Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Making the Liturgy Accessible: the First Book of Common Prayer

In the cycle of the Church Year, we recall the first Book of Common Prayer which, 464 years ago, made the liturgy of the Church accessible to all those who spoke English.  Surprisingly there was little uniformity in the liturgy of the Church during the Middle Ages.  The one consistent thing was that it was in Latin, and the people did not participate in it; therefore, you may have heard expressions such as “hearing Mass.”  The leaders in the Church in England, particularly Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, believed that the worship of God should be something that everyone was able to partake in.  In fact the very word “liturgy” itself is from the Greek, “the people’s work.”  In the early Church, as we see in the New Testament, Christians gathered together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, in people’s homes and as you might expect, it was done in a language that everyone was familiar with, namely their own. 

Once the Church became a legal entity in 313 during the reign of the Emperor Constantine with the issuance of the Edict of Milan, the Church gradually shifted to the use of Latin, the official language of the Empire, and it went this way until the time of the Reformation.  Although perhaps a good idea at first, Latin became the language of the professional academician and not the common person.  People became more and more removed from the celebration of the Eucharist until eventually they did not participate at all.  This condition existed for the better part of the Middle Ages. 

Thomas Cranmer researched and reviewed nearly all of the liturgies in use around the world at the time and he did a wonderful work of synthesis.  One of the liturgies that he carefully reviewed was the Sarum rite used in the Diocese of Salisbury in England which was used in England from about 1100.  Archbishop Cranmer’s masterful use of the English language is simply some of the most beautiful English prose.

Let us pray:  Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


St. Augustine’s Community Garden is on the Garden Tour on the Island next weekend.

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday.

EFM begins in the fall.  Please contact Tammie Taylor to sign-up.

Please remember everyone on our Prayer List especially all of the victims of the recent tornadoes in North Texas and in Oklahoma.  We also remember the family of Mary Pearson, especially Bishop Doyle and his wife, Joann, and their children as they mourn the death of Joann’s mother.

Your servant in Christ,

Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550

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