The Book of Common Prayer

Title page of the 1662 Prayer Book, printed by John Baskerville in 1762.

The Book of Common Prayer is a much loved work of literature. Its language and phrases have permeated the English language for centuries.  It is nothing less than sublime.

 

Originally published in 1549 in a version edited by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, it was subsequently revised until the version of 1662 became the official version of the Church of England. It contains Miles Coverdale’s glorious translation of the Book of Psalms from the Great Bible of 1538.  Its intended use was to define and regulate daily worship in the Church of England and it is written in English, so as to be accessible to everyone and not just the clerics learned in Latin.

St Augustine's Church, Northbourne, Kent - the Sanctuary
St Augustine’s Church, Northbourne, Kent – the Sanctuary

It is now used by a small minority and has largely been replaced by alternative forms of prayer using simpler and more modern language.

You do not have to be a Muslim to enjoy the beauty of Rumi‘s poetry or a Jew to enjoy Ecclesiastes. You do not have to be a Buddhist to bathe in the beauty of Zen or the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  You do not have to be a Christian to immerse yourself in the timeless reflections of the Book of Common Prayer.

Sit in the choir stalls at Canterbury Cathedral and listen to evensong.  Wander through the English countryside and sit quietly in a Norman Church – open up to the beauty of mattins or evensong, read quietly to yourself, perhaps while listening to Byrd, de La Rue or Vittoria.

St Augustine's Church, Northbourne, Kent - the Sanctuary
St Augustine’s Church, Northbourne, Kent – the Sanctuary

It need not be about belief.  It is about reflection, quiet, meditation.  It is a re-affirmation of your weltanschauung.  It is to retreat (if only for a few moments) from the world of commerce and busyness and to contemplate for a while the vastness of the universe and its mysteries.  It is time well spent.

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