Has anyone ever asked you “What’s Episcopal?” What exactly makes us Episcopalians anyways? Like other Christians we Baptize and have liturgy and the Sacraments and the Bible. So what’s the one thing that Episcopalians (a.k.a. Anglicans) have that no other Tradition has which makes us unique? Our Book of Common Prayer. The red book with the gold Cross in our pew racks. Our Book of Common Prayer may be a bigger deal than we realize. Have you ever heard the words, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here…” or “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse…” or “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Familiar words, no? They’re said at nearly every English-speaking Wedding and Funeral. Know where they come from? Our Book of Common Prayer. Our book has literally shaped the English language.
So where did it come from? Imagine going to Church on Sunday and the priest is upfront with his back to you. And he’s either praying under his breath so you can’t hear him or he turns around and says things like “Hoc est corpus meum!” Huh? Either you can’t hear him or when you do it’s in a language you don’t understand. Sunday worship was something worshippers couldn’t understand or participate in. Not the prayers. Not the hymns. Not the Bible. Many just prayed the Rosary while the priest did his thing until the Acolyte rang the bell so everyone knew to look up when the Host (bread) was raised. Imagine never. Hearing. The Bible. In. Your. Heart language. Never praying at Church in your heart language. That was worship in Western Europe before the Reformation.
The Book of Common Prayer first appeared in England in 1549. It was written by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer. Why? Cranmer wanted to help every citizen understand and participate fully in worship. And most importantly: hear the Bible in their heart language and go through the entire Bible every year. So he created The Book of Common Prayer. Every congregation followed the same order of worship, or liturgy, (hence “Common” Prayer) and every day in the morning and in the evening the priest would ring the Church bells so people in every village knew they could come hear the Bible read out loud in a language they understood. If they came to Church for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer every day for one year, they’d hear the entire Bible read in their heart language. Whether they could read or not didn’t matter. Whether they owned a Bible or not didn’t matter. Every. Single. Citizen. Could hear the entire Bible, morning and evening over one year. And they could fully participate in worship on Sundays.
So what’s in our current Book of Common Prayer? Here’s a quick overview…
- The Holy Eucharist
- Our Catechism (What We Believe)
- The Church Calendar
- Everything we do during Holy Week
- Baptism, Confirmation, Weddings and Funerals
- Our “Collects” (thematic prayers at the beginning or worship)
- Morning and Evening Prayer a.k.a. The Daily Office
The Book of Common Prayer changed history and has shaped it. It was created to help men and women worship God in their heart language. This book is our unique feature as Episcopalians. It is one of the greatest tools for making disciples in the history of the world. Come check it out at Adult Ed starting Dec. 4th at 9am to learn more about it how you can use it in your own walk with Jesus.