Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What’s the Purpose of a Prayer Book?

You may say in reply, “What a silly question! You use a prayer book to pray.” But what if the question is: What is the purpose of The Book of Common Prayer in one of its classic editions (e.g., 1662)? Here the answer, “You use The BCP to pray,” is correct, but is only a partial and incomplete answer.

So is the answer, “The purpose of The BCP is to provide the text of the services of worship that Anglicans use in church services”? Or is it the longer answer, “ The purpose of The BCP is to provide the text of the services for public worship, for family prayers and for individual, personal prayer”?

Let us accept these two related answers and seek to clarify them as far as we are able.

First of all, we need to explain the fact that The BCP is the standard text and form of public worship in a given Church or Province. So The BCP is the Prayer Book of this or that specific Church. There is no BCP that stands alone in and of itself, for each edition is that of a Church or Province. Of course, other texts and rites may be authorized, but these are supplementary and not primary.

In the second place, we need state—and rather forcefully in these days where variety and choice are so highly valued— that The BCP with its multiple services and provision of collects and prayers is not intended to be used as a kind of quarry to take out of, or a resource to choose from, in order to provide a kind of mix-and-match product for use in church or anywhere else. The integrity of The BCP lies in its own internal structure and arrangement. There is a logic and flow to each of its services and to the order of them which, if disturbed, reduces the value and efficacy of the text.

Thirdly, The BCP in its original and definitive purpose is intended to be a godly provision — always hand in hand with the Bible in English — for the whole of the Year and for the whole of life. That is, it provides Daily Services for Morning and Evening (with required Bible readings, canticles, psalms and prayers) for every day of the year; The Litany for use on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; The Order for Holy Communion for every Lord’s Day and Holy Day; Baptism for entrance into the Church and Kingdom of God; A Catechism to instruct youth; Confirmation for those baptized and instructed in the Faith; Holy Matrimony for those called to this honorable estate; Visitation and Communion Provisions for those who are sick, The Burial of the Dead for those who die as baptized Christians, and other things.

So the congregation has services for each and every day, and each and every Sunday and holy Day; and each person is provided the essentials beginning with baptism for his pilgrimage through life to the heavenly Jerusalem. All this together is intended to provide a godly discipline , leading to godly habits, for public worship, family life and personal discipleship. So all that is truly needed to walk in the way of holiness and to worship the Lord our God in the beauty of holiness is the guidance and structure of The BCP, which is always dependent upon the Bible, and which is read daily. Of course, these two essentials can be supplemented by additions such as a hymn or song book and appropriate music, but if any of these extras are treated as essentials, then the godly discipline is easily lost.

Unless I am mistaken, what is stated above is a message rarely passed on in today’s Anglicanism in the North or West. Nevertheless, though it is an ancient message, it is at the same time a message ever new to those who want to walk in the way of the Lord and within the Body of Christ, a fellowship where the saints of yesterday have a full vote today! & April 1.08


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