Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Common Prayer, or Predictable Politics
As Western society continues its relentless purge of the pre-political, the body count keeps mounting. Yesterday's harmless activity—say, boys-only scouting—is tomorrow’s act of cisgendered heteronormative patriarchal oppression of the Other. Like some dreaded mutating bacillus, the political slowly but surely absorbs—and spoils—everything.
I was reminded of this recently when I was given as a gift the Folio Society’s edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Like all Folio Society volumes, the Prayer Book is a thing of beauty. And though the Prayer Book was, at least historically for my Presbyterian tradition, an instrument of social control through its imposition by the Act of Uniformity in 1662 (and thus scarcely pre-political in practical application), its content reflects a form of Christianity that ultimately reflected not so much the politics of Reformation England as the basic elements of historic Christianity and of earthly existence. Those elements include the God of the catholic creeds, and human life bookended by birth and death and lived in world full of the joys and sorrows, drudgery and delights, of ordinary, universal human experiences—love, marriage, illness, bereavement. There are services and prayers in the Book of Common Prayer that address all of these hardy perennials, connecting them to the Trinitarian God revealed in Jesus Christ.
That, I suspect, is one reason why the basics of the Prayer Book stayed in place for so long, with revisions being for many generations of the minor sort. Consensus on the fundamentals remained steady, and the changes were accordingly cosmetic. By contrast, the last century has witnessed liturgical change after liturgical change wrought by the various Anglican and Episcopal groupings around the world. None of these changes, as far as I can tell, embodies anything like significant improvement in either prose style or theological content. Tracing the revisions would no doubt prove a fruitful, if depressing, topic for a Ph.D. thesis, as the revisions witness to an age of restlessness and shortsighted obsession with the latest fads. Read More
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 10:41 AM