Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: BCP (page 1 of 1)

The Scriptural BCP

The Scriptural Book of Common Prayer is a wonderful resource that does its job a little too well. That job is to lead readers to the biblical sources that underlie almost every phrase in the prayer book. But some biblical sources are more important than others. 

The famous first line of the Collect for Purity is: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid….” At the Scriptural BCP page, if you click on that line, here’s what you get: 

Gen 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.

1 Sam 2:3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

1 Kings 8:39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, forgive, act, and render to all whose hearts you know–according to all their ways, for only you know what is in every human heart—

1 Chron 28:9 “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve him with single mind and willing heart; for the Lord searches every mind, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will abandon you forever.

Job 42.4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’

Ps 38:9 O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you.

Ps 44:21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.

Ps 139:1-4 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

Jer 17:10 I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Ezek 11:5 Then the spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the Lord: This is what you think, O house of Israel; I know the things that come into your mind.

Matt 12:25 He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.

John 2:24-25 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

1 Cor 3:20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

Heb 4:13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Rev 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.

Rev 3:8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Rev 3:15 “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot.

Acts 1:24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen.” 

Just having so many sources listed is daunting. And some of them, like the passage from Job, seem unrelated to the collect, while others (1 Samuel 2:3, and the passages from Revelation, which are about our works, not our heart) are only tangentially related at most. I think all this might be more useful — especially for people new to the prayer book, or new to the Bible — if the references were confined to the essential ones. 

Nevertheless: a wonderful resource, and a testament to how skillfully and sensitively Thomas Cranmer and the other authors of the prayer book wove the words of Scripture into their liturgies. 

a new old Prayer Book

Samuel L. Bray and Drew N. Keane have produced a volume that, I may say with confidence, I will be relying on for the rest of my life. It is The 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition. What they have done is something deceptively simple, with only a few elements:

  1. Take the 1662 Prayer Book;
  2. Replace the prayers for the British monarchy with more general prayers for political leaders;
  3. Replace a few terms that have become wholly archaic or have changed in meaning so much that they will not be understood;
  4. Add a brief glossary for the unusual terms that it would have been unwise to replace;
  5. Present the result in beautiful typography.

That’s it! The distinctive structure of the 1662 BCP — built around the rhythms of Morning and Evening Prayer, following the changing seasons of the church year, and centering always on Coverdale’s Psalter — remains, and it remains because it can’t be bettered. I don’t expect this book to be widely used for public worship in churches, though it certainly should be, but I can’t imagine a greater boon to those of us who would like to pray better in our homes day by day.

And if you’d like to learn more about the history of The Book of Common Prayer, well, there’s a book for that.

Morning Prayer

Each weekday at 7:30am, my parish church, St. Alban’s, is livestreaming Morning Prayer. It is a simple service but I have found it moving and meaningful. I’ve been reminded of the consolatory function of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (Matins and Evensong) for so many Christians for so many years of pain and trouble and fear. I’m going to post here a relevant passage from my biography of the Book of Common Prayer.  

So days were begun and ended in communal prayer. In institutions that featured chapel services — the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge most famously, but also public schools, preparatory schools, the Inns of Court — and where attendance was mandatory, this rhythm of worship was still more pronounced. Cranmer’s 1549 order, which would later undergo significant change, begins with the priest reciting the Lord’s Prayer “with a loud voice” — this in contrast to the old Roman practice, which likewise began Matins with the Lord’s Prayer but instructed the priest to say it silently. After centuries of liturgical prayers being muttered in low tones, and in a language unknown to the people, the new model demands audible English. After this prayer comes a beautiful exchange taken from Psalm 51: the priest says, “O Lord, open thou my lips,” and the people reply, “And my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.” Then “O God, make speed to save me” calls forth the answer, “O Lord, make haste to help me.” Such echoes and alternations are intrinsic to the structure of liturgical prayer: praise and petition, gratitude and need. The whole of the Matins service repeatedly enacts this oscillation.

After further prayers and readings from Scripture, the service comes to a close with a series of “collects” (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable): these brief but highly condensed prayers were a specialty of Cranmer’s. He did not invent them — Latin liturgies are full of them — but he gave them a distinctive English style that would be much imitated in the coming centuries. Here is the final collect of Matins:

O Lord our heavenly father, almighty and ever-living God, which hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day: defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always that is righteous in thy sight: through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen.

Here we see the rhetorical structure common to most collects: a salutation to God; an acknowledgment of some core truth, in this case that the people come to prayer only because God has “safely brought us to the beginning of this day”; a petition (“grant us this day we fall into no sin”); an aspiration, or hope and purpose for the prayer, often introduced by the word “that” (“that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance”); and a concluding appeal to Jesus Christ as the mediator and advocate for God’s people. Anglican liturgies are studded with these collects, many of them either composed fresh by Cranmer or adapted by him from Latin sources. They are among the most characteristic and recognizable features of prayer-book worship.

For the people of the sixteenth century, this thanksgiving for safe passage to a new day would not have been a merely pro forma acknowledgment. As A. Roger Ekirch has shown in his extraordinary history At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, the early modern period in England was marked by deep anxiety about the dangers of the nighttime world. With only limited forms of artificial lighting, people found the darkness continually befuddling: friend could not be distinguished from foe, nor animate objects from inanimate ones. The moon was thought to bring both madness and disease, and the night air was perceived as unhealthy, even poisonous. Ekirch quotes one woman whose thoughts were typical of the period: “At night, I pray Almighty God to keep me from ye power of evil spirits, and of evil men; from fearfull dreams and terrifying imaginations; from fire, and all sad accidents . . . so many mischiefs, I know of, doubtless more that I know not of.” Doubtless more that I know not of: the “Terrors of the Night,” as Thomas Nashe called them in a 1594 pamphlet, multiplied relentlessly in the mind.

This was the context in which people came to Matins thanking the God “which hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day,” and the context that determines the sober mood of Evensong. One can easily imagine the felt need to come together in church, before the fall of night, to beg God’s protection, and indeed Evensong, which begins with a shortened version of the exchange that opens Matins — “O God, make speed to save me”; “O Lord, make haste to help me” — concludes with a collect frankly admitting the fear of the dark, in a prayer so urgent that it even forgoes the customary decorous address to God and rushes straight to its petition: “Lighten our darkness we beseech thee, O Lord, & by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only son, our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Episcopalian exclusionism

Andrew McGowan:

It is worrisome that despite the soaring temperatures of Austin, the current Prayer Book conversations take place in an ecumenical winter. There are numerous important reasons why things have changed in our dialogues with other groups since the 1960s and ’70s, but a profound question remains largely untouched in this debate: How will our liturgy reveal and help create the unity of the Body of Christ, whose relationship with the Episcopal Church is, well, inexact and incomplete?

This shouldn’t mean we just borrow the insights of other traditions as ritual toys. One of the faintly tragic elements on display in the 1979 Prayer Book are the numerous borrowings from Orthodox liturgy, which reflect not just scholarly knowledge, but prayerful conversations with Russian and Greek scholars of the mid-20th century who were then genuine dialogue partners. It is hard to find such engagement with eastern Christianity in the Episcopal Church now, beyond the somewhat hollow testimony of facsimile icons in Church bookstores.

McGowan here identifies what I think is most worrisome about the current push for revision of the BCP: it is radically exclusionist. The Orthodox don’t matter, Catholics don’t matter, Anglicans outside of the U.S. don’t matter, non-revisionist Episcopalians don’t matter. Literally no one in the world matters except the revisionists themselves.