The Prayer Book and the Modern Age

The Prayer Book and the Modern Age

The Rev’d Kevin Holsapple

In March, 1995, the Rev’d Kevin Holsapple was asked to address the Eastern Newfoundland Branch of the Society. Here is his address, even more topical as we draw ever closer to the next century.

I won’t be quite strict with the topic. I might bend the topic a little. You see, I’m not sure we need to even be concerned about “The Prayer Book and the Modern Age”.

For decades we’ve suffered through dreary books and articles and lectures and conferences about “the Church and the 20th Century”. For all these years we’ve been working at this, trying to get the Church into the 20th century, pushing on these big old stone Churches, huffing and puffing, trying to make them move.

Now it’s 1995. I don’t know if we ever did get the Church into the 20th century. I don’t really think we did. But now the task has changed. Now all the conference speakers want us to try to get the Church into “the Third Millenium”!

Well– I’ve got other things to worry about. When that year comes, I say that we’ll be into the Third Millenium. We’re the Church: the Church will be in the Third Millenium.

We don’t have to worry about being modern. We are modern. We can’t stop being modern, like a fish can’t stop being wet. You are a modern person. So the questions you have are modern questions. The tastes you have are modern tastes. And the prayers you make are modern prayers!

If you find the Book of Common Prayer meaningful, then it’s a modern liturgy. It satisfies the needs of modern people: us. If there are people who don’t find the Book of Common Prayer satisfying, that’s not because they are more modern than you are. A lobster is not more wet than a turbot. They are both completely wet.

There has never been an age when everyone was satisfied with the Book of Common Prayer, not in any century. My own ancestor, the Rev’d Samuel Skelton, was a Puritan. In 1629, he sailed form England all the way to Salem, Massachusetts, just to get away from the dreaded “popish” Book of Common Prayer. There have always been lots of different opinions about what this Christian religion is all about. That’s not the modern age– that’s just life, life in every age.

I really think the Church needs to stop talking about this century or that century, this millenium or that millenium, and get talking about God. That’s why we go to Church anyway.

You know, the Church is not getting ready for the Twenty-First Century– the Church is not even getting ready for the Third Millenium. We’re getting ready for ETERNITY. It’s not a matter of getting the Church into the 21st Century– it’s a matter of letting a bit of eternity into the Church.

And that’s where the Prayer Book comes in.

There is a serenity and beauty in Prayer Book worship that lets a little bit of eternity into the Church. Eternity is not something we can experience first-hand. We can only catch little glimmers and glimpses of it. We can get those little glimmers and glimpses in worship, when it is serene and beautiful and true.

It’s a rush-rush world, you know (it always was). Modern people do a lot of rushing about. There is a deep need today for a sacred space, apart from the traffic (and there always was). And deep within that sacred space and sacred time, there is a deep need for a special, sacred kind of speaking– there is a deep need for a special language of prayer (and there always will be).

And that’s where the Prayer Book comes in.

I know the language of the Prayer Book is very formal, more formal than everyday conversation. That’s why we modern people like it. We didn’t come to Church for an everyday conversation– we can sit in Tim Horton’s (a Canadian Donut store) for that. Modern people need the Church to be something different from everyday, a place apart. We change our clothes and comb our hari to go to Church. We change our language, too, just a bit.

You know what modern people need? Modern people need to know the truth about God. More than anything else, more than serene and beautiful worship, more than a sesne of the sacred, more than a special language of prayer, modern people need to know the truth of God. We somehow need to acquire the mind of Christ.

And that’s where the Prayer Book comes in.

The Prayer Book gives us, in a coherent, catholic form, the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, the mind of Christ. It gives us exactly the thing we need the most.

The Book of Common Prayer, essentially, is just the Bible rearranged for prayer. In that service ( of Evening Prayer) we prayed tonight, and most specially in the daily offices, there is scarcely a word on your tongue that doesn’t come directly from the Word of God:

O Lord, open thou our lips….Psalm 51.

O God, make speed to save us….Psalm 70.

O Lord, make haste to help us….Psalm 40.

The Lord be with you….Ruth Chapter 4.

And with thy spirit….2 Timothy, Chapter 4.

Lord have mercy upon us….St. Luke, Chapter 18.

And on and on, throughout the service, we are praying the Scriptures, we are praying the Word of God. And as we do that, day by day, week by week, and year after year, we may– with the help of the Holy Spirit– acquire the mind of Christ.

Do you know how the holy men and women of the past used to read their Bibles? You know how the great English reformers and martyrs, like Thomas Cranmer and WIlliam Bradford used to read their Bibles? On their knees. They were great men of the Bible. They acquired the mind of Christ by studying the Bible, hour after hour, and they used to study the Bible on their knees.

We modern people haven’t been doing that. If we read the Bible at all, we likely sit in a chair to read it.

And that’s where the Prayer Book comes in.

Tonight you read the Bible on your knees. I think that’s the best way to understand it. I think God means it to be read in that way. The Bible was written to be read that way; to be prayed through.

I want this group to understand something. The Prayer Book is not in trouble.

We might be in danger, but the Prayer Book is not in any danger. If we drop the Prayer Book, someone else will pick it up. If we eliminate it altogether, somebody else will re-invent it somewhere sometime. It will reappear in some other form.

The Prayer Book is just the Bible, rearranged for prayer. The Prayer Book in one sense is just the way the Church reads the Scriptures. In every age there will always be people who want to pray the Scriptures; there will always be people who want to read the Bible on their knees.

It’s often said that the Prayer Book is “the product of the 16th century”. But that’s not true. St. Augustine is in the Prayer Book. He’s from the 4th century. St. Jerome has certainly left his mark on the Prayer Book– he’s in the 5th century. Gregory the Great is there, from the 6th century. St. Alcuin wrote the Collect for Purity in the 8th century. And of course the Epistles and the Gospels come from the 1st century. And goodness knows how old the Psalms are!

Really, the Prayer Book is not from any particular age. The Prayer Book is just the way that the Church, in every age, has possessed the Holy Scriptures: on our knees.

Modern people, like us, need to possess and to understand them that same way.

The Prayer Book and the Modern Age