Saturday, January 16, 2016

J. I.Packer: Rooted and Built Up in Christ (Col. 2: 6-7): The Prayer Book Path

J. I. Packer gave this address at St. Paul’s Church, Bloor Street, Toronto, on May 1, 1999 at a special event organized by the Toronto branch of the Prayer Book Society of Canada to celebrate of the 450th anniversary oftThe Book of Common Prayer. In this address Packer examines five principles Archbishop Thomas Cranmer implemented in the 1549 and 1552 Prayer Books.  

This address is mentioned in the Summary of Resource Materials in the Anglican Church in North America's Liturgy and Common Worship Task Force’s initial report: “What the Guiding Principles of Christian Worship Should Be,” also known as the ACNA’s “theological lens.” 

As it did in its initial report, the task force has given scant attention to these principles in the rites and services that it has produces to date. However, they are important principles and Packer’s examination of them deserves wider attention. 

Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the year 1547. Henry VIII has just been succeeded by the boy-king Edward VI, and at last all systems are “go” for the reformation of the Church of England. The first task has to be the production of a God-honouring, life-enhancing set of services in English that all congregations will use, and that will involve all the worshippers in a way that advances their personal discipleship to Jesus Christ. The project is ambitious and demanding, but Cranmer has resources for it. Over and above his access to like-minded colleagues, he is himself a learned man, familiar with the liturgical and theological legacy of all Christendom since it began; he knows the writings of the Fathers, the Medievals, and the Reformers; he is a brilliant producer of poignant prayers for public use, as he showed in his Litany of 1544; and he is a Bible-man to his fingertips, totally committed to the Reformation ideal of Bible truth irradiating every Christian’s head and heart and shining forth in every Christian’s attitudes and actions. On what principles, now, was he to proceed? The two versions of his Prayer Book, those of 1549 and 1552 respectively, show him implementing the following five. 

1. Services must be congregational. Cranmer’s goal was a book of Common (that is, communal) prayer. Before the Reformation the priest had said Mass in Latin, and the congregation, not understanding, spent the time saying private prayers, or else did nothing. Cranmer, however, drafted services in the vernacular, writing into them set parts for the congregation to say (prayers, psalms, responses), and he looked forward to the day when all worshippers would be able to read and would have a copy of each service open before them, so that they could follow with their eyes as well as their ears, and so be completely involved in what was going on. In his preface to the 1544 Litany he had written: “And such among the people as have books and can read may read them quietly and softly to themselves; and such as cannot read, let them quietly and attentively give audience in time of the said prayers, having their minds erect to Almighty God, and devoutly praying in their hearts the same petitions which do enter in at their ears, so that with one sound of the heart and one accord God may be glorified in his church.” “One sound of the heart” – that was Cranmer’s ideal of congregational worship, and surely there can be no argument that in this he was right. Read More

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