This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Easter rebellion, 1916-2016, a bloody event that led eventually to Irish independence from Britain and the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the Republic of Ireland in 1937. In November 1923 the Irish parliament first adopted the practice of a daily prayer with the agreement of both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic Archbishops of Dublin. In July 1932 the legislators settled on the following daily prayer: “Direct, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance; that every prayer and work of ours may always begin from Thee, and by Thee be happily ended; through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
At some stage after that, a new wording came about when the phrase “every prayer and work of ours” was changed to the broader concept of asking God to favor “every word and work of ours.” The opening Parliamentary invocation now reads: “Direct, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance; that every word and work of ours may always begin from Thee, and by Thee be happily ended, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” It is no surprise that there has been a recent movement by Irish atheists and other free thinkers to eliminate an introductory prayer altogether based on the contemporary contention that a prayer once meant to be inclusive (appealing to both Catholics and Protestants), is now actually exclusive (appealing not at all to unbelievers). The secularizing influences that have encouraged abortion and same-sex marriage for Ireland will no doubt eventually have their way.
This brief but historic and venerable prayer asking for Divine inspiration and assistance is found in both Catholic and Protestant rituals. Older books of prayer tend to favor this presentation: “Direst, we beg Thee, O Lord, our prayers and our actions by Thy holy inspirations and carry them on by Thy gracious assistance, so that every work of ours may always begin with Thee, and through Thee come to completion. Amen.” Among Catholics the terse prayer is read as one of the collects that follows the Litany of the Saints. For many years the prayer also formed part of the introductory rite for the blessing, dedication and consecration of Catholic churches. Today, in addition to the Litany of the Saints, it can be found in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Roman Breviary, as the Morning Prayer for Monday of the first week of the Psalter in Ordinary time. Dating back to 1975, the rendition is simple and agreeable: “Father, may everything we do begin with your inspiration and continue with your saving help. Let our work always find its origin in you and through you reach completion.”
Before the liturgical changes that followed Vatican II, this collect was the opening prayer at Mass on the Ember Saturday in Lent. In the new post-Vatican II liturgical calendar this prayer is used at Mass on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. Before the recently revised Roman Missal for the United States was published, a rather obvious rendition of the time-honored prayer was offered in the Sacramentary: “Lord, may everything we do begin with your inspiration and continue with your help, so that all our prayers and works may begin in you and by you be happily ended.” Now in the newly published and, one might say, enhanced version found in today’s American Roman Missal on the day after Ash Wednesday, the same prayer reads rather majestically, “Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord, and further them with your constant help, that all we do may always begin from you and by you be brought to completion.”
Through all its various incarnations this handy prayer regularly invokes from God three particular graces for the Christian daily life: inspiration, assistance and completion. On this Trinity Sunday it is easy to align these three spiritual necessities for an authentic religious life with three unique graces coming from the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively. God the Father and Creator inspires; God the Son and Redeemer assists; God the Holy Spirit and Sanctifier completes. While God is certainly one in his Divine nature, he relates within the Trinity and with mankind in uniquely personal ways. The Father bestows life on every person; the Son died on the Cross for every man and woman; the Spirit guides every human being toward fulfillment. The Trinity is an enduring resource for mankind.