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A word of prayer

Posted by Smokey Stover on October 29, 2008 at 13:43

In Reply to: A word of prayer posted by ESC on October 28, 2008 at 20:23:

: : "A word of prayer".
: : When a religious gathering is opened or closed, it is often said to do so with not simply a prayer, but "a word of prayer" as in "Let us begin with a word of prayer". I am interested in the origin of this construction, since it makes no grammatical sense. My guess is that it began as a half apologetic assurance that there would not be too many words, i.e. as saying "a brief prayer", but I wonder if there is an origin that can be traced beyond that. I have searched this site for any previous discussion of this, and found none, also nothing elsewhere on the web, although the phrase itself appears frequently.

: My references have a lot of information about prayer customs. But I haven't found anything, so far, about the above phrase. Maybe this has some bearing: in Biblical terms, a word isn't just a single word. From Merriam-Webster, the Word is "the expressed or manifested mind and will of God."

I think your first guess is a correct one, namely, that a word of prayer seems less demanding than the more open-ended "Let us pray." Why is this insufficient justification for the phrase?

Doubtless you have heard "a word" used countless times in a similar context, such as, "May I have a word with you, my Lord?" Or, "Let's have a word of thanks to George for having done what we left to him to do." "Just a word of condolence would be a help." "He's acting better now because I had a word with him." In these instances, "a word" always means more than one word, sometimes a paragraph, perhaps a whole speech, thus making this an example of synecdoche.