Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

“Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc-one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei-the holy common people of God.

“To those who know a little of Christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well-remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of entirely obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her own individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves-and sins and temptations and prayers-once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by men. Yet each of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repented and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the Eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew-just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill-spelled ill-carved rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor:-’Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much’. Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbours who saw all one’s life were sure one must have found Jerusalem! What did the Sunday Eucharist in her village church every week for a life-time mean to the blessed Chione-and to the millions like her then, and every year since? The sheer stupendous quantity of the love of God which this ever repeated action has drawn from the obscure Christian multitudes through the centuries is in itself an overwhelming thought. (All that going with one to the altar every morning!)

“It is because it became embedded deep down in the life of the Christian peoples, colouring all the via vitae of the ordinary man and woman, marking its personal turning-points, marriage, sickness, death and the rest, running through it year by year with the feasts and fasts and the rhythm of the Sundays, that the eucharistic action became inextricably woven into the public history of the Western world. The thought of it is inseparable from its great turning-points also. Pope Leo doing this in the morning before he went out to daunt Attila, on the day that saw the continuity of Europe saved; and another Leo doing this three and a half centuries later when he crowned Charlemagne Roman Emperor, on the day that saw that continuity fulfilled. Or again Alfred wandering defeated by the Danes staying his soul on this, while mediaeval England struggled to be born; and Charles I also, on that morning of his execution when mediaeval England came to its final end. Such things strike the mind with their suggestions of a certain timelessness about the eucharistic action and an independence of its setting, in keeping with the stability in an ever-changing world of the forms of the liturgy themselves. At Constantinople they ‘do this’ yet with the identical words and gestures that they used while the silver trumpets of the Basileus still called across the Bosphorus, in what seems to us now the strange fairy-tale land of the Byzantine empire. In this twentieth century Charles de Foucauld in his hermitage in the Sahara ‘did this’ with the same rite as Cuthbert twelve centuries before in his hermitage on Lindisfarne in the Northern seas. This very morning I did this with a set of texts which has not changed by more than a few syllables since Augustine used those very words at Canterbury on the third Sunday of Easter in the summer after he landed. Yet ‘this’ can still take hold of a man’s life and work with it.”

From The Shape of the Liturgy, Dom Gregory Dix, pp.744-745

I was having a lot of fun poking through the first American version of the Book of Common Prayer (the 1789 Prayer Book.) In some ways, it is VERY different than our present 1979 version. Morning prayer is the lynchpin of corporate worship where the Eucharist is now. It is in more or less "Rite I" language. The theology is more penitential rather than Resurrection-based. There is a LOT of verbiage devoted to sea travel, perils at sea, burial at sea. There is a lot of space devoted to "ministering to people in prison" and "people condemned to death." One gets the idea the average American in 1789 either knew someone at sea, someone in prison, someone condemned to death, or all of the above.

Then, on the other hand, as I leaf through it, I see bits and pieces, even though it is in Rite I language, of things we say all the time in 2010 at Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and in the Eucharist. For instance in the 1789 version of the Morning Prayer service:

Min: "O Lord, show thy mercy upon us."
Ans: "And grant us thy salvation."
Min: "O God, make clean our hearts within us."
Ans: "And take not thy Holy spirit from us."

BOOM--Sufferages A, page 97-98:

V. "Show us your mercy, O Lord,"
R. "And grant us your Salvation."

V. "Create in us clean hearts, O God,"
R. "And sustain us with your Holy Spirit."

Again and again I find bits and pieces of liturgies I partly or totally know by heart. It reminds me of looking at old family photographs from my late grandmother's collection. Not all of them are labeled. The names of some of these people are lost to the ages, but I look at their faces, and I can mostly tell which ones are relatives. You can tell we share the same DNA to a large extent.

Even the disciplinary rubrics are there. What is on page 409 of my Prayer Book, is, in essence, on p. 171 of the 1789 Prayer Book.

We call this "common" prayer as in "corporate," but it is not "common" at all when you consider the rich traditions we bring with us in today's worship. Then, the more you start to think about it, some of our traditions, date back to the earliest parts of the Early Church.

The other thing one realizes with the 1789 Prayer Book is that the Episcopal Church of the United States of America has been a thorn in the behind of the Church of England for more than 220 years. So much so, they would have let Anglicanism die in America had it not been for the persistence of Samuel Seabury and three Scottish bishops. the 1789 Prayer Book has prayers for the President of the United States, not the monarchy of England. So, in that sense, I don't feel so bad about our present strain within the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I get the sense we've been that way a long time.

Have fun pawing around in America's first Book of Common Prayer. It's quite fun!

4 comments:

So Maria, do you have a 'real' copy or do you go online? If I spend anymore time online, I may just go blind! (I started to say I would wither away, but there's no danger in that as long as the kitchen is close to the front bedroom!)

I have hard copies of the 1928 and 1892 ones but the rest I have are digital. It's just as well, I would tear such antiques up by zealous over-handling!

Do you have an electronic book? I swore I'd never get one, but I may have to change my mind if it holds prayerbooks, etc. :-)

I have an iPad and there is an app for 3.99 that is iBCP--the Book of Common Prayer in toto.

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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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