A fine article by the Rev. Dr. R.D. Crouse.
The Book of Common Prayer is not conceived (as are its current alternatives) as a kind of resource-book for worship, from which one may choose elements according to one’s tastes or inclinations, or have them chosen for one by the clergy or by some “worship and spifituality” committee, more or less ad hoc. The Prayer Book is, rather, a spiritual system, biblical, traditional, and logical, which includes, but at the same time transcends and corrects the subjecfive inclinations of the worshipper or the spirituality committee. It is the common prayer of priest and congregation, and corporate in a way in which the selfconscious “gathering of the community” can never be.
Liturgical resource books will not do. The prayer of the Church becomes the common prayer of the people only when its variants are few enough that they can become thoroughly familiar and habitual, and thus can be genuinely prayed. William Beveridge, several centuries ago, put the matter cogently:
… If I hear another pray, and know not beforehand what he will say, I must first listen to what he will say next; then I am to consider whether what he saith be agreeable to sound doctrine, and whether it be proper and lawful for me to join with him in the petitions he puts up to Almighty God; and if I think it is so, then I am to do it. But before I can well do that, he is got to another thing; by which means it is very difficult, if not morally impossible, to join with him in everything so regularly as I ought to do. But by a set form of prayer all this trouble is prevented; for having the form continually in my mind, being thoroughly acquainted with it, fully approving of everything in it, and always knowing beforehand what will come next, I have nothing else to do, whilst the words are sounding in my ears, but to move my heart and affections suitably to them, to raise up my desires to those good things which are prayed for, to fix my mind wholly upon God, whilst I am praising of him, and so to employ, quicken, and lift up my soul in performing my devotions to Him.
Anglican spirituality is basically a liturgical piety, nurtured by the Book of Common Prayer. It is a rich and glorious tradition, and I, for one, am unwilling to see it undermined or discarded. No doubt much dedicated labour and much expense have gone into the production of our alternatives; and certainly much energy, as well as much heartbreak, have gone into the promotion of them. No doubt, as with the famous “Curate’s Egg”, “parts of it are excellent”; but, as far as I can see, the general effect, from the standpoint of spirituality, has been disastrous, and is likely to be more so. At best, as an alternative, our new rite can produce a kind of spiritual schizophrenia; at worst, it can produce profound and lasting destruction of the Anglican tradition.
Let me conclude with a quotation from Jeremy Taylor, a holy and learned 17th century bishop, who was deprived of his benefice and three times imprisoned during the Commonwealth period, when the Book of Common Prayer was suppressed.
This excellent book hath had the fate to be cut in pieces with a pen-knife and thrown into the fire, but it is not consumed. At first, it was Sown in tears, and now is watered with tears; yet never was any holy thing drowned or extinguished with tears… Indeed, the greatest danger that ever the Common Prayer Book had, was the indifferency and indevotion of them that used it as but a common blessing – . But when excellent things go away, and then look back upon us, as our blessed Saviour did upon St. Peter, we are more moved then by the nearer embraces of a full and actual possession. I pray God that it may be so in our case, and that we may be not too willing to be discouraged: at least that we may not cease to love and to desire what is not publicly permitted to our practice and profession.