Friday, May 25, Celebration of the Book of Common Prayer


Oremus. Exultate, iusti in domino rectos decet laudatio... NO!

I am Prayer. By archbishop’s hand and king’s decree, English now my tongue shall be:

Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous;
it is good for the just to sing praises...

I am Prayer. In 1549 Ano Domini, Thomas Cranmer first prayed me. Our Lord Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him.” I was composed for that cause. I have old Sarum’s Latin Rule, some Reformation theology and even Eastern Orthodoxy for my roots. Martyr Tyndale and Mr. Coverdale did provide the Great Bible from which my English came: “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallow-ed be thy name...”

I am Prayer. That Tudor king who broke with Rome had a son who sought a Prayer that would be in common for all his subjects. So Bishop Cranmer’s Prayer, not “common” by any means, became the Prayer I am, to be prayed in-common by those of the English tongue.

ALmighty God, whose kingdom is euerlastig, and power infinite, haue mercie upon the whole congregacion, and so rule the heart of thy chosen seruauunt Edward the sixt, our kyng and gouernour: that he (knowyng whose minister he is) maie about al thinges, seke thy honour and glory, & that we his subiectes (duely consydering whose auctoritie he hath) maye faithfully serue, honour, and humbly obeye him in thee, and for thee, according to thy blessed word and ordinaunce....
––In truth, a prayer for anyone who may govern, of whose authority one reigns, “knowing whose minister he is...”

I am Prayer. Poor Mary and her kin tried to destroy me and bring back Rome’s prayers again. But neither she nor Puritans grim could take away the Prayer that Cranmer began to Pray. The Virgin Queen’s “Settlement” did make me to be mostly what I remain (with some revisions, alas) for her Church of England and her present and former commonwealth to this day. I am spoken of in this fashion in “Concerning the Service of the Church.”

THERE was never any thing by wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted: As, among other things, it may plainly appear by the Common Prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service. The first original and ground whereof if a man would search out by the ancient Fathers, he shall find, ... they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over every year; intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers in the congregation, should... be stirred up to godliness themselves and be more able to exhort others by wholesome Doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the Truth; and further, that the people... might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.

I am Prayer. Kings and Queens have proclaimed that all should follow me. As with Solomon, they too are wise to pray:

Let these words of mine, with which I pleaded before the LORD, be that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. Therefore devote yourselves completely to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 8)

I am Prayer. At Shakespeare’s Stratford I am found in Elizabethan form I am on display; to note the bond of Prayer and Bard. No quote is found and yet Daniel Swift takes note of phrases here and there: “As modern readers, we may miss these echoes, but the crowds who gathered at the Globe to first hear these common phrases, as well known as any other words. The Book of Common Prayer is one of the hidden ingredients of Shakespere’s plays. It is a skeleton beneath the skin of the best-known works of our or my time.” (My emphasis)

I am Prayer. I have traveled far and wide. Just three decades from my creation I travel with Father Fletcher as Francis Drake roamed the world’s seas. So Mr. Fletcher prayed me in California first in 1579. He prayed for those in peril on the seas:

O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea; who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end: Be pleased to receive into thy Almighty and most gracious protection the persons of us thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy; that we may be safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH, and her Dominions, and a security for such as pass upon the seas upon their lawful occasions; that the inhabitants of Island may in peace and quietness serve thee our God; and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land, with the fruits of our labours, and with a thankful remembrance of thy mercies to praise and glorify thy holy Name; through jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I am Prayer. Under that same Majesty came I to the Eastern climes of that same American continent. Within century’s time even a German follower of Martin Luther sought me out as he sought to plant new churches in this land. Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenburg proclaimed my language could be a common bond for Christians from Germany and Scandinavia who brought Luther’s Reformation to these shores. He did borrow my Baptismal and Burial rites. First inquiring, “Wilt thou continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers?” And in time declaring thus: “We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” Many centuries before our Call To Common Mission, I might have been prayed by those who now share Word and Sacraments.

I am Prayer. Alas that reunion was not to be. A Revolution swept the land and I was forced to flee, as before in Cromwell’s time, carried by those who favored royalty. My public prayer was seldom heard until such time as persons loyal to my form made Mr. Samuel Seabury, bishop for this new land, and sent him to Scotland to restore me for the American form of democracy. So, the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer of 1789 sounds a bit like the Declaration of Independence:

But when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respectful churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future posterity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country.

I am Prayer. And in that revised Episcopal form I came of late to John, in 1968, a seminarian visiting an Episcopal church, my Morning Prayer he came to love:

O Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: O come, let us adore him.

And first hearing Chrysostom’s Collect prayed:

Almighty God, who hast given us the grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication unto thee, and hast promised through thy well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name thou wilt be in the midst of them: fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

I am Prayer. In this new land of the free they said I needed new words to be prayed and sung. And so in in the year of the nation’s Bicentennial, in General Convention they proposed and I became Rite One for those who favored me as I was, and Rite Two for those who preferred more the language of today. ––Including, at times, a note of compromise:

In any of the Proper Liturgies for Special days, and in other services contained in this Book celebrated in the context of a Rite One service, the contemporary idiom may be conformed to traditional language.

I am Prayer. ’Twas a decade later that then Pastor John rediscovered me, in ’76's provisional form, at St. Martin’s of Monroeville in that same commonwealth where Muhlenberg first prayed me. By agreements provisional I was prayed with Episcopalians and Lutherans at Pittsburgh’s cathedral. And then by way of change of call in Kalamazoo’s cubed cathedral hall. Alas, there soon that tentative bond sundered for a time because some of Luther’s band did not want anything to do with those called “Bishops.” Neither Alden Hathaway nor George Lee had seemed such awful folk, but the bond was lost and he moved back Lincoln’s Land in southern county Cook.

I am Prayer. “Called to Common Mission” restored the bond between Episcopalian and Lutheran; but not until the eleventh year of this new millennium did John pray me again in this august company. He with roots in old Augustinian Luther’s tribe was drawn by Friday’s invitation to the church of St. Augustine in his new home. And even more he prayed me and even came sometimes to lead that Friday company in and with me, the Prayer that Cranmer made in 1549. Then, grace of Bishop Jeffrey Lee, John who found me long ago is now licensed as priest to pray all the more; loving best my Communion Prayer:

Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in His name. After which the people say:

“Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.”

I am Prayer. I place my blessings on weddings even to tis very day. And so they prayed me at Windsor last week over Harry and Meghan:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, for you have created joy and gladness, pleasure and delight, love and fellowship. Pour out the abundance of your blessing upon HARRY and MEGHAN in their life together... ––and–-

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully grant you the riches of His grace, that you may please in both in body and soul, and, living together in faith and love, may receive the blessings of eternal life.

I am Prayer.
I am liturgy.

I am rites and Sacraments. I am Psalter.

I am Articles of faith. I am history––

The Book of Common Prayer I am called. “Common” I am not. For all in common I would be. Oh, they think again to study and to alter me, to more inclusive make, and yet I live on in use –And now today the Anglican Community word-wide remembers me and sets a day apart, commemorated “on the first convenient day following Pentecost” A day to recall my history and let one pastor/priest say thanks be to God for me.

Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your church: make us always thankful for this legacy, and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who abides with you and the Holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John Lang +
Retired ELCA pastor
Licensed priest, Diocese of Chicago
In thanksgiving to God for seventy-three years of life and in thanksgiving to the people of St. Augustine’s Episcopal church who make me welcome.