Skip to comments.Downloaded 'choice' is no substitute for classic prayers
Posted on 12/02/2005 8:17:24 AM PST by sionnsar
When the Prince of Wales married Camilla Parker Bowles last April he was said by one of the less charitable tabloid newspapers that blow about the shopping centres of our nation to have decided to "apologise for his adultery".
Bride and groom, in "an extraordinary act of public penitence", it was reported, were to be forced to declaim these words about their sinful shenanigans: "We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us."
In reality, it was no "extraordinary" act of public penitence at all, but the familiar words of the general confession from the Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer. Stirring stuff, certainly, but a prayer that once every schoolboy knew.
Something has gone wrong. Those words penned by Thomas Cranmer more than 400 years ago have grown unfamiliar. Worse, they have been replaced by "tired and trite" language designed to be accessible to modern worshippers. That is the complaint of Canon Glyn Webster in a preface to the new edition of The Church of England Year Book.
He ought to know, because he is Chancellor of York Minster and a bigwig in the General Synod. "We are in danger of losing so much," he says, referring to the beauties of the Prayer Book and the banalities of its replacements. "Perhaps we have lost it already."
We have, Canon. And the first people to notice we have lost it are, oddly enough, those who seldom go to church. Ordinary folk who crowd in to Midnight Mass for Christmas (having found something more pressing to do all the sabbaths of the preceding year) immediately discover that they cannot join in. They don't recognise the prayers. Even the Lord's Prayer has been meddled with. They can't find their place in the service book, or among the sheaves of printouts from the internet that now supplant it.
Instead of declaring that the burden of his sins is intolerable, the casual visitor is expected to ask God's pardon for things he has done "through ignorance, through weakness" because "we have wounded your love, and marred your image in us". True enough, but neither familiar nor so urgently clear as the old Prayer Book.
The Prayer Book is an institution, and it embodies the spirit of the Church of England. To destroy an institution is to scatter to the winds the values it should pass down to the next generation. There is a parallel in the destructive attacks on the monarchy, the House of Lords, Parliament itself. Knocking down is easy. To build up again almost impossible.
The Prayer Book is like a wonderful cathedral such as York Minster, or the historic church in many a parish throughout the land. The medieval village church is not there to be demolished in favour of a staring electric-lit, carpeted prayer hall with coffee facilities and lavatories. It belongs to no small committee.
Happy-clappy Christians will counter that services using the 1662 Prayer Book are nearly empty, while the crowded, enthusiastic gatherings are those that use the new, pick-and-mix, internet-download Common Worship - or, better, a "liturgy" devised for the congregation. They like meeting in comfy, carpeted surroundings too.
That attitude sounds bright and welcoming, yet under the surface it is cliquish and defeatist. Deep down it strikes at the essence of Christianity.
Christianity is a gift from its founder. It was not devised by a group of well-meaning human beings as a programme of appealing, popular ploys. In private prayer, where, on the advice of Jesus, you go into your room and shut the door, you speak in your own words, one-to-one with your Father. In public worship, it is quite otherwise.
Public worship is the inheritance of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. No one with a conscience dare disregard the command of Jesus: "Do this in memory of me." So, for the service of Holy Communion, or the sacrament of Baptism, for example, it is impossibly wrong to try a DIY approach.
Not even Archbishop Cranmer started from scratch. Phrase by phrase, his Collects followed ancient prayers from the old Latin Missal. Sometimes he used prayers evolved in the Eastern Church. He even took in material used in Spain under Islamic rule - Cranmer's copy of Cardinal Ximenes's edition of the Mozarabic rite, printed in 1500, is, I think, still in Lambeth Palace Library, though I haven't seen it.
We need not quite buy Canon Webster's argument that "English was flourishing" when Cranmer was writing, while today all we have is Estuary English. Try reading most books written in the mid-16th century and you'll find them almost incomprehensible - crabbed, irregular and turgid. Shakespeare, a bit later, was the exception.
The greatest blessing for the language of worship is to be left alone. Strange phrases become familiar and beloved; the least obvious grows transparent through use. "Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings," might be misunderstood by a child. Once the meaning is learnt, the archaism is no obstacle. Archaism goes towards dignity, gravity and beauty. They realised that 400 years ago, and elevated their speech in formal prayers, never thinking the newest street slang would improve it.
To the common inheritance of the body of Christendom, held in trust, there is a public right of access. Irregular churchgoers least of all should be offered the latest fad of the local "liturgy" committee. True democracy includes the votes of generations who went before and decided to leave a heritage not for squandering. That argument is a conservative one. But this is a conservative newspaper.
The burial of the Book of Common Prayer is a scandal, literally a trahison des clercs. The clerics have betrayed the unlettered; the shepherds have driven the sheep on to dry pastures. Canon Webster is right to remark that "what seemed fresh and modern in the 1970s can seem tired and rather trite today", but it was the Synod, in which he plays a leading role, that mashed up the tired and trite hotchpotch now on the menu.
As Canon Webster's predecessor at York, Dr Edward Norman, pointed out in his brilliant book Secularisation, attempts to tailor church worship to people's ordinary expectations - entertainment, emotional self-fulfilment, choice - end up turning them away from the demands of God-centred religion. "What they are seeking," he concludes starkly, "is not Christianity."
So what's it mean?
Oh, please. Of all the things to get bent out of shape over, the words in the prayers should be way down the list. Even the words of the Bible itself are subject to different English translations of the original Greek. Jesus didn't specify which exact words REALLY mean "I repent" and which don't.
To come before; precede. A little Latin helps.
I had not been really that aware of the change until I compared the prescribed services for consecrating a bishop in the 1928 and 1979 BCPs. V. Gene Robinson simply could not have been "properly" consecrated in the 1928 service, but he could in the 1979.
But as the article makes clear, the language is important. Believe me, you cannot recite the General Confession without at the very least being drawn along. Even from memory, or maybe especially from memory.
Compare 1928 BCP (archaic):
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.with CofE (modern):
Father eternal, giver of light and grace, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour, in what we have thought, in what we have said and done, through ignorance, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault. We have wounded your love, and marred your image in us. We are sorry and ashamed, and repent of all our sins. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past; and lead us out from darkness to walk as children of light. Amen."Through weakness, through ignorance"? Hm, that wasn't in the other. Now we're excusing ourselves as well -- "I couldn't help it; I did not know." But we've just modernized the words in the prayers, right?
Obviously post-enlightenment humanism has won out. Education and self-help will cure what ails us....NOT!
I have been able to put my heart and mind so much more towards God because of the 1928 BCP than I was ever able to through the RCC catechism. I actually UNDERSTOOD how I should approach God and how to worship him.
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Odd. There seems to be a word missing: "That we may ever hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life..." The sentence has doesn't have the cadence, it stutters, without it.
Note to self: check against a hardcopy.
Agreed, but I always assumed in. my case it was due to a post Vatican II liturgy combined with my own ignorance of Latin.
Unless you have come to know the true beauty and reverence of the liturgy, it would be difficult to understand.
"...I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault."
Yes, language is important.
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
"This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'"
Makes the ICEL look good. And I didn't think that was possible.
Wow, what a stunning contrast. Thanks for the post.
And that knowledge isn't necessarily automatic. I grew up with it and it wasn't until I returned after 15 years of the '79 that I truly discovered the beauty and reverence for the first time. (But then again, I was a bored teenager the last time I'd participated in the '28 service.) Though I'd always loved the Anglican chant.
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