March 27, 2011

Needed: An Anniversary Prayer

An innovation brought to my parish by our current rector is the commemoration of birthdays and anniversaries on the first Sunday of each month. Worshipers whose birthday or anniversary falls in the current month are invited to the front of the church, and prayers are offered for each group. It has been the practice that the entire congregation reads the prayer for birthdays, namely, Prayer #51 on page 830 of the prayer book:
Watch over thy child, O Lord, as his days increase; bless and guide him wherever he may be. Strengthen him when he stands; comfort him when discouraged or sorrowful; raise him up if he fall; and in his heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of his life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is a perfectly acceptable prayer, though the congregation may stumble over some of the necessary substitutions—“children” for “child,” for example. No attempt is made to modernize the language—substituting “your” for “thy,” for example—which would be more consonant with our Rite II Eucharist. (One could address these problems by printing an edited prayer in the bulletin, but we don’t do that.) One might object, however, to the fact that this “birthday” prayer, despite its being labeled as “For a Birthday,” does not even allude obliquely to a birthday! Prayer #50 is more satisfactory in this regard, but it has an even trickier required substitution, as it is written to apply to an individual:
O God, our times are in your hand: Look with favor, we pray, on your servant N. as he begins another year. Grant that he may grow in wisdom and grace, and strengthen his trust in your goodness all the days of his life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This would be a more appropriate prayer if it were edited for the bulletin.

The anniversary prayer is read only by our rector for reasons not completely obvious. He uses the prayer at the top of page 431 of the prayer book, which is part of the Marriage liturgy:
O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Wedding ringsThis prayer shares a deficiency with Prayer #51, namely, it does not allude to the occasion being celebrated. It is remarkable that the prayers for various occasions that are listed beginning on page 814 do not include an anniversary prayer. How could the compilers of our prayer book have overlooked the need for such a prayer?

All this is by way of asking for suggestions for creating a completely satisfactory anniversary prayer. I have begun writing an anniversary prayer, but I am not sure I have all the right elements. The prayer should refer explicitly to the annual celebration and should avoid the analogy between a marriage and Christ’s relationship to the Church. (The Ephesians 5 notion that the wife must obey the husband as the Church must obey Christ is anachronistic in 21st-century America.)

Suggestions, anyone? If you already have such a prayer, please offer it.


  1. Lionel, we use the first prayer you quote for birthdays, and our parishioners make the transition from him to her, his to her, she to he, or, when more than one person has a birthday, to them, they, or their, in which case children must be used instead of child. I hear few to no stumbles as the prayer is offered. It works for us. her days increase.... refers to a birthday, right?

    I like #51 better than #50 for a birthday.

    The anniversary prayer is a whole other thing if you wish to start from scratch, and I would not know which elements would be necessary for a proper anniversary prayer.

  2. The days are increasing whether it’s your birthday or not.

  3. See the Book of Occasional 163 in the current edition. Although this is a liturgy for a renewal of wedding vows, the great thing about it is the prayer on page 165 -- which is said by the couple themselves (! -- but for me a no-brainer, as marriage is about the couple first, and I love seeing adults do things instead of having some cleric do it for them...) followed by a lovely blessing in tripartite form.

  4. In my former parish, St. Anna's in New Orleans, we prayed every Sunday by name for those whose birthdays, baptismal days, or anniversaries fell within the following week. Also those who had died in times past. Those celebrating baptismal days brought up the offerings and sometimes even relit their baptismal candle at the altar.

  5. i liked those tow prayers a lot, maybe when i get married, i can use it and adopt it, i was always looking for a special prayer. but the first one is also very powerful, becasue this days are in God's hand, but we also have to be good one to another.

    thanks for your creative writing.

  6. Here at St Stephen's, Fargo, we give thanks for birthdays, anniversaries, and, beginning Easter Day, baptismal anniversaries in the Prayers of the People. Parish members' observances are printed in the weekly bulletin. Recently during coffee hour, we've begun singing 'May God bless and keep you,' a simple text and tune [Christopher Walker, Oregon Catholic Press].

    The reason for choosing this song is that over the last three years we have been introducing sung acclamations to mark sacramental moments and personal remembrances. A simple text and a simple melody become a take-home package. I think it safe to say that if a member of the assembly leaves whistling one of the acclamations they will remember the individual each time they hear or sing it.

    James Mackay

  7. At St. Bede's, Santa Fe, they have used the following prayer, delivered by the clergy and congregation, for many years. I can not locate the source.

    "Gracious God, we lift your servants __ and __ to you in thanks for your love. Guide them as they grow, and surround them with your grace, that they may walk close to you and to one another always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"

    1. David, thanks for offering this. I think it fills the bill nicely.


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