Gleaning - Which Lord?
The standard of the Book of Common Prayer
In all of the hundreds of collects and prayers that there are in the Book of Common Prayer, not a single one is addressed uniquely to the Holy Ghost (the 3rd person of the Trinity), and only three* are addressed uniquely to Jesus Christ (the 2nd person of the Trinity). Nearly all of them are addressed to the Father. What might we glean from this?
* Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent. Collect for the First Sunday in Lent. Visitation of the Sick.
Praying directly to Jesus
Jesus said: "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14).
This may (or may not) grant us permission to address Jesus directly in prayer. In either case, the New Testament gives us but one example of the disciples praying directly to the risen Christ, and that is an extraordinary circumstance;
“And they stoned Stephen, who called on God, and said, Lord Jesus receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59).
Yes, there are a handful of other obscure examples, but there are no other clear examples of prayer being directed to the 2nd person of the Trinity. The clearest pattern set by Jesus and the Apostles in Scripture is that our prayers should be directed to the Father (in the name of the Son) even if we should also expect Jesus to hear our prayer directly, especially when uttered at the point of distress.
Praying directly to the Holy Ghost
Is the same true of God's holy Spirit whom we call The Holy Ghost? Should we pray to Him directly? Of course we should never dare to do what God has forbidden, but on this question some say that Scripture is silent, so should it be allowed?
One can only infer that even while we must affirm the unity of the Trinity, we must also affirm the distinctions of its three persons, and here we see clearly that Scripture wants to define separate roles for the members of the Trinity in respect to our prayer:
John 16:13-15: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you." Verse 23: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you."
Note Jesus does not say we’re to ask the Holy Ghost, but rather that we’re to ask the Father in the name of Jesus Christ... according to the power of the Holy Ghost. So where does the idea of praying directly to the Holy Spirit come from? A perusal of Roman Catholic liturgy turns up several examples, but in both Catholic and Protestant tradition, the most infamous example is "The Jesus Prayer" which starts out "O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner." Obviously, this prayer is not Trinitarian. In the Anglican tradition we have something similar, but it goes like this (responsively):
- "Lord have mercy upon us"
- "Christ have mercy upon us"
- "Lord have mercy upon us"
In other words, we are Trinitarians. We grant the title "Lord" to every member of the Trinity, but we propose to pray for the mercy which comes from the Lord who is our Father, in the name of the Lord who is our savior Jesus Christ, by the power of the Lord who is The Holy Ghost (who proceeds from the Father and the Son).
But aren't we supposed to pray "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?" No, actually. We are supposed to baptize in that Trinitarian form because we agree that each member of the Trinity has a name that should be honored, but in prayer we emphasize their separate roles.
The pattern of prayer
- Pray to the Father Almighty like this, "Our Father which art in heaven..."
- Pray in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ. We want the Father to know that when we come to Him, we are coming in His Son's name because otherwise we have no standing before the throne of God.
- Pray by the power of God's Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul says "pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit”, not TO the Spirit.
So the bottom line is this; our Anglican tradition follows closely the pattern set by the Bible. One should pray to the Father in the name of Jesus by the help of the Spirit. Under normal circumstances we should not expect to engage in a side prayer conversation with Jesus even though he also is sitting on the throne of God and surely hears our prayers himself. We should not expect to engage in any prayer conversation with the Holy Ghost. His role is to help us to pray or even to pray for us when we are unable (Stephen's prayer?), and to carry out the will of God in this world which is God's promised answer.