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Posts Tagged ‘Book of Common Prayer’

“Those who don’t read  have no advantage over those who can’t read.” — Mark Twain

For Anglican purposes, you could (less poignantly) restate Mark Twain’s quote by saying, “Those who don’t use their prayer books have no advantage over those who can’t.”  Myself and others could go on and on about the beauty of the language, the importance of communal worship and prayer, the strength of the Catholic & Patristic tradition, the wisdom of Benedictine/Monastic spirituality, the benefit of an aesetical approach to growth in holiness….

Yet, if people don’t understand their prayer books and how to use them, and further if they don’t actually use them, it is all for naught.  Dr. Derek Olsen has written something recently along similar lines.  Some of his more helpful thoughts include

So—in a nutshell, here’s how I’d go about doing it. First a big-picture, then attention to some of the actual parts.

  • Christianity has a variety of valid spiritualities—the BCP enshrines one of them: the liturgical system [and I’d add /sacramental] approach
  • The key logic operative here is the disciplined recollection of God with the intention that following these disciplines will lead to the habitual recollection of God.

The fundamental mechanisms for achieving this goal are threefold:

    • The kalendar which leads us to view time through a salvific lens
    • The Daily Office which is fundamentally catechetical in nature
    • The Eucharist which is fundamentally mystagogical in nature

I especially like his thoughts about the recollection of God.  It reminds me of Eastern Orthodox ideas about “mindfulness.”

So—here’s why this is important and the meat of how it relates to the issue at hand. The purpose of any spiritual system is to bring the practitioner and their community into a deeper relationship with God—to create a family of mature Christians. Through their increasing awareness of who God is, how much God loves them and all of creation, they translate that love they have been shown into concrete acts of love and mercy in the world around them. There are several different strategies that different spiritual systems use to accomplish this. One of the classic ones—referred to in St Paul’s direction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)—is the recollection of God. The idea here is that if we can continually keep in mind the goodness of God, the constant presence of God, and an awareness of the mighty works of God on behalf of us and others, that we will more naturally and more completely act in accordance with God’s will and ways. Continual recollection is nearly impossible, but there are methods to help us in this habit.

A primary goal of liturgical spirituality is to create a disciplined recollection of God. Thus, if we specifically pause at central points of time—morning and evening; noon and night; Sundays and other Holy Days—to reorient ourselves towards God and the mighty acts of God, whether recalled to us through the Scriptures or experienced by us through direct encounters with the sacraments, then this discipline will lead us towards a habitual recollection of God.

In the liturgical round, the Book of Common Prayer gives us specific moments to stop and orient our time and ourselves around the recollection of God. As a result, one of the most important parts of the book is the Daily Office section that provides forms for prayer at morning, noon, evening and night. These prayer offices are our fundamental tool for disciplined recollection; they provide the foundation for our spiritual practice. This foundation, then, is punctuated by the Eucharist on Holy Days (at the least). And, conceptually, this is how we should view Sundays—not the day of the week on which we go to church—but as a Holy Day which recurs on a weekly basis.

With all of that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for making the BCP part of your life and the life of your parish.

1. Create Prayer Book Studies similar to Bible studies.  Study the Church Kalendar.  Study the various liturgies.  Think about why various Scripture readings are chosen for certain occasions.  Try to discern what the Prayerbook teaches about ordination, baptism, creation, marriage, etc., etc.  Read commentaries on the prayer book(s).  And don’t forget to spend time in the “Historical Documents”, especially the 39 articles.  If done properly, study of the Prayer Book(s) can be a very rewarding, life-long process of not only learning but spiritual formation and growth.

2. Develop a lay “officers” program at your parish to encourage the public praying of the office daily.  If you can get 30 officer volunteers trained and licensed, then you can have the office said daily in your parish with only a once-a-month commitment from each volunteer.  If you can get 60 officers trained, then you can have morning and evening prayer daily in your parish without overburdening the clergy, without running your volunteers ragged, and all the while increasing lay involvement and public worship.  Ring the bell.  If you don’t have one, get one.

3. Make sure basic, but thorough Prayer Book education is part of the confirmation curriculum.  Shame on the parish whose confirmands have no idea how to navigate the office or the lectionary, or are lost if the whole service isn’t printed for them on Sunday.  Do more than tell them it was compiled by Cranmer, revised in 1979, that we now use the Revised Common Lectionary for xyz reasons, yada yada yada.  That information is important, but it isn’t vital.  Praying and worshiping is vital. Printing the Sunday liturgy is fine, but all Anglicans should learn to use the prayer book with their eyes closed.

