An American evangelical scholar looks at the Book of Common Prayer and likes what he reads.
Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University and former professor of English at Wheaton College, has written a history of the Book of Common Prayer as part of Princeton University Press’s Lives of Great Religious Books series.
Thomas Cranmer wanted one book and one liturgical “use” for one country. He wanted English folk to be able to go into any church in England on any given day and experience the same worship service in the same words. For a long time this desire of Cranmer’s was indeed realized—and more, it was possible to go into what came to be known as “Anglican” churches all over the world and hear the same beautiful cadences, which was something I doubt Cranmer ever expected. He was making a prayer book for his country, and expected that Christian worship in other countries would develop in varying ways according to those places’ liturgical requirements.
And indeed this is what happened. Every Anglican province in the world eventually decided that it needed its own prayer book—and as time went by and the English language altered and took various forms in various places, Anglicans felt that they needed to update those books. I don’t think that any of this would have surprised or even disappointed Cranmer—but it is a little sad nonetheless, because there is for many of us satisfaction in saying the same words that our predecessors in the Christian faith said. Any nostalgia I feel for that old prayer book is closely related to the way many Catholics feel about the old Latin Mass, or many Christians throughout the English-speaking world feel about the King James Bible.
Cranmer himself would, I’m sure, understand this nostalgia. But he would probably urge us to get over it.
Read it all here.