Thursday, 17 May 2012

1662 anyone?

I am feeling very, very Anglican. I have sung my way through a full blown BCP Choral Evensong. We only manage one occasionally - it's not often a 350th Anniversary comes up (wonderful, but a lot of hard work).  

It made me think about language, liturgy and context. Do I cringe at, or poetically and theologically love the language of the Book of Common Prayer?

On first exposure, I thought it was hard going, then I looked at the bits we miss out....I'm wondering if it's time to reinstate them? Take the Holy Communion, and the danger of drinking and eating unworthily:

'lest, after the taking of that holy Sacrament, the devil enter into you, as he entered into Judas, and fill you full of all iniquities, and bring you to destruction both of body and soul' (Cambridge University Press Edition, p.247).

'For then we are guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ our Saviour; we eat and drink our own damnation...we kindle God's wrath against us; we provoke him to plague us with divers diseases, and sundry kinds of death (as before, p. 250). 

I'm kind of in awe of a society where Holy Communion was taken so seriously (but still very grateful I wasn't around when they burnt at the stake all those who held a different view from the prevailing one...)

I have a few issues with the idea that God speaks mainly through Elizabethan language - it was Cranmer's intention that God's Holy Word should be heard 'in a language the people understandeth', but if no one understandeth it 350 years later, what do we do? Its biggest fans are generally people who had a Prayer Book upbringing, or Oxbridge students with chapels and choirs and very high IQs. 

Same with the King James Bible - Michael Gove has this week enabled a free copy to be presented to every school in the country, and now headteachers are gong on the radio complaining no one can understand it. Fair point, or lowest common denominator argument....?

I couldn't understand half the hymns we sang in Junior School in the 70s, but that doesn't mean they didn't affect me - their words haunt and comfort me down the years:

''A man that looks on glass, 
On it may stay his eye; 
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass, 
And then the heaven espy.'' (George Herbert) - a favourite with 8 year olds back then.

So I guess I'm torn. There are bits that really stick in your mind after a while: 'We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us...' (as before, p. 251). 

But there's also a lot of grovelling. We 'most humbly beseech' Him an awful lot, never quite believing he actually LIKES us (?) When I do something wrong, is God so very angry with me? What about the prodigal son? I rather liked that story until I read the Prayer Book.

It must be that magic they say over you at Ordination, but I'm getting so Anglican I'm worried I'll cease to care what the 'common' person thinks of the 1662 Prayer Book and if it can speak to him  today.

So, how Prayer Booked-out are you?

Consider the following Anglican words and phrases and if they confuse you at all:

The Daily Office (yes, the commute is ghastly...)
The Second is like, namely this...(as mother to a teenage daughter, I had to stop myself giggling first time I said this and remind myself it didn't mean like, you know, like when people say 'like', like every second word...)
kindle God's wrath (I haven't got a Kindle...the word worked well for me as a lower case verb, till it became an upper case noun...bother)
Lover of Concorde (I never got a chance to fly, but my dad loved it)
The Comfortable Words (like a DFS sofa, you just lie back and sink in)

Common Prayer (public school educated, I feel this common stuff is a bit beneath me)

Ah, it we are undone...


  1. As an American Presbyterian with an advanced degree in Medieval and Renaissance English Lit, I have nothing to add, but I love the post.