Praying with the Church 9 – How the Anglicans Pray with the Church

These are reflections on Scot McKnight‘s book, Praying with the Church, that I wrote and shared with a small circles of friends in 2006. I’ve decided to publish them here only lightly edited. Since they are four years old, they don’t necessarily reflect exactly what I would say today, but they do accurately capture my reaction at the time.

Once again, at least one online example of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is here: http://vidicon.dandello.net/bocp/index.htm

The origin of the Book of Common Prayer dates back to the first Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. We have to remember that Bibles were rare and expensive through much of history. People gathered to hear it read because that was the only way they could. Cranmer’s goal was to so institutionalize the practice of reading Scripture that the entire Bible would be heard each year. Each day the church bells would ring (morning and evening) and the locals would gather at the service, where they would begin to learn the Bible. That is what lies at the heart of the BCP. Cranmer provided a book that provided daily written prayers and daily readings from Scripture. The BCP has been revised a number of times over the centuries, but that has remained its core. Like the Liturgy of the Hours, the BCP also, when used properly, will have its adherent recite the whole Psalter every month.

Scot also notes, amusingly, how bound up we get in our traditions. Y’all know what “Amen” means, right? It’s the transliteration of an Aramaic word that means, “I agree”. It was a word for public, not private, prayers. Originally, the person praying in public would not say “Amen”. (Surely a person agrees with their own words.) Instead, those listening would say Amen to verbalize their agreement with the prayer. Praying with the Church in written prayers, “Amen” or “I agree” is especially appropriate if used thoughtfully. We are challenged by the prayers of others and challenged to stand with the Church in our agreement with them. That can take courage and require that we set some of our own prejudices aside.

Another contribution in the West by the BCP is its focus on morning and evening prayers. The full Liturgy of the Hours is difficult, as we already explored, to fit into the life of the lay person. Condensing it to morning and evening made the BCP more accessible while still covering much that the Hours covered. It is not as rigorous, but it is still a good rhythm and one modeled on the most basic use of the Shema (though perhaps not intentionally).

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