Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The prayer has an immediacy about it because it begins with a petition rather than an opening acclamation, such as “Almighty God….” It calls upon the Lord to do four things for His Church (and it is always important to remind ourselves of whose Church it is).
We pray for Him to cleanse, defend, protect and govern the Church.
It is noteworthy that rather than appealing to His power and might to help us, we appeal to His “mercy” and “goodness.” This reflects the revelation of Holy Scripture that God’s very nature is goodness and that He longs to shower us with mercy and blessings. Consider just a few texts.
- The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth. Exodus 34:6
- Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34
- Good and upright is the Lord. Psalm 25:8
- The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. Psalm 145:9
- Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17
- If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Matthew 7:11
- Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting. Psalm 100:4-5
It is wise to first call upon the Lord to cleanse His Church before asking Him to defend, protect and govern her. A pattern becomes evident in the Old Testament of God longing to bless and show mercy to His people but they would stray from His commandments, seek other gods, and ultimately bring calamity upon themselves. When we are honest with ourselves we will admit that this is not only an Old Testament pattern. Thus the first appeal is to be cleansed so that we do not fall into unwholesome pits of our own making.
While the appeal does not directly address the Holy Spirit, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to make the Church holy, and so we can look for the answer to this prayer to come in the form of the Helperwhom Jesus promised.
Book of liturgy containing the priest’s part of the Mass
Rite of Salisbury Cathedral