Thursday, June 11, 2009

Happy Birthday, BCP!

Yes, today (or rather yesterday as I scribble this down after finishing with my Class Day grading well after midnight) is the 460th birthday of the very first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. Commissioned by King Henry VIII and compiled by Thomas Cranmer, the Book of Common Prayer has long been a staple of prayer not only for the 77 milion current members of the Worldwide Anglican Communion but also for the millions of Anglican believers in the nearly 500 years since it was first printed.

I first came across it in the downtown San Diego bookstore I worked. It was a lovely, clothbound volume illustrated with colorful illuminated manuscripts, and I bought it for the artwork rather than the content. For over ten years it sat on the top of my bookshelf with other nicely-bound books for mere decoration until a conversation popped in in my online community at the time about the BCP. Remembering that I owned one somewhere, I searched the house until I located the now-sunfaded cover and, for the first time, opened the book to actually read it. And within minutes, I was hooked.

Somehow the prayers within this book (it was a 1662 English version, complete with prayers for the reigning monarch and Parliament) entranced me. I was taken immediately by the Te Deum Laudamus, a daily prayer of praise, a prayer I still pray nearly every morning even ten years later. It never grows old, even though I have it memorized. Then I found other prayers, some straight Scripture like The Magnificat (Mary's song of praise in Luke), The Venite (verses from Psalm 95 and 96), and The Benedictus (Zechariah's song in Luke 1) and as others ancient prayers of the Church, like the prayer that closes Morning Prayer attributed to Saint John Chrysostom:

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.
But the prayer that I kept coming back to again and again besides the Te Deum was the General Confession in the Order for Morning Prayer:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
The majesty of the words, being prayed to the Majestic Lord, just felt so appropriate, so right, to me. I felt, for the first time in over twenty years of being a follower of Christ, that I was truly, truly worshipping Him "in Spirit and in truth." Not that the BCP is the only way to worship God -- but it was the way that felt the most like worship to me. I felt, and still feel, that the Lord deserves beautiful worship, and beautiful music and words are the means by which I can worship my Lord fully, heart, mind, and soul.

At Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity, we use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. A more recent vrsion is available, the 1977 BCP, but the language is much more beautiful in the 1928 and apparently the doctrines remain true as well. The 1928 includes the Psalter (all 150 Psalms, laid out to be read in a month, morning and evening), and the Collects, Epistle, and Gospel readings of Scripture for each Sunday of the Church Year. All of these Scriptures are in the 1540 Great Bible version commissioned by Henry VIII, predating the King James Version (or Authorized Version) of 1611, so the language is even more beautiful than the KJV, at least to me. And I use the Lectionary at the front of the BCP which lays out morning and evening Bible readings (Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel) for each day of the entire Church Year. Very helpful. If you are interested, there's an online version of the 1928 available here: 1928 BCP. Print versions can be found very inexpensively at which is where I got my first 1928.

So I wish the Book of Common Prayer a very Happy 460th Birthday, wishing also that many more Christians would come to enjoy it as I have.

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