Prayers for the Plague from 1563

In 1563, during a particularly severe episode of the plague, Queen Elizabeth I issued a series of injunctions to manage the outbreak. Contained within them are several liturgies, an official homily, and instructions for nation-wide fasting. One of those liturgies is the following meditation, a set of prayers, designed for households.


The master kneeling with his family in some convenient place of his house, perfumed before with Frankincense, or some other wholesome thing, as Juniper, Rosemary, Rosewater and Vinegar, shall with fervent heart say, or cause to be said, this that followeth. The servants and family to every petition shall say: Amen.


We read in thy holy word (O Lord) what blessings thou hast of thy mercy promised to them that live obediently according to thy blessed will and commandments: we read also the curses that thy justice hath pronounced against such as despise thy word, or negligently pass not to live thereafter.

And, among the rest of thy heavy curses, thou threatenest by name the plague, and the pestilence, with other noisome and most painful diseases, to such as forsaking thee to worship strange gods, and follow their own vain fantasies, in stead of thy sacred ordinances.

We find also, how extremely thine own people the Jews, have oftentimes felt the performance of these thy bitter threatenings, and that for sundry and divers offenses.

Because they loathed Manna, and were not contented with thy miraculous provision, but would have quails, and other dainty victuals to content their luxurious appetites, thou slewest so many with a sudden and mighty plague that the place of their burial was named thereof, and called the Graves of Lust.

Also for murmuring against the ministers of thy word Moses and Aaron, thou destroyed with a sudden plague thirteen thousand and more, besides those traitors, whom the earth swallowed for their rebellion: and had not Aaron entreated for them, and gone between the quick and the dead, thou would have consumed them all, as thou was minded to have done before, when they despised the plentiful land which thou had promised them (had not Moses stayed thy wrath), when thou said: I will strike them with the pestilence, and utterly destroy them.

Further, when they had lost thine Ark through their own sins, and the sins of their Priests the keepers thereof, after that the Philistines were forced through thy plaguing hand religiously to send it home again, thou struck with the plague fifty thousand of the Bethsamites thy people, for rashly presuming to look into the same, not having thy warrant so to do.

In the time of king David, thou destroyed three score and ten thousand of thy people in three days, with thy wasting plague of pestilence: moved thereto by the transgression of David, whom for the sins of his people thou suffered to be tempted and subdued with a vain curiosity to number the people, Also shortly after the death of that immaculate lamb our Savior, thou suffered the plague to reign among the members of his body (the church of the Corinthians) for not worthily preparing themselves, and for misusing the Sacrament of the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, and many died therefore: as thy holy Apostle saint Paul hath taught us.

Since which time, O Lord, as the monuments of thy church and other chronicles do declare, thou hast from time to time so plagued with pestilence not only cities, but also whole countries for these and other like causes, that we may justly look for the coming of our Savior: so many and so horrible pestilences have been among us already.

All which causes, O Lord, for the which thou hast so afflicted thy people, are through the malice of Satan and our willful consenting unto him grown so ripe in us, that were it not for the exceeding greatness of thy mercy and compassion, we should all presently perish, and that worthily, so horrible and outrageous are our iniquities.

For we loathe not only the plentiful provision of wholesome victuals and apparel, which thou hast given us for our bodies more abundantly than to many nations, travailing by all means to get wherewith to pamper our flesh, with wines, spices, silks, and other vain costly delighting things; but the precious Manna of our souls, thy holy word and sacraments, we can not away with: we are so full that we are glutted therewith.

We so little esteem the heavenly kingdom, which our Savior hath so dearly prepared and kindly promised to us, that we abhor it, and are ready to stone those few that commend it, and exhort us for our own good to travel thitherward: better liking and crediting those false prophets, the Epicures and papists, that with their lies discourage us therefrom. 

What murmuring and grudging make we against the ministers of thy sword and word, which thou of thy especial goodness hast in mercy given us! How despise we our Bishops and Preachers, and other ministers of thy holy sacraments, whom thou hast commanded us to reverence and honor!

Did not we, through our wicked lives, wretchedly lose the Ark of thy holy word and the true ministration of thy sacraments not many years ago, which the popish Philistines took from us? And now, when thou through thy plagues laid upon them hast miraculously sent it us again; see how bold we be with the Bethsamites irreverently to receive it.

For many make of it a gazing-stock[1] to serve their eyes and tongues, rather than a law to obey and follow in their lives. Yea, the knowledge of thy truth, goodness, and mercy, breeds in many of us a careless security, and a contempt of thy holy ordinances. For we presume upon thy mercy and promises, not regarding the conditions, nor any of thy commandments, which in our baptism we vowed to observe. Yea, we make thy Gospel a cloak of our covetousness: under the color whereof we seek our own lucre, and hide all our wicked and filthy practices.

If the Corinthians deserved to be plagued for abusing thy Holy Sacrament, how much more are we worthy of fierce wrath, that not only abuse it, but also abhor and condemn it, because it is ministered as it ought! For thou knowest, O Lord, what a sort there are, who, bewitched with the Devil and the Pope’s doctrine, do utterly abhor Christ’s holy communion, and, saving for fear of the law, would never come at it: in what sort these receive, and how they be prepared, is not unknown unto thee. How rashly also, and unadvisedly, and unprepared, the common multitude do frequent it, partly appeareth in that many of them never forgive old offenses, nor reconcile themselves, nor in any thing do amend their old sins and vices.

Seeing then that we, Lord, the common sort and multitude, do thus abound in all kind of wickedness, how can it be, but that thou of thy justice must suffer our Magistrates to offend also in somewhat, to the end thou may justly take vengeance on our sins?

