After the best (or worst!) part of nine days without a phone or internet connection, we have now rejoined civilization.
What a lot has been going on, and what a lot I would quite like to have blogged about. But maybe it was good to give us all a rest.
Ironically, in the light of the Pope’s ongoing visit to these shores, I was away from Friday night to Saturday at the annual conference of the Prayer Book Society. (Ironic, because although the religious establishment of this country has been enthusiastically warm towards the Pope, the Book of Common Prayer was of course written to embody and impart doctrines precisely opposed to those held then and now by Rome.)
Until yesterday, I was not a member of the Prayer Book Society, but I’ve now been signed up as an honorary member. It was very useful, however, being forced to think more carefully about the entire Prayer Book ‘project’ for the purposes of producing a coherent talk.
One of the things I realized as a consequence was how the most significant element of Morning and Evening Prayer is — oddly enough — not prayer. This is what we read in the Preface, ‘Concerning the Service of the Church’:
There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure 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, that the same was not ordained but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness. For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once every year; intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers in the congregation, should (by often reading, and meditation in God’s word) 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 (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true Religion.
The liturgy is indeed there ‘for a great advancement of godliness’. But how is this achieved? By ‘the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) being read over by the clergy and heard by the people every year — actually the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice and the Psalter every month.
The prayers surrounding the Bible readings are a ‘delivery system’, designed to put us in the right frame of mind (as the introduction to each service puts it),
... when we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.
Of course, the agenda is more than just Bible reading — otherwise we would just have the Bible read. But the reading of the Bible is the sine qua non of the daily offices, the necessary condition without which Morning and Evening Prayer would fail to achieve what they were designed to achieve.
And so, likewise, when we read in the Ordinal, that the priest is to
... continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing of the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your ministry ...
we realize that, taken in conjunction with the rest of the Prayer Book, the way he will do this is through the daily exercise of Morning and Evening Prayer, wherein he will indeed read through the Scriptures, in large chunks, sequentially, with little ommitted except, as I recall, parts of the book of Revelation.
Incidentally, isn’t there something significant in the fact that although the Declaration of Assent ties us to the Book of Common Prayer as a witness to the truth of the faith we inherit, the Church of England website didn’t contain the full text of the BCP until it was recently added — thanks to the Prayer Book Society?
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19 September 2010
19 September 2010