People of the Prayer Book

This week, our professor provided us with two questions, only one of which had to be answered.  Because of how things are assigned, one person does the “lead” post, and everyone else responds to what they’ve written.  The lead poster has 500 words to answer; the follow up responses are limited to 300 words.  I absolutely adored the first question this week, but the concept of answering it in 500 words was laughable.  The lead poster apparently agreed and answered the other one, but I wanted to get into the first question in a space where there’s room to respond.

The question(s) is:  Wasn’t it wonderful to read in Alexander how Cranmer gave us the ‘classic shape’ of the Prayer Book which has lasted for over 450 years? Doesn’t it make you proud to be an Anglican? Back in the day the Daily Offices, the Litany, the Eucharist, the Lectionary and the Psalter were all in regular use in Anglican Prayer Books all over the world. However, pull any ’79 Prayer Book out of a pew rack today and you will see a very slender section of soiled pages in the 300’s which, for the most part, are the only pages being used today (I’m not sure of the pagination in other Prayer Books, but I am confident that the phenomenon is the same). This, of course, is the side effect of the successes of the move to weekly Eucharist and the change to the Revised Common Lectionary. But can we really call ourselves Christians of the Prayer Book tradition when so little of the Prayer Book is actually in use? This difficulty raises two questions in my mind:
a.  Is there really a future for the Book of Common Prayer?
b.  Do the contents of the Book of Common Prayer need to be revised so that the Prayer Book we have is filled with material we actually use?
Please support your answers and if you reply ‘yes’ to question B, then please provide your proposed additions and deletions.

There are several assumptions in the question, particularly as made by someone in a large church, but without a parish of his own.  As a college professor at two colleges, Fr. Moroney makes himself available as a “supply” clergy – to help out smaller parishes without clergy, or to substitute for an absent or ill priest – celebrating the Eucharist Mass on Sundays.  In the instance of my church, our most common service is actually Morning Prayer, and we switch between Rite I and Rite II regularly.  Additionally, we have been trying out different services at different times of the week, to see if we can serve the community with a non-Sunday service, using the Compline, Evening Prayer, and even the Noonday Prayer rite.  When you are without a priest, you tend to use more of the Prayer Book, I think, but interestingly, not those sections of the Eucharist service, because that can only be done with a priest.

The other thing is that we tend to make things easier for the average parishioner anymore.  Our Sunday bulletin contains not only the Ordo (order of service), but also puts the responsive Psalm in, as well as the three Biblical lessons, and the version of the Prayers of the People (there are 6 forms) being used that day.  It essentially ensures that if the congregation follows from the beginning of the particular service being done, the only other things they will have to have are the bulletin and the hymnal, and they won’t have to be flipping pages around the book to get everything done in the service.  It’s a convenience, but it doesn’t mean that those sections are ignored.

Other portions of the Prayer Book are not meant for daily, or even weekly use – services for baptism, marriage, ordination, etc. – these are all important within the life of the church, and having them in a place easily accessed and referenced is wonderful, but those pages are not going to be referenced all the time.  The Prayer Book is not just a book for the organization of services, but of the Church year itself, as well as being a book from which we can teach about the particular methods we use in the practice of our faith.  As someone currently working on getting a new believer baptized, I am grateful for all the book contains.

As with every church, certain portions of the Bible are emphasized.  For instance, Pentecostals emphasize the Pentecost, speaking in the Spirit, and the Great Commission.  Then on another end of the spectrum, I know of a church that took a verse about serpents, and they have snakes that attend their services regularly.  I can’t talk – we have a dog in regular attendance at ours.  However, the Prayer Book itself is absolutely rich with Biblical passages, and the majority of our services come straight from the Bible.  It’s just organized in the fashion we choose to worship in.  So, while we still need a Bible for the lessons (generally printed in the bulletin, so you don’t have to have a Bible if you don’t want to), everything in the Prayer Book is based on Biblical passages.

Because we are a people who enjoy tradition, I think the Book of Common Prayer will continue to be in use and useful for a long time to come.  There are, of course, arguments over specific wording to be made, but I think the contents are quite good.  I wouldn’t want to see the Eucharist service separated out into its own little booklet, because I think people would miss the opportunity to discover the gems of the Prayer Book that are not often used, but can be used individually, or corporally, as needed or wanted.

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