Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Paraclesis

I regret being away for so long. There have been a lot of family and other duties with which to deal. Suffice it to say, I am rather liberated at this moment to begin writing here again.

Before the big absence in posting, I was attempting to bring up devotional practices especially relating to the Church year. It is firmly my intention to resume that practice.

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As you may be aware, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is fast approaching. The feast is often viewed as the primary feast of our Blessed Mother, likely owing to it being the closest thing that she has to a dies natalis. It is the day we commemorate her Dormition (her falling asleep, as the Feast is called in the East), and her being assumed into heaven body and soul.

Naturally, one would expect popular devotions regarding the Blessed Virgin to grow around this Feast. There are a number of western devotions. Today, however, I would like to focus upon a particular devotion from the Byzantine tradition called the Paraclesis.

The Paraclesis (or Paraklesis, as it is sometimes phonetically transcribed) is a supplicatory prayer to Mary. It is appropriate "in every adversity and affliction, as well as during the Fast of the Theotokos, August 1st to 14th, in preparation for the Feast of the Dormition" (Publicans Prayer Book, 463). Since 1999, it has been especially recommended to the whole of the Church in the Enchiridion of Indulgences. No. 23 sec. 1 of the Enchiridion states that:
A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who devoutly recite the Akathistos hymn or the Office of the Paraclisis in a church or oratory, or in a family, a religious community, or an association of the faithful, and in general when several of the faithful gather for some honest purpose. In other circumstances, the indulgence will be partial.

Readers may notice that this is virtually the same language that the Enchiridion uses with regard to the Rosary in no. 17. To express how much this prayer is esteemed by the Church, we would need to recall that aside from the Rosary, Akathistos, and Paraclesis, the only other ways to gain a plenary indulgence on any day are 1) 30 minutes of reading (or listening to the reading of) Sacred Scripture; 2) 30 minutes adoring the Blessed Sacrament; and 3) Walking and praying the Stations of the Cross (or 15 minutes reading and meditating on the Passion, if one is legitimately prevented). This should remind us that this prayer is suitable for any time, but especially for the time in preparation for the Assumption.

The term used for the order of this service is a canon, which in the the Byzantine tradition consists essentially of nine "odes," these are in turn divided into thirds, with additional texts inserted after the third, sixth, and ninth odes (interestingly, in the "small" Paraclesis, the second ode is omitted). Before the prayer proper, there are a number of additional prayers, including the usual Trisagion prayers, a couple of psalms, and some litanies. In order to see the basic structure, we could turn to this version of the Small Paraclesis.

When using the prayer myself, I use the version found in the Publicans Prayer Book. Helpful rubrics are provided throughout. My only regret is that the text of the Gospel from Luke is not included in the prayer book itself. I hope that you will give this prayer a look, especially in preparation for the Solemnity of the Assumption. As the Vigil of the Assumption was traditionally a fast day in the Western Church, it seems a most appropriate day for this devotion.