Liturgy as proclamation

Daily Reading for May 12 • The First Book of Common Prayer

The book of 1549 was a tremendous achievement and has earned for Thomas Cranmer, who as far as we know produced it almost single-handed, a place in the first rank of the liturgists of Christendom. In view of its excellence, it is astonishing that it was used in English churches for only three years. Yet when one considers what a moderate and irenic production it was, intended to reconcile opposing points of view so that all England could worship as a united body of Christians, it is not so surprising that it should finally have pleased no one—as so often happens with compromises. In any case it was withdrawn under pressure in 1552 and another book substituted for it. . . .

What we need to observe now is the fact that no liturgical production is perfect, nor will it satisfy the needs of the church forever. Not only did the book of 1549 not go as far in a Protestant direction as the ruling powers desired, but it also had other liabilities that later generations have discovered. Some of these it passed on to its successors.

In some cases its work of removing the accretions of generations did not go far enough. The service of baptism is a good example. In some cases, the book went too far and eliminated valuable liturgical material that has only gradually been recovered. The special services for Holy Week are an example. . . .

Even with these faults, the English Book of Common Prayer and its counterparts in many countries around the world have been an unusually effective means for proclaiming the Gospel. Gospel is good news, and news can be spread only by telling other people about it. It cannot be figured out like a puzzle or dredged out of our subconscious minds by meditation or analysis. . . .The effectiveness of the Book of Common Prayer in proclaiming what God has done for us in Christ is connected in the first place to its intelligibility. When the acts of God are told in a strange tongue, they can hardly be appropriated. . . .From one end of the Prayer Book to the other, in Daily Office, Eucharist, Pastoral Offices, and Ordinal, the English liturgy has vividly proclaimed the great deliverance God has brought to us through his people Israel, and most of all, though his Son, Jesus Christ.

From Liturgy for Living, revised edition, by Charles P. Price and Louis Weil. Copyright © 1979, 2000. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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