Ode to the Book of Common Prayer
One thing I really like about the 1979 BCP is that it is so flexible. We have options... Collects for nearly every situation or occasion, several different Eucharistic prayers, the ability to use alternative liturgies and prayers. It's got the Easter Vigil in all its glory as well as two forms of reconciliation. And of course, the beautiful Burial Rite.
When I was in seminary, there was a lot of talk about the prayer book. I went to seminary with folks from several different denominations; the Episcopalian/Anglicans were the second or third largest group, behind the Methodists and either Baptists or non-denominational folks, I think. Sometimes seminary chapel was an Episcopal service, and sometimes it was another type service. We did Episcopal Morning Prayer and Evensong, too. We had our Episcopal-specific classes (including one on the Prayer Book) but took the core classes (OT, NT, ethics, systematic theology, etc.) with everybody.
The talk about our prayer book went in two directions. First, many students from other denominations secretly (or not so secretly in some cases) loved our services and loved the BCP. Certain students were fixtures at Evensong; we called them our Anglo-Baptist (or whatever) friends. We Episcopal students were often asked to have lunch or coffee with a Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian classmate who wanted information about Evensong, about where to buy a BCP, about incense. The Methodist students (who were in the majority at our seminary) were always amazed at how quickly we could plan a service, because we just used the BCP whereas some of them were trying to reinvent the wheel. During my summer hospital chaplaincy, the BCP was in big demand by other (non Episcopal) chaplains - those beautiful prayers for the sick and dying seemed just right.
The other talk was tinged with disdain - these were just written prayers that people read, and where was the Holy Spirit in that?
That always bothered me. I love the BCP, and to me, praying prayers that have been being prayed by faithful people for centuries is part of why I love The Episcopal Church. Being part of that stream of tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of the church is something I particularly cherish. Those prayers were not only Spirit-inspired when they were written but have been Spirit-infused as people have prayed them over and over again. I have nothing against extemporaneous prayer, but to suggest that there is a qualitative difference between the types of prayers we pray is not only silly, it's untrue.
The other thing about the Prayer Book is that through it we come to understand that all of our worship is prayer. We may have certain times in our services for litanies or particular prayers, but Morning Prayer is all prayer, not just the time for intercessions. (This was another seminary topic - why did we only five five minutes for prayer during Morning Prayer, some people asked? And so we were given the opportunity to explain that all of it is prayer.....)
I have several prayer books now. The one I got when I was confirmed has a lot of writing in it, as I used it during my BCP class and pencilled in manual gestures to use in my liturgy classes. I have a small, very soft leather bound one that fits into my traveling communion kit. I have a combination Bible and BCP (great for Morning Prayer) as well as a combination BCP and 1982 Hymnal (great to use on Sunday mornings and Evensong). I do also have an English Prayer Book; I have friends who have some very old ones that were passed down through their families.
And I have a BCP loaded onto my iPad and iPod now - great for travel. Tradition meets technology. I guess you can say my iPad is a combination BCP/sermon collection, as I preach from the iPad now, too.
The more things change....
How about you? What's your favorite thing about your prayer book?