4. Make sure the actual Book of Common Prayer is the foundation and de facto form of worship in your parish.  Books of alternative services, books of occasional services, and the like are fine, but they are exactly that: alternative and occasional.  They should never be the meat and potatoes of Anglican spiritual formation and worship.  If the liturgy you regularly use on Sunday (Eucharistic prayers, Prayers of the People, etc.) is not found in The Book of Common Prayer, don’t be surprised if the parishioners can’t articulate to their neighbors what it means to be an Anglican Christian, and don’t be surprised if they leave your parish when the next cool thing comes to town.  If you treat the church like a commodity on the religious marketplace, don’t be surprised if people respond in kind.

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The Bishop of London recently gave us some wonderful words on the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer.  A few of the brief remarks he gave were, to my mind, axiomatic for a good understanding of the Book of Common Prayer and its place in our little part of the Church:

 It was an audacious attempt to re-shape the culture of England by collapsing the distinction between private personal devotion and public liturgical worship in order to create a godly community in which all and not just the clergy had access to the “pure milk of the gospel”.

The BCP was an attempt to make a heavily Benedictine influenced spirituality of prayer and Eucharist available to all people.  I have heard it called “the monasticism of all believers,” but in the very least in was taking ascetical spiritual practices  from the monastery and putting them right in the bedrooms, kitchens, and parish churches of lay people.

But one of the functions of a liturgy is to preserve words and the possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street.

It much of contemporary western Christianity, we have forgotten the place of “liturgical language.”  We feel much more comfortable with t-shirts that proclaim, “Jesus is my homeboy,” than we do with fear and awe and reverence.  The Book of Common Prayer was and is a healthy corrective to this leisurely and  “Hey there buddy” approach to God which is so common these days, but would be difficult to find in the Holy Scriptures.

Cranmer distilled his liturgy from his studies of the Christian past and especially of the patristic period – the first five centuries; the springtime of the Church.

In the Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer, of 1549, he appeals to the authority of the “auncient fathers” as a guide in liturgical matters. Queen Elizabeth I, in her letter to the Roman Catholic Princes of Europe, amplified the point “that there was no new faith propagated in England, no new religion set up but that which was commanded by Our Saviour, practised by the Primitive Church and approved by the Fathers of the best antiquity”.

Some might say that what Cranmer did was not so much “write” the BCP, but to compile, edit, and translate it.  Cranmer was not trying to do anything new, per se.  He was trying to make sure that Biblical, Patristic Christianity was meaningfully and vitally practiced throughout England.

This next paragraph was so striking that I couldn’t help but include it here:

In a book published in 1662, Simon Patrick comments on the rites and ceremonies of divine worship and approves “that virtuous mediocrity which our church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome and the squalid sluttery of fanatic conventicles.” Of course we would be too polite to say such things now but the Prayer Book offers a simple and moderate system for a whole life from baptism to last rites and seeks in its rubrics and ceremonies to embrace the whole person and not merely the cerebellum.

+London concludes with one of the finest single paragraphs about the BCP that I have ever read:

The Book of Common Prayer which immerses us in the whole symphony of scripture; which takes us through the Psalms every month; which makes available in a digestible but noble way the treasury of ancient Christian devotion has a beauty which is ancient but also fresh. If our civilisation is to have a future the roots must be irrigated and the texts which we choose to pass on to our children have the power to create a community which does not merely dwell in the flatlands of getting and spending but which sees visions with prophets, pursues wisdom with Solomon and lives with the generosity of the God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Daily Offices Part I with Bishop Anthony Burton

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Dr. Derek Olsen, who runs the blog Haligweorc, has written a tremendously thoughtful and helpful article on The Book of Common Prayer over at the Episcopal Cafe:

If we want to renew and strengthen the Episcopal Church in light of these very real challenges that are facing us, then the one thing that we dare not mess with is our commitment to the contents and spirit of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer

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I’m not saying the book is perfect. There are certainly some things that I’d change if I had the chance. But recognize this: 1) it is an authentic expression of the historic Western liturgy that has nourished literally millions who have come before us. 2) It is an authentic expression of the English devotional experience. (The importance of this is not that it’s English, of course, but that it is a rooted, embodied, inherited tradition that has been embraced and passed on by a diverse group over a period of centuries—not just dreamed up by a few people last week.) 3) It is an authentic expression of historic Anglican liturgy that balances reform of Western norms with Scripture and the theological and spiritual practices of the Early Church. That’s actually quite a lot of things going for it—and it’s more things than would be going for most services either you or I would dream up.

