“Almighty God: We give thanks for the great blessings which have been bestowed on Canada and its citizens, including the gifts of freedom, opportunity and peace that we enjoy. We pray for our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, and the Governor General. Guide us in our deliberations as members of Parliament and strengthen us in our awareness of our duties and responsibilities as Members. Grant us wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to preserve the blessings of this country for the benefit of all and to make good laws and wise decisions.
[There follows a moment of silence for private reflection and meditation.]
House of Commons prayer adopted February 18, 1994
In the midst of the truly great problems which beset our nation, much has been made recently about the prayer recited by the House of Commons at the beginning of each working day. An all-party committee of the House updated this prayer in February, causing all manner of accusations against those who would dare assail Christianity. Whereas the old prayer made reference to “Jesus Christ, Our Lord,” the new one addresses “Almighty God,” without mention of Christ. The definition of the deity is left up to the discretion of the petitioner.
It was explained that the old prayer was changed because it was “archaic.” Some overly defensive Christians theorized that it was the belief in Jesus Christ that was being labeled “archaic.” The explanation was somehow misinterpreted as a categorical statement that “Jesus Christ is not the son of God,” and that “worship of Jesus Christ is wrong-headed.” Therefore changing the prayer became “a horrendous offence to Christians.” What nonsense!
The old prayer was written some time in the last century. While much too long to reprint here, suffice it to say that it is replete with words like “dost,” “wouldst,” “thy,” “thou,” and other remnants of the English language long ago axed from modern ecclesiastical vocabulary by Vatican II and the editors of the Book of Common Prayer. Quite frankly, if someone asked me to recite a prayer which contained the phrase “endure her plenteously with heavenly gifts” I’m not sure I could do it with a straight face.
The new prayer reflects the sentiments of the old one in modern language. While it does leave out an entire paragraph calling blessings upon the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the rest of the Royal Family, I don’t think too many people are upset about this omission, given the recent antics of some of these Royal persons. It also leaves out a paragraph pleading that our Most gracious God “prosper the consultations” of the rest of her Majesty’s realms and territories. No one is complaining about this deletion either.
What has caused such an uproar is the fact that in updating a prayer whose language, not intent, was obviously archaic, members of Parliament decided at the same time to honour the beliefs of non-Christian MPs by referring to the Divinity as “Almighty God.” This says nothing whatsoever about the veracity of Christian belief. It is simply an acknowledgement that not everyone saying the prayer is a Christian.
I believe that the change is long overdue. For many years Jewish members of Parliament did not quibble when the ruling body of a country supposedly proud of its Judeo-Christian heritage conveniently forgot the “Judeo” part each day in its prayerful references to Jesus Christ.
Today’s members of the House of Commons, notably those of Jewish, aboriginal Canadian or East Indian ancestry should have their beliefs respected. Tolerance does not betray Christianity – I always thought it was part of it. It is distressing that changing the language of a century old prayer became an opportunity for some Christian members of Parliament and commentators alike to make racially-charged comments about the rights of non-Christian members of Parliament. As they say in the House of Commons, “Shame!”
But amidst all the recriminations I think a major point has been missed. The fact that members of Parliament are praying to a Supreme Being at all is noteworthy. It is a mark of humility and humanity rarely seen publicly in politicians. What they name their God matters not to me; what is significant is that as legislators they acknowledge a higher power. King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Jehovah, Gitcheemanitou, or Allah, be praised.