it, and most of what we do tends to be shallow. We could improve our prayers by reading and praying great prayers from the Church's heritage and history – like these Irish litanies – but especially by making the psalms and other Scriptures a primary source for guidance in prayer.
But to pray this way you really must want to, and the question of whether we want to pray like this is one we all have to address.
In case you do, however, start with some psalms that exalt the Lord and celebrate His works. Read them aloud and pray them back to the Lord – particularly such Psalms as 104, 105, 145, and 147, which exalt the Lord and set us down amid His works and the blessings of His covenant.
Here is reliable substance for a prayer life that can lift you up in the Lord. We don’t know how to pray as we should, so we need all the help we can get. Our Christian forebears show us that it’s possible to pray this way, and the psalms lead us in learning how. By celebrating the names, titles, and works of God, our prayers can be fuller, more focused, and more edifying.
Our prayers don’t have to be shallow, self-centered, and insipid. They can be rich in celebrating the Lord and powerful to gain His mercy and grace to help in our time of need. But we’ll need to work harder at learning to pray this way.
1. What’s one thing you could do to improve your joy and delight in praying?
2. Which psalm would you choose to begin learning how to pray all the psalms? Why?
Psalm 147.1-7 (St. Anne: Our God, Our Help in Ages Past)
Praise God, for it is good to sing loud praises to our Lord!
With joy our songs of praise we bring to God and to His Word.
The Lord builds up His Church and He His people gathers in.
The broken hearts He tenderly repairs and heals their sin.
The stars He counts, He knows the name of ev’ry chosen soul;
His pow’r is great, and great His fame, Who understands us whole.
The humble God exalts above; the wicked He casts down.
Sing thanks to this great God of love; let songs of praise abound.
Lord, is my prayer life what it should be? Teach me to celebrate You in my prayers, so that I…
Help for your prayers
Two books might help you to launch your prayer life to a new level. The Poetry of Prayer is a series of meditations on the nature and purpose of prayer, following a poem by the great English metaphysical poet George Herbert. Order your free copy by clicking here.God’s Prayer Program can show you how to make praying the psalms a more consistent part of your prayer life. A free copy awaits you by clicking here.
Personal Mission Field
Be sure to check out this month’s “Personal Mission Field Workshop” on being clear about our vision (click here).
We pray that, if Crosfigell ministers to you, you’ll consider sharing with us in the financial support of our ministry. If the Lord moves you to give, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card or through PayPal, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
T. M. Moore
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Plummer, Litanies, p. 81.