Most people I know don’t go to church on Sunday morning to experience the rector’s latest exciting innovation; they go to church because they hope to experience God and to get a concrete sense of what it means to live out love of God and love of neighbor. Using the book doesn’t guarantee any of this, but it is a big step in the right direction…

…[T]he Book of Common Prayer isn’t just the book for Sunday services. Instead, the Book of Common Prayer offers a full integrated spiritual system that is intended as much for the laity as the clergy and which is founded in a lay spirituality that arose in the medieval period. If you look at the book as a whole, it offers a program for Christian growth built around liturgical spirituality. The best shorthand I have for this is the liturgical round. It’s made up of three components: the liturgical calendar where we reflect upon our central mysteries through the various lenses of the seasons of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and in his continuing witness in the lives of the saints, the Daily Office where we yearly immerse ourselves in the Scriptures and Psalms, and the Holy Eucharist where we gather on Holy Days to most perfectly embody the Body of Christ and receive the graces that the sacraments afford…

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For me, this is where the church lives or dies. Are we forming communities that embody the love of God and neighbor in concrete actions? Not just in what programs the institution is supporting, but are we feeding regular lives with a spirituality that not only sustains them but leads them into God’s work in a thousand different contexts in no way related to a church structure? Are our parishes witnessing to their members and to the wider community in their acts of corporate prayer for the whole even when the whole cannot be physically there? Therefore this is why, when we worry about the fate of the church, my answer will be a call for more liturgy. Not because I like to worship the worship, but because of the well-worn path to discipleship found in the disciplined recollection of God that the liturgy offers.

My firm belief is that if membership is a problem, our best move is to head for spiritual revitalization. People who are being spiritually fed, challenged, and affirmed by their church will be more likely to show it, to talk about it, and to invite their friends and neighbors to come and see it for themselves. This won’t—it can’t—fix all situations, but even if it doesn’t, spiritual revitalization is what the Church is called to be about…

 

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St. Benedict has influenced the practice of Christianity in Anglicanism as much as any one saint, thinker, or writer that I know of.  In honor of that tremendous contribution, I offer this St. Benedict roundup:

(c. 480 AD – 543 AD) was born at Nursia (Norcia) Italy to a wealthy Roman family, making him liberiori genere, ‘of good birth.’ Tradition gives him a twin sister, Scholastica.

Benedict’s Italy was an unstable province of a collapsing Roman Empire, and throughout the fifth century, waves of invaders weakened the peninsula. First Goth warriors marched along the Via Flaminia and into Rome, sacking it in 410. Others soon followed. Into this fragile, violent world, Benedict (or ‘Bennet’) was born among the Apennine valleys and mountains of central Italy. St. Benedict was married to a young woman, her name is not available, but she had dark brown hair and black eyes with white skin. St. Benedict was not supposed to be married but was any way in 522.

Benedict founded twelve monasteries, the best known of which was his first monastery at Monte Cassino in the mountains of southern Italy. The monastery at Monte Cassino was the first Benedictine monastery (most monasteries of the Middle Ages were of the Benedictine Order). Benedict wrote a set of rules governing his monks, the Rule of Saint Benedict, which was heavily influenced by the writings of John Cassian. The Benedictine Rule, one of the more influential documents in Western Civilization, was adopted by most monasteries founded throughout the Middle Ages. Because of this, Benedict is often called “the founder of western Christian monasticism.” Benedict was canonized a saint in 1220.

The Collect:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, we give thee thanks for the purity and strength with which thou didst endow thy servant Benedict; and we pray that by thy grace we may have a like power to hallow and conform our souls and bodies to the purpose of thy most holy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From Catholicity and Covenant, St. Benedict and the renewal of European Civilazation:

On the feast of St Benedict, +Rowan on Benedict of Nursia, patron of Europe, echoing the conclusion to MacIntyre’s After Virtue:

The Benedictine Rule did not set out to ‘save civilisation’; what it did was to define in itself the components of a certain kind of civilisation. You may recall Thomas Merton’s exclamation on his first visit to the abbey of Gethsemani, that he had discovered the only real city in America. The way in which the Benedictine contribution to Europe has sometimes been discussed is in terms of a kind of withdrawal into enclaves where the memory of civilisation was preserved, not always fully understood – a sort of archive of cultural treasures. But, while this is not completely wrong, it misses out the positive contribution of Benedictinism as a model of active Christian life in itself; Benedict’s monks were creators of community before they were librarians, and the vision of human possibility and dignity contained in Benedictine witness was at least as important as the conservation of classical letters – or rather, it gave to the heritage of classical letters a clear and practical application, animated by faith. If the Rule is to be one of the sources for the conservation and renewal of European civilisation in the centuries to come – granted that these centuries may be every bit as brutally anti-humanist as the so-called Dark Ages – it will be because of this sketch of political virtue, not because of any merely conservatory role.

