Trinity VII 2019
The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.
The idea behind the Book of Common Prayer was a noble one for a country to be united under one faith, and to bring a life of worship to all those who could read for themselves. Prior to the Book of Common Prayer, only the wealthiest members of English society could afford to learn to read, learn to understand and read Latin (the language of the Western Church), and then have access to the books which compiled all of the various services in Christian practice. If he could do so (and I do mean he), then this wealthy person would then have to have the luxury of time to read, reflect, and pray on the material while performing all of the other things which kept him wealthy in the first place. While the invention of the printing press in the 1400s had made literacy more readily available to the common person, reading material would be limited for the commoner to the 15th & 16th century equivalent to a newspaper (one page, not the Sunday AJC). The worship services of the church were contained in a library’s worth of books: the Missal for the Mass, Breviary for the Liturgy of the Hours (which is a series of eight prayer services throughout the day), Ordinal for Ordinations, Lectionary for scripture readings, Pontifical for the rites only performed by bishops (like Confirmation), Ritual for those services which can be performed by priests (baptisms, marriages), Psalter for Psalms, and then piles of Martyrologies (which is biographical information on all saints, as well as the manner to celebrate their feasts and fasts). To add to the complication, prior to the 1500s there were dozens of different “rites” throughout the Christian world which changed the way that these rituals were performed (Roman Catholics primarily use the Ordinary form of the Roman Rite, Eastern Orthodox the Byzantine Rite). England alone had at least four different rites (Sarum, York, Durham, and Hereford), and each one had its own books to accompany them.
The creation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 took all of these books, rites, and rituals, and created one streamlined book which could be read and used by all of the English people (not just the priests and leisure class). The idea was to create a holy nation: every child would be baptized and every adult confirmed; every day all of the faithful would begin the day praying the same Morning Prayer and end it with the same Evening Prayer; and at the very least every Anglican would receive Holy Communion on Sunday. With new additions the old version would be put aside, and that way wherever the Church would spread the people would continue to pray together. This is what it means to be common. As Anglicanism spread to other countries, national churches made their own customized Prayer Books, but they all have the same structure, and largely the same readings called Propers: assuring that all Anglicans would worship together around the globe.
Week before last, we discussed those optional portions of the Mass called the “Minor Propers.” These bits of scripture carry the theme of the Mass throughout the entirety of the service, customizing the whole of the Holy Communion instead of only the first half. They disappeared after the 1549 BCP, being kept only by tradition and the occasional Missal service. “Major Propers” are those readings which all believers of Classical Anglicanism share in common for any particular daily service. There have been tweeks to these on occasion (the Scottish Prayer Book disposed of all references to the Apocrypha); but otherwise the Collects, Epistle, and Gospel readings remained in the same order as they were in the Sarum Rite since the 1200s. In other words: what we read for the seventh Sunday after Trinity (today) is what has been read by the English Church as far back as we have record.
A collect is a formulaic prayer. The word comes from a Latin word for “gathering,” meaning that all of the prayers of the faithful are gathered (or focused) for unified purpose. There are many collects which are unchanging from Mass to Mass (Collect for Purity, all of the Prayers for the Church are Collects), but the Proper Collects of the Day are directly associated with the message being conveyed in the scripture readings. A collect generally has five parts:
Address: indicating the person of Trinity addressed, usually God the Father, sometimes God the Son, and only on occasion the Holy Ghost (today, “LORD of all power and might...”);
Acknowledgement: description of a divine attribute that relates to the petition (“...who art the author and giver of all good things...”);
Petition: asking for one thing only (“...Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness…”);
Aspiration: The desired result (“...and of thy great mercy keep us in the same…”[i.e.: through these things, keep us in God’s mercy])
Pleading: Conclusion indicating the mediation of Jesus Christ or Holy Trinity (“...through Jesus Christ our Lord.”).
The minister will pray the collect for the whole congregation, and the congregation answers with its approval, “Amen” (Hebrew for “So be it”). These correspond to the daily readings. In addition to these, the priest usually will say collects of the season, of any saint whose feast is commemorated (thanking God for their prayers and the example of their lives), or for any cause at all as long as there are as many precommunion collects as postcommunion ones (there are rules in the Missal for how many, but these are mostly ignored [Simple Feast can have up to 9]).
Christians believe Christ’s directive that whatever we pray for, if we truly believe it and ask it in his name and it will be done. In other words: prayer works. The idea behind Common Prayer (prayer together for the same thing) is to multiply the effect of our prayer by everyone praying together for the same purpose. We are all praying together. Newer Prayer Books have eliminated this by introducing new and multiple forms of prayer, rewording ancient prayers, and fully replacing many of them. Our Continuing Anglican predecessors argued that by having different Rites in the same Church and Prayer Book, Anglicans no longer are worshipping in unity: some are praying for X, while others are praying for Y. That makes two Churches! Praying the same prayers together -worshipping in the same basic way- is what united Anglicans through the centuries. Through the years of tension -Catholic versus Reformed, High Church versus Low Church, Evangelical versus Traditionalist- we have remained united in prayer.