Why Study…the Book of Common Prayer with Frances Knight

Posted By on October 14, 2019


[Music] Welcome to another of our series of ‘Why Study’,
being produced by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. And with me today I
have Dr Frances Knight, who’s an expert in modern church history, and she’s going to
look at one of the artefacts that Christians have produced as part of their life in the
modern period. And so I want to ask her the question: Why study the Book of Common Prayer? The Book of Common Prayer, well it’s absolutely
foundational for understanding Anglican identity, because it is the book that contains the services
that were used by Anglicans, from the sixteenth century, I suppose until the middle of the
twentieth century. And indeed the Book of Common Prayer is still used for some services
in some places today, and there are a few churches which still refuse to use anything
else but the Book of Common Prayer – but that would be unusual. But I think we can say that
for a three hundred year period, certainly from 1662 to about 1960, it was used, not
just in the Church of England, but actually throughout the whole of the Anglican world.
And because of that it became the thread, really the only thread, which actually held
the Anglican Communion together in terms of its identity. And of course as a spiritual
document it has profoundly influenced the way Anglicans think, the language which they
use to address God and their whole sense of how religion and how worship should be shaped.
So I think it’s a very important book for those reasons. Can you tell us about the word ‘common’ in
Common Prayer? Really that indicates that it’s the prayer
which is designed to be used by all people; it’s common in that sense; it’s common to
everybody – it’s not designed to be exclusive, it’s the common property of all. Oh right, so it’s not the idea that it’s for
prayer in common? Well I suppose that sense is also included
in it isn’t it? It’s the prayer for the community and of the community, in that sense yes. Okay, now I know that you’ve brought with
you a nearly two hundred year old copy of the Book of Common Prayer, would you like
to give us an example of studying it? Yes I have. I’ve brought this along – I’m
very fond of this book. This is an 1823 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, which I found
in my parent’s house about twenty years ago. I would love to know how it got there and
who it had belonged to. It would be tempting to imagine that my ancestors might have taken
it to church, but I suspect that they didn’t, because if it had been used it would open
very naturally at the services which were most commonly used, that’s Morning Prayer
and Evening Prayer, and I suspect also that if it had been used during the course of the
nineteenth century it would have fallen apart. So I suspect that one of my relations purchased
it because they thought it was just a nice object, and it had never really been used,
well I suspect it was never really used at all until I discovered it, and decided that
in the work that I was doing at the time, I was researching this particular book ‘The
Nineteenth Century Church and English Society’, which was the first book which I ever wrote. Oh right and I can see something interesting
on the cover. Yes you can see here, you can see the little
girls looking, reading from their own Book of Common Prayer. So this is the cover illustration
– here is Bow Brickhill church, which was in Buckinghamshire, in 1835, and you can see
the parish musicians, this chap with his clarinet and the two little girls. I suspect probably
they’re reading the psalms, from the back of that Book of Common Prayer. So as I say,
I used this volume in order to inform my thoughts when I was writing that, so that’s just a… Okay, so you’re actually looking at a liturgical
book, because a liturgical book gives you an insight into the way a community was thinking
and understanding the world at the time. Exactly, yes. Now of course people would imagine
that the Book of Common Prayer hasn’t changed at all, because there was a huge amount of
emphasis on the fact that only worship that was taken from the Book of Common Prayer should
be used by Anglicans, and that extemporary worship therefore was severely frowned upon.
But in fact it has, there are elements in this book from 1823 which you would not find
in a modern Book of Common Prayer. One particular item which might be worth talking about is
the Service of Thanksgiving for Deliverance from the Gunpowder Treason, which was the
service that was used on the fifth of November every year, up until 1859 when it was withdrawn. So this is actually showing us that what we
think of as just Bonfire Night was actually part of a liturgical celebration? Exactly and it also shows us, of course, how
the sense of relationship and thanksgiving, that Anglicans at that stage had, a very close
sense of linkage with the political status quo really is revealed in this. Which begins
in, of course… Oh do let us hear it. It’s not written by Cranmer of course, because
it’s after Cranmer’s death, but it’s written in the Cranmerian style which will be familiar
to people who are used to it, but then it really does change tone. ‘Almighty God, who hast in all ages shown
thy power and mercy in the miraculous and gracious deliverances of thy Church, and in