From a previous post on this blog, Benedict’s influence on the BCP:

…like the Regula [The Rule of St. Benedict], the Book of Common Prayer is not a list of Church services but an ascetical system for Christian living in all of is minutiae…the Prayer Book [is] not a shiny volume to be borrowed from a church shelf on entering and carefully replaced on leaving.  It [is] a beloved and battered personal possession, a life-long companion and guide, to be carried from church to kitchen, to parlor, to bedside table; equally adaptable for liturgy, personal devotion, and family prayer: the symbol of a domestic spirituality — fully homely divinity

— Martin Thornton in The Anglican Tradition, 1984, pp 87

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An excerpt from an  interesting article over at Musing of a Hard-Line Moderate concerning the essence of Anglicanism:

It seems to me that the Anglican identity revolves around seven hallmarks. In roughly chronological order as I understand them to have developed, they are:

  1. Sacramental Theology – Whether one affirms all seven sacraments like Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox or only baptism and the Eucharist like many Protestant traditions, sacramental theology has always been a central feature of the Anglican identity. It’s also worth noting that for Anglicans the Eucharist is the climax of their worship services rather than the sermon. 
  2. The Bishopric – Restorationist groups like Anabaptists talk about practicing “biblical Christianity,” or this idea of leapfrogging the better part of church history in returning to the norms of the first century church. At that time there were apostles overseeing local churches. Within the epistles we see them correcting doctrinal error, settling disputes, conducting church discipline, and so forth. Minor problem: The apostles died. That makes it impossible to replicate New Testament polity. What is possible is an unbroken line of bishops, who succeeded the apostles. This practice dates back well into the first century. Anglicans are quick to point out that their bishops’ authority is stems from a direct link to Jesus and the apostles.
  3. Historic Orientation – Clearly the weight of and emphasis upon tradition varies among provinces, dioceses, parishes, and even individuals. Nevertheless, all Anglicans (at least in theory) lean heavily upon tradition–Patristic, Medieval, and Modern–in both doctrine and practice. There’s this innate impulse to look to the wisdom of the past to guide us in the present and maintain continuity in the future, which is most clearly evident in practices like the recitation of the creeds. The Anglican tradition has never sought to be a recreation of first century Christianity. It has sought to simultaneously and faithfully bear witness both to Christianity’s origins and its transmission through time, space, and culture.
  4. English Culture – There’s a never-ending debate about when the Church of England began. Many scholars argue it started in and around the reigns of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I when Catholic England ceased to exist. This would mean the tradition proper is less than 500 years old even if its roots go back much earlier. We’ll call this the Post-Catholic View. There’s another group who think that a distinctly English expression of Christianity has existed since 35 CE when Joseph of Arimathea is said to have brought the Gospel to Glastonbury. That’s possible–even probable according to some–but ultimately unprovable. If that’s true, however, Christianity in England might well predate that in the rest of Western Europe. Whatever its actual origins, Christianity on the British isles is unquestionably ancient and over time the geographical dynamic lent itself to the development of a uniquely English cultural ethos. Thus, there are those who argue that the Anglican tradition actually preceded the Roman Catholic Church, was sustained throughout the centuries, and merely made official in the Elizabethan Settlement the autonomy that had always existed. Call it the English Christianity View. As is usually the case in such historical discussions, the truth is probably more both/and than either/or. Anyway, what is certain is that a distinctly English brand of Christianity was exported throughout the world. Even in provinces like Israel, Uganda, Japan,  and Brazil, Anglican churches bear a strong, underlying English influence as their name suggests.
  5. Scripture’s Authority – One need look no further than the Great Schism or the innumerable divisions within Protestantism to see that the interpretation and application of the Bible is no simple or easy thing. For its part, Anglicanism has taken an interesting hybrid position regarding Scripture’s authority. On the one hand, I think just about every orthodox Anglican would acknowledge that the Bible is, at the very least, the Word of God and its teachings are, when properly interpreted and discerningly applied, the highest standard for matters of faith and practice. In this way, Anglicans have in a very real way elevated Scripture’s role above that in Catholicism and Orthodoxy. There’s distinct Reformation influence there. At the same time, Anglicans tend to concur with Rome and… whatever the Orthodox equivalent is… that Scripture cannot be rightly interpreted outside of apostolic tradition or the Church. It’s a perspective that makes groups like Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans quite uneasy. I suppose it’s enough to say that Anglicans believe they’ve embraced the best of the Protestant Reformation in regards to the Bible’s authority while distancing themselves from its excesses and abuses.
  6. Prayer Book – Obviously this includes Anglican liturgy… The Orthodox are known for their profession that doctrine and practice are inseparable–that each so informs and flows into the other that one cannot be rightly understood without the other. This is why they so disagree with the West’s abstract and almost mechanical doctrinal formulations. Clearly Anglicanism is more influenced by Western thought for historical and geographical reasons. Yet the Church of England seems to have bridged the east-west chasm a bit. Beginning with Thomas Cranmer’s first prayer book in late 1540s, cementing with the official 1662, and continuing through all the subsequent revisions, the Book of Common Prayer has served as the source of Anglican doctrine and practice. Granted, many today don’t use it during their worship services because they’re trying to make the tradition more accessible to those from non-Anglican backgrounds, but in my experience these people still look to the BCP as their basis for their services.
  7. Via Media – Given the above treatment there’s no need to detail this principle any further other than to say it was conceptually (further) developed by Richard Hooker.

