Saturday, October 20, 2012
This year is the the 350th anniversary of the 1662 final version of Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer. Writing in The New Yorker, James Wood, a nonbeliever, is the latest writer to try to explain why the BCP had such a powerful influence on Christian faith and English language and culture. He emphasizes its "language at once grand and simple, heightened and practical, archaic and timeless":
Here is the General Confession, the collective prayer that opens the service of Morning Prayer:
"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."
There is a Protestant severity to the avowal that “there is no health in us.” But penitence can be reached only by walking down a familiar path, lined with straightforward words: we are “lost sheep” because 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.” Likewise, Evening Prayer is a comforting service, not just because it closes the day and lights a candle at the threshold of evening but also because the Book of Common Prayer sends the congregation home with two consoling collects, intoned by the presiding priest, which glow like verbal candles amid the shadows.
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James Wood on the Book of Common Prayer
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