May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Father, for the sake of thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen
When we use the Book of Common Prayer, which is the primary prayer book of the Church of England, we address God the Father and Jesus Christ as Thou and Thee – e.g., “Thou art the King of glory” & “we beseech thee O Lord.” Did you realize that there are distinct devotional advantages in using this archaic form of the second person singular in the language of prayer and worship today, even in the third millennium?
Let us consider one advantage of this usage. The use of “Thee/Thou/Thy/Thine” enables us to combine in worship the sense of intimacy and communion with God with the sense of reverence and awe before God. Thereby humility and joy, trust and penitence are united in the soul and we can worship in the beauty of holiness.
First of all, let us look at reverence and awe. For centuries – and right up to the 1960s -- the only way that God was addressed in prayer and hymns in Great Britain in all churches was as “Thee/Thou.” In the general population, people used only “you” and so “thee/thou” became by the 18th century a religious form of speech and thereby achieved a special religious sense. Therefore there became attached to this usage over the centuries a sense of God’s holiness and apartness, with the profound feelings of reverence and awe.
As we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done...”
Secondly, as a form of speech “Thee/Thou” is, as we all know, second person singular and traditionally is the pronoun used between intimates – members of a family for example. Now the Christian message is that God the Father has adopted us as His children in Jesus Christ. By the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts we are enabled to call him, Father. We pray “Our Father…” and as St Paul states, our hearts cry out, “Abba, Father” (= my Father). We are in the Family of God! Thus there is by divine grace and mercy an intimacy, communion and friendship between the baptized believing Christian and the God whom he calls Father. So the use of the second person singular, Thee/Thou, is a way through language to maintain and preserve this sense of intimacy.
As the Minister says in the administration of Holy Communion – “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”
Reverence and intimacy, friendship and awe, are created in our souls and in the congregation by the grace of God, but they are best communicated in the traditional idiom of language of worship, that found in the King James Bible, The Book of Common Prayer and the Hymns of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley.
Let us thank God for our heritage of prayer language and seek to worship Him in spirit and in truth, in penitence and in joy, in reverence and in friendship. Amen.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America