For these manifold heaps of sins and wickednesses, O Lord, thou hast justly at this present sent this dangerous pestilence among us, as thou hast often and long time threatened by the mouths of thy faithful preachers, who continually have called upon us to stay thy wrath by earnest repentance and amendment of life: But we have always been deafer and deafer; the delight in our sins not only stopped our ears, but also hardened our hearts, against their hearty and friendly admonitions And in that we now, O Lord, do begin to feel and acknowledge our sins, it cometh more of thy rigor in plaguing us, than of any good inclination of our selves. Mollify therefore, O Lord, our flinty hearts with the suppling moisture of thy Holy Spirit: Make us to reverence thee as children for love of thy mercies, and not to dread thee like slaves, for fear of punishment. Amen

O dear Father, reclaim us thy lost children; O merciful Savior, pity us thy putrefied members; O Holy Ghost, repair us, thy decayed Temples; O holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, have mercy upon us miserable sinners. Amen

Grant us, O Lord, such true repentance, as may be through the blood of our Savior blot out the stains of our heinous iniquities. Forgive us our sins, O Lord, forgive us our sins, for thine infinite mercy’s sake. Amen

Forgive us our blasphemies, idolatries, and perjuries, forget our vain and outrageous oaths. As thou hast by thy rigor and plagues forced us to acknowledge thee to be our just and righteous Lord, so let us through thy mercy and forgiveness feel thee to be our mild and loving Father, and give us grace for ever hereafter to reverence this thy glorious name. Amen

Take from us, O God, the care of worldly vanities, make us contented with necessaries: pluck away our hearts from delighting in honors, treasures, and pleasures of this life; and engender in us a desire to be with thee in thy eternal kingdom. Give us, O Lord, such taste and feeling of thy unspeakable joys in heaven, that we may always long therefore, saying with thine elect: Hasten thy kingdom, O Lord, take us to thee. Amen

Make us, O Lord, obedient to thy will revealed in thy holy word; make us diligent to walk in thy commandments; forgive us our contempt and ‘murmuring against the Magistrates and Ministers which thou hast in thy mercies appointed; make us obedient unto their godly laws and doctrine. Save and preserve, O Lord, thine anointed, our Queen Elizabeth, that she in thy grace and fear may long reign among us. Amen

Give peace to all Christian nations: move us by thy Spirit to love one another, as the members of one body, that we may all do thy will here in earth, as it is in heaven. Amen

Dig out of us, O Lord, the venomous roots of covetousness and concupiscence: or else so repress them with thy grace, that we may be contented with thy provision of necessaries, and not to labor as we do with all toil, sleight, guile, wrong, and oppression, to pamper ourselves with vain superfluities. Feed our souls, O Lord, daily with the true Manna of thy heavenly word, and with the grace of thy holy sacraments. Give us grace continually to read, hear, and meditate upon thy purposes, judgments, promises, and precepts, not to the end we may curiously argue thereof, or arrogantly presume thereupon, but to frame our lives according to thy will: that by keeping the covenants we may be sure of the promises; and so make our election and vocation certain through our constant faith, and virtuous and godly living. Amen

Conform us, O Lord, to the image of our Savior: so burn our hearts with the flames of love, that no envy, rancor, hatred, or malice, do remain in us, but that we may gladly forgive whatsoever wrong is or shall be either maliciously or ignorantly done or said against us. And here, Lord, in thy presence (thy Majesty is everywhere) we forgive whatsoever hath been by any man practiced against us, beseeching thee of thy goodness likewise to forgive it. And further, for thy mercies’ sake, and for our Savior Jesus Christ’s sake, we beseech thee, O dear Father, to forgive us those horrible and damnable sins, which we have committed against thy Majesty; for which thou hast now justly brought this pestilence and plague upon us: let the ceasing thereof, we beseech thee, certify us of thy mercy and remission. Amen

We know, O Lord, the weakness of ourselves, and how ready we are to fall from thee: suffer not therefore Satan to show his power and malice upon us, for we are not able to withstand his assaults. Arm us, O Lord, always with thy grace, and assist us with thy Holy Spirit, in all kinds of temptation. Amen

Deliver us, O dear Father, from all evils both bodily and ghostly: deliver, O Lord, from trouble of conscience all that are snarled in their sins: deliver, O Lord, from all fear of persecution and tyranny our brethren that are under the Cross for profession of thy word: Deliver, O merciful Father, those that for our sins and offenses are already tormented with the rage of pestilence: recover those, O Lord, that are already stricken, and save the rest (of this my household) from this grievous infection. Amen

Grant this, O dear Father, for our Savior Jesus Christ’s sake, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen

End with the Lord’s Prayer

A Prayer to God to Cease the Plague

O Lord God, which for our innumerable sins dost here fatherly correct us, to the end we should not feel the rigor of thy severe judgment in eternal condemnation: We humbly submit ourselves unto thy grace and pity, beseeching thee for our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, that although we have justly deserved this plague now laid upon us, yet it may please thee in the multitude of thy mercies to withdraw thy rod from us. Grant us, O Lord, true repentance of our sins, which (as it did in that good king Ezechias) may deliver us from the plague laid upon us, and cause those that be sick to recover. Or if thou have determined, to take a number of us out of the miseries of this present world, give, us the comfort of thy holy Spirit, that may make us glad and willing to come unto thee. Give us grace, O Lord, so to prepare ourselves, that we may be ready, with the wise Virgins, to enter into life with our Savior Christ, whensoever it shall please thee to call us. Grant us this, O dear Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only mediator and advocate. To whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen

[1] An object to be stared at with contempt.