The Perpetual Beauty and Holiness of the Book of Common Prayer.
“Sheesh. It’s the 2000’s. You’d think they would learn to print all of this on the bulletin so I can stop the juggling act!” That was me the first time I attended an Episcopal church. St. Peter’s By the Lake, I believe. I dropped the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and Hymnal no less than 3 times that day. I know many of you may have felt that way or still do, in fact, as we work our way through worship on any given day in our churches. Quite often, that is a comment I hear from people who I invite to worship with me at the Chapel. Even those of us who are seasoned in the art of the book swap may have secretly wished that our church would print it all in the daily bulletin so we could be done with the constant opening and closing of multiple books. But then what would become of our beloved books? The more I have thought on it, the more I realize that doing so would actually remove something so important from our worship. The BCP isn’t just a book to be consulted Sundays from pages 323-395 (Throwing some Rite 1 love your way!). It is a tool to be used daily in our walk with God. It is a go-to for the right words to say or pray when none can be found elsewhere. It is the functioning, living, and breathing application of the Gospel into a daily primer; a tool for the clergy and laity, alike. It moves us from being mere passive observers of church to active and engaged worshippers of God. As Episcopalians, we are often accused of not being bible-consulting Christians. When asked why someone would say that, the accusers generally point to the fact that the vast majority of Anglican parishes only have the BCP and Hymnal present in the pews. But attend any Episcopal service and you will have a chance to read the Bible no less than three times on any given official service! Studying the scriptures isn’t something you just do on a Sunday, four times a month. It is to be done daily in our own space and quiet time with the Lord. I have always said that the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible go hand in hand: you can use one to understand the other, and vice versa.
Now, dear reader, I must admit something to you. A compulsion of mine, if you will. I have a vast collection of Common Prayer Books. And by vast, I mean over twenty of these books. Not just the 1979 version. I’m talking some that go back to the original parent, the Church of England. I have many from the 1800’s that are beautiful; both in the language and the actual crafting of the binding. However, the crown jewels of my collection would have to be a rather rough but rebound 1639 BCP, the beautifully preserved 1711 BCP and a companion book of sermons printed in 1712 (no less on a Gutenberg style press). The interesting thing about the 1712 book is that it was a collection of sermons written about the beauty and holiness of the 1711 prayer book. Quite often, on the inside cover of these unique books, you will find written in Gaul ink the name of the owner or owners if the book was passed down many generations. Usually if one is inscribed, you may also find written after the name in that nearly lost art of penmanship the words: ‘His Book’ or ‘Her Book’. The owners of these prayer books looked on them with such affection and reverence, more so than other books that they might have had in their libraries or on their tables. The Book of Common Prayer served them in their daily life and formed an important part of their time spent in prayer to God. The next time you are around one, pick it up and devote some quiet time to thumb through it cover to cover. I can almost guarantee something will stick out to you that you hadn’t noticed before. And who knows, you may stumble upon the very words you need to form a prayer that has eluded you. We have not seen the last revision to this great part of our worship. It comes in many languages now and accessible online or from your mobile device. But let’s pray that even as we modernize as a church that we always keep the bound copies near and dear. They are, too, the gifts of God for us the people of God. Amen.