In the time of any common Plague or Sickness.
O ALMIGHTY God, the Lord of life and death, have pity on us miserable sinners, now visited with great sickness [and mortality]. Withdraw from us, we pray thee, this grievous affliction. Teach us so to understand and obey thy laws, that under thy good providence we may live in health and well-being all our days. Enlarge our charity to relieve the distressed, and above all, bless this visitation to the welfare of thy people and the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (1918 Canadian BCP)
In Time of Great Sickness and Mortality.
O MOST mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (1928 Episcopal Church BCP)
It is telling that these prayers have been deleted from subsequent Prayer Books and that our contemporary liturgies offer nothing of the sort. The blessings of modern medicine & technology have mitigated these threats that were so commonplace for our forebears (and which are still everyday realities for many people throughout the world today).
Our litanies are slimmed down and rarely said; the older seventeenth-century collects and thanksgivings for times of “plague” are long excised. We draw back from considering the ways God might be at work in these tragic and overwhelming events. To pray (as the 1662 BCP put it) that God might “have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality” (turning us to Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites in the desert, or David with his ill-advised census and its consequent “pestilence”), disturbs our assumptions about God’s benign supervision and our ability to control suffering. Whether we reject such considerations or not, a failure to engage them has left many Christians wandering in the darkness of the moment.