Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Prayer and Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Concerning Monday 20th of September 2010 that was "Everybody Pray for [Christopher] Hitchens Day," an arbitrarily assigned, nondenominational day of reflection for the religious, irreligious and religiously indifferent, Tony Norman wrote "No need to say a prayer for Hitchens" (here).

Too ill to join the meeting of American Atheists in person Hitchens wrote an address. He refers in it to prayer eloquently but with rather unflattering words:

"Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations. "
Christopher Hitchens

What can we say to this?

One of the most beautiful songs ever written for human voice asks St Mary, Mother of God, blessed be she and the fruit of her womb Jesus, to pray for us sinners now and at the moment of our death.

Avē Marīa, grātiā plēna, Dominus tēcum. Benedicta tū in mulieribus, et benedictus frūctus ventris tuī, Iēsus.
Sāncta Marīa, Māter Deī, ōrā prō nōbīs peccātōribus, nunc et in hōrā mortis nostrae. Āmēn.

Justly celebrated Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote the hauntingly beautiful and unforgettable melody originally for Walter Scott's play The Lady of the Lake as Ellens dritter Gesang (D. 839). The song has since become world famous with the words of Ave Maria and is frequently performed by the greatest singers of our times such as, for example, Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007). This performance has been viewed almost four million times in youTube.

As if this melody would not be enough, our Lord has given the world another unforgettable version, created by the French composer Charles Gounod who created the melody over Johann Sebastian Bach's amazing C major Prelude (BWV 846) and fitted Ave Maria on it in 1859. Here it is performed by soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

Some prayer, I say...

BTW, J.S. Bach has composed quite a few prayers himself, too.

So Christopher Hitchens's rather bleak opinion about these wailings and incantations sets him pretty far in the dark and cold from these masterpieces of Western music, sincere prayer at the moment of death.

He has the beautiful name of one who carries Christ, Greek Χριστοφορος. But what does approaching Death squeeze from him? Hitchens has left us as part of his legacy a bitter and truly ugly statement mocking those who pray. It will be soon forgotten by most, the sad words of an unbeliever who mistakenly thinks he has figured out what religion is all about and then forcibly rejects the caricature he himself has created as a man of science and rational thinking.

What did approaching Death squeeze from too young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

A deep and sincere prayer.

Such a prayer that it will probably never be forgotten by the human race. It is magnificent beyond description, solemn, heart breaking and reaches towards the only God, the God of Israel, the God of Scriptures.

It ends with words of prayer to God. Those present at the funeral ask that eternal light would shine on him and that Lord would give him eternal piece, requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.
Lux æterna luceat eis, Domine,
cum sanctis tuis in æternum,
quia pius es.
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine;
et lux perpetua luceat eis ;
cum Sanctis tuis in æternum,
quia pius es.

Well, if you who read this are about to die and do not know how to pray use the prayer which Jesus Christ taught to His disciples. It says it all.

Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

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