What’s in the box? A glimpse into the hearts of strangers.

Visitors to the cathedral may drop prayer requests in a small box placed for that purpose near the candle stand at the front of the church. Each one is read and offered up along with the regular public prayers, led each week by a devoted team of lay people and clergy. Today, Rising Up! is honoured to present an account of this part of the Cathedral’s ministry written by longtime parish member and licensed Lay Reader, Vivian Lewin. 

Parishioners and visitors to the Cathedral can drop prayer requests in this small box placed for that purpose near the candle stand at the front of the church.

I open the clear plastic box and take out one little piece of paper, folded twice. Two words on it, “un boulot”, written by hand in blue ink.

What will I do with it?

This is one small part of daily prayer in the Cathedral.

Five mornings during the week, and five evenings, services of public prayer take place. They include readings from Holy Scripture, canticles and psalms recited antiphonally, intercessory prayers for the church, the world, the sick, the departed. The Anglican Daily Office today stands within an ancient tradition that reaches back to medieval monastic practice and much farther. Reciting the Psalms is an age-old Jewish devotion, too. Scripture shows us how Jesus was shaped by it.

When I first attended the Cathedral, I also worked downtown. Sometimes I came to Evening Prayer. In 1984, I was invited to lead one of the evenings. Now, I take the morning Office, generally two mornings a week.

Sometimes I’m alone in the chapel while I do this. While I read the lessons, recite the psalms and the canticle, and read the prayers, people might come and go. Indeed, people come and go all day long. Both regulars and tourists. Some sit in silence. Some light candles. Some write their petitions or thanksgivings on little pieces of paper to fold and place in the box beside the candle stand.

One of my privileges, when I am leading the Office, is to open this box, unfold these prayers, and offer them with the prayer of the whole Church to God. I can scarcely describe how it feels to come so close to the hearts of people I don’t even know. To hold their prayers in my hands.

Sometimes I cannot even read the writing. It might be illegible, or I might not know what alphabet I am looking at. The prayer might be a thank-you for blessings received. A general petition for peace and goodwill. Or simply one or more names. A medical prognosis. Situations at home, in school, at work. Prayers for friends and family members. “Un boulot.” A job.

There are times when it’s important to remind ourselves . . . and our friends . . . that as Richard Rohr writes, “God is not Santa Claus”. Heavenly grace is not a system of exchange, not in any human sense at least. Yet Jesus exhorted his followers to become like little children (Matt 18:3) and also told them (Matt 7:7) “Ask and you shall receive.”

What’s needed is trust. A rare thing. That’s what fills the box of anonymous prayers, day after day.


Vivian is a licensed Lay Reader as well as an accredited and licensed spiritual director in the Diocese of Montreal. She is a member of Episkopé (the pastoral and spiritual decision making group of the Cathedral). In the past she has served as a steward, deputy warden, and member of the Chancel Guild and other committees of the parish.

Vivian was raised in Pennsylvania by free-thinking parents with Presbyterian, Lutheran, Jewish, and Unitarian connections. Her first love, reading, led her to an honours degree at Oberlin College. She taught quilting at the Visual Arts Centre, worked as a writer and editor in the non-profit sector, and studied creative writing mid-career, earning her MFA at the University of Florida. Beginning in 2001 she trained as a spiritual director at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal. Vivian also volunteers with the Healing Pathway, a parish-based ministry in the United Church.


Christ Church Cathedral Sing-Along Messiah
Fans of The Messiah looking to get in on the action are invited to attend Christ Church Cathedral’s own annual Sing-along Messiah conducted by Patrick Wedd with soloists Catherine St-Arnaud, Florence Bourget, Joé Lampron-Dandonneau and Max Van Wyk.

When:    Saturday, December 9, at 4:30 p.m.
Where:   Christ Church Cathedral, 635 Ste-Catherine St. West, Montreal

Suggested minimum ‘participation donation’ of $10.
Please bring your own score if you have one.


Support the restoration of our beautiful cathedral
Of the funds raised by the campaign, $7,470,000 will go to repair the spire, restore the masonry and architectural elements, and upgrade the church interior. Please consider leaving a gift for future generations by clicking here and donating what you can. Big or small, every donation counts!


Have a Say
Do you have a personal story involving Montreal’s Christ Church Cathedral? Would you  like to share it with our readers? We would love to hear from you! Please contact us at Campaign.Communications@montrealcathedral.ca.

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