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The Everyday Prayer


 
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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome


Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Esther 4,17a-17z

Mordecai went away and carried out Esther's instructions. (a) Then calling to mind all the wonderful works of the Lord, he offered this prayer: (b) Lord, Lord, Almighty King, everything is subject to your power, and there is no one who can withstand you in your determination to save Israel. (c) You have made heaven and earth, and all the marvels that are under heaven. You are the Master of the universe and no one can resist you, Lord. (d) You know all things, you, Lord, know that neither pride, self-esteem nor vainglory prompted me to do what I have done: to refuse to prostrate myself before proud Haman. Gladly would I have kissed the soles of his feet, had this assured the safety of Israel. (e) But what I have done, I have done, rather than place the glory of a man above the glory of God; and I shall not prostrate myself to anyone except, Lord, to you, and, in so doing, I shall not be acting in pride. (f) And now, Lord God, King, God of Abraham spare your people! For our ruin is being plotted, there are plans to destroy your ancient heritage. (g) Do not overlook your inheritance, which you redeemed from Egypt to be yours. (h) Hear my supplication, have mercy on your heritage, and turn our grief into rejoicing, so that we may live, Lord, to hymn your name. Do not suffer the mouths of those who praise you to perish. (i) And all Israel cried out with all their might, since death was staring them in the face. (k) Queen Esther also took refuge with the Lord in the mortal peril which had overtaken her. She took off her sumptuous robes and put on sorrowful mourning. Instead of expensive perfumes, she covered her head with ashes and dung. She mortified her body severely, and the former scenes of her happiness and elegance were now littered with tresses torn from her hair. She besought the Lord God of Israel in these words: (l) My Lord, our King, the Only One, come to my help, for I am alone and have no helper but you and am about to take my life in my hands. (m) I have been taught from infancy in the bosom of my family that you, Lord, have chosen Israel out of all the nations and our ancestors out of all before them, to be your heritage for ever; and that you have treated them as you promised. (n) But we have sinned against you and you have handed us over to our enemies for paying honour to their gods. Lord, you are upright. (o) But they are not satisfied with the bitterness of our slavery: they have pledged themselves to their idols to abolish the decree that your own lips have uttered, to blot out your heritage, to stop the mouths of those who praise you, to quench your altar and the glory of your House, (p) and instead to open the mouths of the heathen, to sing the praise of worthless idols and for ever to idolise a king of flesh. (q) Do not yield your sceptre, Lord, to what does not exist. Never let our ruin be matter for laughter. Turn these plots against their authors, and make an example of the man who leads the attack on us. (r) Remember, Lord; reveal yourself in the time of our distress. As for me, give me courage, King of gods and Master of all powers! (s) Put persuasive words into my mouth when I face the lion; change his feeling into hatred for our enemy, so that he may meet his end, and all those like him! (t) As for ourselves, save us by your hand, and come to my help, for I am alone and have no one but you, Lord. (u) You have knowledge of all things, and you know that I hate honours from the godless, that I loathe the bed of the uncircumcised, of any foreigner whatever. (w) You know I am under constraint, that I loathe the symbol of my high position bound round my brow when I appear at court; I loathe it as if it were a filthy rag and do not wear it on my days of leisure. (x) Your servant has not eaten at Haman's table, nor taken pleasure in the royal banquets, nor drunk the wine of libations. (y) Nor has your servant found pleasure from the day of her promotion until now except in you, Lord, God of Abraham. (z) O God, whose strength prevails over all, listen to the voice of the desperate, save us from the hand of the wicked, and free me from my fear!

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Greek text, which is more recent than the Hebrew version, adds to the people’s fast long prayers of supplication by both Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai’s prayer is an objective profession of faith, almost impersonal, were it not followed by a reference to self-justification: "...for I would have been willing to kiss the soles of his feet to save Israel! But I did this so that I might not set human glory above the glory of God..." (C:6-7). Esther’s prayer is richer and more personal: it includes that attitude proper to the Jewish people in their best moments, which in the face of the enemy don’t ask to only "free us from that," but also admits that "we have sinned." The presence of the enemy is for correction, to summon to a faith that is full that had been neglected by the people of Israel when they let themselves be overcome by well-being. And then Esther, praying, alternates from the singular to the plural: she "emerges" from the people when she looks to the task of going before the king, which is specifically hers, a task before which she feels such loneliness, weakness, and anguish; at the same time she "identifies herself" with the people as their spokesperson when it is a matter of supplicating that they be freed from their enemies for the very glory of the Lord and the defence of his inheritance. She, too, goes before the Lord in a particular way, as queen, despite the fact that she does not enjoy the advantages of her role, yet it is almost as if this rendered her a more apt instrument and disposed her better to rely only on the Lord.


09/22/2010
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