Thursday, February 23, 2006

prayer, common prayer, and the book thereof

Beloved, I have put together a little group of college students of my cure to learn about and discuss the Book of Common Prayer. We met for the first time tonight. Here is the little handout I wrote up for our first meeting to get us going. I wound up running my mouth for about 45 minutes about the history of Christianity in Britain, but overall I thought that it was not unsuccesful. I am learning to measure successes by a different standard in the ministry... Some of you may take issue with some of this. Some of the historical bits may be wanting.

On Prayer in General

Lancelot Andrewes (sometime Bishop of Chichester and of Winchester, b.1555 – d. 1626) on Prayer:

‘Of all the parts of God’s service, prayer justly challengeth the first place.’

‘Prayer is good as it keeps us from sin.’

What is prayer for? As Andrewes said, it is good because it “keeps us from sin.” And as I have said before, it is sometimes helpful to think of “sin” as those things which keep us from remembering God.

When sin is thus understood, prayer can be seen as a chief means of overcoming sin. In other words, prayer is a means of remembering God constantly.

If one were constantly and perfectly to remember God, one would be perfectly holy, or without sin. This is the state to which Christians are urged, both in the Tradition of the Church, as well as in the Bible. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5.17 that we should “Pray without ceasing.” (In the Vulgate: sine intermissione orate. Pray without an intermission.)

Because Christians have always lived busy lives, we have come up with helps to a constant remembrance of God. Our tradition has invented ways to “pray without ceasing.” In order for our work, and our study, and our relationships not to be a distraction from God, we need to find ways of making them holy. We need to find ways of making our work, our study, and our relationships themselves to be occasions of remembering God.

Common Prayer

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10.25-28)

The twofold love of God and neighbor is the core of the Christian alternative. There is a sense in Christianity of our being in it together – with God, and with one another. Thus it is appropriate that prayer, the project of constantly remembering God, should involved not just me and God, but me, the rest of the Church, and God. Thus prayer is properly always “common.”

Consider that at our church, we gather on Sundays to worship. But because we are using the same words for our prayer that are, in essence, being used by millions of Christians around the world, Sunday by Sunday, we are in a very real sense praying with them. Our prayer and theirs is the same.

And note that both the prophet Isaiah and John the Theologian (author of Revelation) have visions of heaven, where the saints of God and the Angels cry “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts; Heaven and earth are full of your glory.” The fact that we use these same words in our prayer is meant to show us that our praying activity is united to the praying activity of the saints who have died, and of the Angels in heaven. It is meant to show us that by praying, we share in their closeness to God (they are described “around the throne” of God).

The Book of Common Prayer

The very first Christians worshiped as Jews, since they were Jews, reinterpreting the typologies of the prayers and rituals of the Old Testament in light of Jesus. In this they likely followed the pattern of Jesus himself. Very early, though, the common prayers of Christians were codified and written down. This is evidenced in, for example, the Didache (“Teaching”), a work written probably around the year AD 70 (the Didache is reckoned as a part of the New Testament by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church). It contains prescriptions for how to say the prayers at the Eucharist, and how to Baptize people.

When Christianity was officially recognized by the Empire, the writing of prayer books and the elaboration of ritual rapidly expanded. With the development of monasteries in the 200’s and subsequently, it expanded further.

A Synopsis of the Evolution of the Book of Common Prayer:

Pope Gelasius I (AD 490’s) developed a “Sacramentary” or Prayer Book for the Church at Rome. It is called the “Gelasian” Rite. It became very popular in France was modified over the centuries, and de-Romanized. It evolved into what is known as the Gallican Rite. Pope Gregory the Great produced a definitive rite in around the year AD 500. This rite was sent by him to England with the Benedictine monk who would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury: Augustine. A few centuries later, the monk Alcuin of York (a teacher of Charlamagne) combined features of the Gelasian, Gallican, and Gregorian prayer schemes into a single scheme which then went back to Rome and became the basis for the scheme used by Roman Catholics until 1970. It was likewise this scheme that was in use in England, implemented peculiarly according to the customs of Salisbury Cathedral (the “Sarum Use” of the Roman Rite) in the 1540’s when Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer invented the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549.

“Thus the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer is directly continuous in substance with that liturgy brought to England by St. Augustine of Canterbury, in 596, which in turn is continuous with the liturgical traditions as developed by the Church in Rome from the days of the Apostles.”


MM said...

For the record, FR. WB's kids sat there spellbound through the whole thing, and then proceeded to flip through those books quite eagerly. I was there! It was pretty much amazing. Way to go, Fr.- way to be God's priest so much. You were awesome.

axegrinder said...

Fr. WB,

Thanks for posting this resource. Is it available for use by others?

On an entirely different note -
Your fiance had a pic on her blog of a group of your friends at your ordination. You all were outside near water. On the far right and seated is a guy that I think I went to college with for 1 year at the U of Richmond. He transfered to Calvin. I can only remember his first name (Mark) but I saw him about 3 times after he left UR. That has been over 10 years ago.

If I have correctly identified this man as a mutual friend, would you mind sending me his email address (or sending him mine if you are concerned about his privacy)?


axegrinder said...

Fr. WB,

After trying to remember Mark's last name for 2 weeks, it came to me right after I posted the above comment ... Davidson. Mark Davidson. Is that him?

axegrinder said...

Fr. Will,

Thanks for
1. Permission to use your work. Of course, if I use it you will receive full credit. I am starting a series called "How to be an Anglican" and will link this post.
2. Mark's email - small world, indeed.
3. The link - I just started an Anglican blogs link section and was planning on including Whitehall. You beat me to the punch.


Karen B. said...

Fr. Will,

Thanks for this, it's excellent. Ok with you if I post an excerpt (and a link to your blog for the full text) over at Lent & Beyond?

ALSO: would you like to participate in our Anglican Bloggers Lenten Collaboration? If so leave a comment on Lent & Beyond and I'll contact you.

father wb said...


Post away! Its always an honor.

I'd love to be a part of the L&B All Star crew. Thanks for asking. Will leave a comment there.