Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Prayer of the Church of England

I was delighted to discover this new offering from the Liturgical Commision of the Church of England (the people who write the texts used in services.) It would make a very good Christmas present.
Church House Publishing 2012

The book's compilers have collected into one volume some of the most popular and enduring prayers of the Church of England, both old, traditional ones ( from The Book of Common Prayer and other sources) and the more recent prayers from Common Worship that have captured our imagination and are already loved by worshippers up and down the country. Many of these prayers express in a few words thoughts that are too deep for spontaneous utterance - you know the feeling 'I couldn't have put it into words myself, but that's exactly it!'  Many of the texts also make me think and challenge me - can I really mean that? I think this is the heuristic use of prayer - to pray something that is a bit more than you can manage but to feel that you would like to be drawn to that place of grace and understanding. This is prayer that stretches the imagination. A Roman catholic priest who taught me theology once said that the glory of the Anglican tradition is its Collects (short prayers which collect into a brief space complex and profound thoughts.) I predict that this will become one of the Anglican classics of the first part of the twenty first century providing, as it does, an insight into Church of England identity and spirituality. The prayers each have a short introduction to their historical context which helps the worshipper to dig deeper into their meaning.

 I'm sure we've all got our favourite prayers that chime with something very deep within us. One of mine is

Bring us, O Lord, at our last awkening 
Into the house and gate of heaven,
To enter into that gate and dwell in that house
where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light,
no noise nor silence, but one equal music,
no fears nor hopes but one equal possession,
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity
in the habitations of Thy glory and dominion,
world without end.
John Donne 1572-1631
I also love, for it's wonderful Kingdom theology, the post communion prayer which I think first came in with the Alternative Service Book 1980
Father of all, we give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off,
You met us in Your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, He declared Your love,
gave us grace and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ's body live His risen life,
we who drink His cup bring life to others,
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so we and all Your children shall be free
and the whole earth live to praise Your name,
thought Jesus Christ our Lord.
The culmination of the prayer sweeps the whole world up into the praise of God and this reminds me of Cranmer's placing of the Gloria at this point of the service, after the distribution of the bread and wine - it seems the right place to locate a peon of praise on behalf of all peoples.

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