the protection of righteousness and religious Kings and States, professing thy holy and
eternal truths, from the wicked conspiracies and malicious practices of all the enemies
thereof; We yield thee our unfeigned thanks and praise for the wonderful and mighty deliverance
of our gracious Sovereign, King James the First, the Queen, the Prince, and all the
Royal Branches, with the Nobility, Clergy and Commons of England, then assembled in
Parliament, by Popish treachery appointed as sheep to the slaughter, in a most barbarous
and savage manner, beyond the example of former ages. From this unnatural conspiracy, not
our merit, but thy mercy; not our foresight, but thy providence, delivered us: And therefore
not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Holy Name be ascribed all honour and glory,
in all Churches and the Saints, from generation to generation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Etc. So it’s interesting to note how that is given
the status of absolutely foundational incident in English history, so that it actually merited
a liturgical celebration in its own right. But as I say, this was actually withdrawn
from the Prayer Book in… When did that leave the Prayer Book? In 1859, which of course is a time when attitudes
to Roman Catholics were beginning to change quite significantly, and it would no longer
have been seen as appropriate for this kind of thing to be used. Whether it was used at
all after 1859, I have no idea – I suspect it may have been in places. Alright. Of course there is this phenomenon
that liturgy always tends to be politically correct – and to be correct politically, and
I suspect that was correct politically for several hundred years then suddenly became
politically incorrect. So when you look at this book you’re actually seeing it as, in
a way, a commentary on the history of the time? I am and there are some other elements in
here, I mean that obviously was a particular service that was designed to be used, but
there are some other elements in here. One of the most interesting of which is the eleven
page insertion into the book called ‘The Companion to the Alter’, which was never part of the
Book of Common Prayer as it was intended to be, but was bound in for most of the eighteenth
century and into the early years of the nineteenth century. And this was designed to make people
who were anxious about receiving the Eucharist to be reassured, because of that text in Corinthians
that you’ll be familiar with, of eating and drinking to thy own damnation. Oh yes. And of course interestingly you’re
saying this is a concern of Anglicans, but of course Catholics in France, at exactly
the same time, are going through exactly the same questioning. Well that’s a very interesting reflection
yes. We’re coming to the end and we’ve got a couple
of… in thirty seconds: If you want to start studying the Book of Common Prayer, as a way
of seeing into the mind of a religious community, where do you start? Well I would actually reach for my radio and
I would tune to Radio Three, and bear in mind that Radio Three on Wednesdays and Sundays
still broadcasts Chorale Evensong, according to the Book of Common Prayer. Okay, so with that lovely plug for the BBC,
thanks Frances. Human beings produce artefacts, the artefacts may appear as dry as dust or
as dead as a book. The skill of the historian is to turn those artefacts into products of
a mind, and to use them to see into the depths of the mind. It’s been my pleasure to do that
with Frances Knight today, and I hope that you will find other artefacts and do likewise. [Music]

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 7 comments

  1. I go to Episcopalian church…what I'm trying to understand is there was the catholics and orthodox…then east and west split…but it's my understanding that the reason there are Anglicans is the Pope wouldn't grant Henry the fifth a divorce as he was in the habit of throwing his wives away……is that correct?

    Reply
  2. I've been a Catholic and a baptist,Seven day Adventists Methodists CHURCH of God , Christ but the Anglican Church which I attend now is my favorite and I started daily evenings Afternoon and night prayers daily I promise u get u a common prayer book now it will change ur life

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  3. Prayer with good results are actually presented in this extraordinary prayer manual “Kenοtοw Prayer” (Google it). At first chance I used it, it worked for me personally. It really is shown here how to have your prayers answered and just how to get the greater answer we needed to get. Its really evidently authored with exacting measures to consider. It’s can lead you to a life changing route bringing about a hope and good results. .

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  4. Prayer with amazing results are offered in this great prayer handbook “Kenοtοw Prayer” (Google it). The very first time I tried it, it worked well to me. It will do teach you that your good prayers are listened to and responded and just how to obtain the answers we are interested in. Its very evidently authored with exacting measures to take. It’s can lead you to a life enhancing path bringing about a hope and results. .

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