I think this is an interesting start.  I’m curious that he didn’t mention the Creeds or Canterbury.  What do you think?  What would you have included?  What would you have left off?

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A great post by Haligweorc on doxology:

The Morning Offices of the Western Church are, to me, our clearest documents of purpose. Mat(t)ins begins thus: Open thou our lips, O Lord/And our mouth shall proclaim thy praise. Then the Venite itself issues a call to praise God as the One who holds all creation in being and the One who guides his people as a flock. The festal Te Deum offers us a doxological perspective of the created order, showing us our place as beings most fully alive when oriented with the rest of creation in its uncorrupt state towards and in praise of God. Finally the ultimate Lauds psalms (from which the Office earns its appellation) echo and expand the Te Deum.

There are two reasons that we praise. The first is because we are creatures offering the praise due our Creator. As made beings, we owe our existence to the One who made us and who should be praised for it. The second is thanks to our Baptism: in our Baptism we are consciously and intentionally joined to and made aware of our membership within the Body of Christ. We become conscious participants within the life of God. Within these our boundaries our praises take on a deeper and greater valence—we participate in the internal dialogue of the Trinity. Expressed most perfectly in the Eucharist, we as the divided members of the Body of Christ come together as part of the eschatological Body of Christ who offers his own self and praises to God the Father in and through the Holy Spirit.

Now—creation continues without our praise; the dialogue of the Trinity continues without us. However, we as individuals and as a community most clearly express our nature when we are oriented in praise towards God.

Paul calls us to “pray without ceasing.” To pray without ceasing is to be in constant awareness and embodiment of life in contact with God. It is to live the praise of God in all of our actions, proclaiming through daily virtues the victory of God in Christ and the triumph of love and light over darkness, hatred, and all the forces that seek to corrupt the works of God. It is for us to recall our right mind—for the Body of Christ to be directed by the Mind of Christ. (That there would be my own type B inclinations coming up to the surface…)

While this is our goal, we fall short of its embodiment. While Anglican spirituality as laid out by Martin Thornton in English Spirituality gives us the central tools to direct us in this way—formal periodic liturgies in combination with habitual prayer of recollection—as individuals in the world we will fail to reach our aspirations while on this side of the veil. Thanks be to God, however, that we are not alone in this task. I think not only of the Te Deum but of its paraphrase in the hymn “Holy God we praise thy name” where, in Walworth’s words, “And from morn to set of sun/Through the Church the song goes on.”

We are members of the Body of Christ. And one of the ways that this is expressed locally is that we are members of a liturgical community. In our corporate nature, the living organism in which we subsist can more completely embody prayer without ceasing than any of its constituent members apart from the whole. We are just starting up public daily Evening Prayer at our parish. Some days it’s just two of us. Other days it’s five or six (when M and I and the girls can be there; G insists on doing one of the Scripture readings; H’s task—since she’s still learning to read—is to start the Lord’s Prayer). As our priest said when announcing the effort at church, we’re doing corporately and publicly what the rest of us should be doing individually at home. When it may just be the two of us—or even one solitary person—standing in the choir of the cold sanctuary, we are indicating our community’s commitment to a corporate liturgical life and the hope and promise of a life turned towards God. It doesn’t mean that we’re succeeding, that we’re meeting Paul’s challenge of praying without ceasing. What it does means is that we are making a public proclamation that the effort is worth doing, that we recognize that a life of praise is one of the central aspects of the Christian life.

Read it all here.

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