This ‘godly and decent order’


If you sit down to ‘weigh the merits’ of whether ‘to lead a new life’ whilst watching an episode of the old television series ‘Till Death us do Part’ you would be drawing upon the Book of  Common Prayer. 


In 2012 we are celebrating three hundred and fifty years of the 1662 version, although that is based heavily on the editions of a century earlier.  Up until that point the English had worshipped in Latin.  It is hard to imagine how revolutionary it was to find that they now had a service in a tongue they understood.  These days a whole committee is needed to produce worship texts, but the Prayer Book was effectively the work of one man, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.   He called the book Common Prayer, because he wanted everyone to share in it.  Not everyone was initially grateful and in Devon andCornwallthe people revolted, but the cadences of the Prayer Book slowly entered into the consciousness of a nation.


It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that Cranmer believed that he was producing a masterpiece of prose.  He used the Prayer book to establish what he believed to be authentic scriptural Christianity without the accretions of later centuries.  It would be hard to find a book, which is more fully based on and around scripture.  Over a month all the psalms, the Jewish hymnbook, are read through, and there are two Bible readings at both morning and evening prayer.  ‘And below the surface it is the same’ writes one later commentator. ‘Take almost any set of responses, or any single prayer, and see the strong warp of the bible in it all.’


The Prayer Book, of course, showed a lot of continuity with what had gone before.  It uses the old Medieval marriage vows, which had always been in English, maintains customs such as the sign of the cross in baptism, wedding rings, and preserved several early non-biblical hymns such as the Te Deum and the beautiful hymn ‘Come Holy Ghost’ for the ordination of priests. 


 Finally the Prayer book has certainly made a massive contribution to English musical life and indeed instructs that an anthem shall be performed in ‘Quires and Places where they sing’.


On Sunday 30th September, at 6pm,St George’s, will be hosting a deanery service of evensong, sung by the choir of St Peter’s Bexhill, to mark this anniversary.  It will give us the chance to appreciate some of the music specially written for the Prayer Book, enjoy the cadences of the language and, perhaps, to rediscover how it can aid our own journey into personal holiness.   


Father Michael


Posted By: valerie

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