Christianity 201

June 18, 2014

Loricas: Genuine Prayers or Magical Chants?

Just when you think you know everything — no, I’m not being serious — you discover words and phrases that have been heretofore foreign to your Christian experience, and then face the task of deciding whether you are comfortable with incorporating them into your personal theology or Christian worldview.

This week I encountered a blogger who we have featured here before using the term lorica. A quick trip to Wikipedia offered this:

In the Christian monastic tradition, a lorica is a prayer recited for protection. The Latin word lorica originally meant “armor” or “breastplate.” Both meanings come together in the practice of placing verbal inscriptions on the shields or armorial trappings of knights, who might recite them before going into battle.

Notable loricas include Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride, which in its English translation provides the text for the hymn Be Thou My Vision, the Lorica of Laidcenn and the Lorica of Saint Patrick, which begins

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Okay. So far so good. After all the Bible offers many “prayers for protection” many of which are Psalms:

Ps. 17:1 Lord, hear a just cause;
pay attention to my cry;
listen to my prayer—
from lips free of deceit. (HCSB)

Ps. 64:1 Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity (KJV)

Ps. 140:1 Save me, Lord, from evildoers;
    keep me safe from violent people.
They are always plotting evil,
    always stirring up quarrels  (NIV)

Ps. 54:1 Come with great power, O God, and rescue me!
    Defend me with your might.
Listen to my prayer, O God.
    Pay attention to my plea.
For strangers are attacking me;
    violent people are trying to kill me.
    They care nothing for God. (NLT)

So these texts might fit the definition of a lorica.

However, what concerned me greatly was that the Wikipedia entry was disambiguated (in other words distinguished from other uses of the word) this way: “Lorica (incantation).”

That’s scary. defines an incantation as:

1. the chanting or uttering of words purporting to have magical power.
2. the formula employed; a spell or charm.
3. magical ceremonies.
4. magic; sorcery.
5. repetitious wordiness used to conceal a lack of content; obfuscation: Her prose too often resorts to incantation.

Even before I saw the last definition, I was reminded of this verse in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches:

Matthew 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

The problem here is that those who practice these repeated prayers believe the source of help lies in the repetition of the words themselves, not in a trust in the one to whom before the request is laid.

Many things might come to mind here, and perhaps the most obvious would be the Roman Catholic teaching that when praying the Rosary, or when carrying out penance for a confessed sin, one needs to repeat the “Our Father” several times and the “Hail Mary” many times. Over and over again.

On one of the Catholic cable channels, there are half-hour blocks consisting entirely of nuns and priests leading people in a constant repetition of the prayer to Mary. (That it is a prayer to Mary is a subject that will have to wait for another day.) Honestly, it’s neither great theology or great television.

But we do this as Evangelicals and Protestants as well; investing ourselves in the believe that our help is found in the prayer, when our help is found in God.  (I’m not talking here about the times when you are interceding in the middle of a serious or urgent situation; in those times, our focus is on little else, and so we feel we must apply ourselves to pleading with God.)

So what do we do with the idea of loricas? I think it’s a rather gray area. We don’t need believe in the prayer itself, or give special significance to special prayer forms, we simply need to bring our concerns before our Heavenly Father.

I John 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.  (NASB)









  1. I think the much-used phrase “Prayer changes things” is wrong. Prayer DOESN’T change things. GOD does! But God has chosen to work in answer to the prayers of His children.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — June 22, 2014 @ 4:13 am | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on spiritual maturity and commented:
    Sometimes we need a little help when we are terribly frightened, extremely I’ll, in shock over some event, in spiritual warfare or such things. Memorized prayers can be very helpful in such instances. I believe this is the intent of the “Lorca.” I do not believe that this type of prayer, historically, was ever intended as an incantation or magic formula. There are times when we cannot even utter a word or think. We need songs, hymns and spiritual songs put deep into our hearts that we can quickly offer up without thinking. Many “loricas” we’re hymns. “Be Thou My Vision”. Is one of my favorite hymns that I have memorized. It encourages us to focus on God alone. Many scriptures were put to music for this very purpose in the first century by the early church. It is good to see the entire historical context of a tradition.

    Comment by sidelites46 — July 2, 2014 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

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