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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Great Book of Common Prayer Give-Away

Note: The following article appears in the September issue of THE EPISTLE, the monthly newsletter of The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, where I am privileged to be rector and pastor. If YOU want/need a copy of the BCP, give me a call and come on down to Chatham, New Jersey. We'll have a nice, hot cup of tea and a chat and I'll give you your very own free copy.

If you can't come to Chatham, well, I hope this little excursion into Reformation History will inspire you to get your very own copy of the Book of Common Prayer.

Rector proclaims October “The Great Book of Common Prayer Give-away Month”

Don’t have a personal copy of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)?

Want one?

During the month of October, I will be giving away copies of the BCP to anyone who asks for it. These are small, black books (so no one could ever accuse you of taking “the red book” from the pews), small enough to keep on your nightstand or on the end table near your favorite reading chair.

You'll need to come into my office, and we'll have a nice, hot cup of tea and chat. We'll pray together and I'll even inscribe your copy for you.

I believe the BCP – in all of its incarnations, from the first in 1549, (and yes, including the 1929 version) to be among the most beautifully written of all books of prayer. I also believe the 1979 version of The Episcopal Church, returning as it does the primacy of the two great Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and reinstating the Great Vigil of Easter, to be our best legacy of centuries of beautiful prayers in the Anglican Communion.

Does it have some flaws? Does it need to be updated? Of course!

Does that mean we won’t be using, from time to time, our own creative adaptation? By no means!

That being said, there are some wonderful prayers for all sort and manner of conditions of the enterprise of being human. I’d love to think it is one of the first resources you reach for in the midst of a difficult time in your life. When words fail, when you do not know how to pray, the BCP can be a source of solace and hope, a vehicle into a deeper relationship with God.

Why October? A few reasons:

The “official” date of the Reformation is October 31, 1517. On this day Luther reputedly pinned his famous Ninety-Five Theses criticizing the Roman Catholic Church to the door of the chapel at Wittenberg Castle in modern Germany. Little did he know this simple act, meant only to draw attention to his theses for academic debate, would be the first in a chain of events that would begin The Protestant Reformation.

It may be hard for us to believe today, but many were martyred for their faith during the Reformation – especially during the reign of “Bloody” Queen Mary I (1533 – 1558). In October, there are four ‘saints’ on the Calendar of Saints of the church (which you can find in the BCP), who died for the crime of bringing the Words of God to the people of God, and for the audacity of attempting to unite the people in common prayer, in their own language, under the spiritual authority of their own (and not a foreign) curia.

On October 6th, the Calendar observes the martyrdom of William Tyndale, the first to translate and put to print the New Testament in English, making the Words of God in Christ widely accessible to the people for the first time in history.

For his troubles, Tyndale was tried as a heretic, strangled and then burned at the stake in 1536. His last words reportedly were, “O Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.” Apparently, God did hear that prayer as most of Tyndale’s work found its way into the “King James Version” of the Bible.

On October 16th the Calendar observes three martyrs of the Reformation of the Church of England: Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Bishops (1555) and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, (1556).

After the death of Henry XVIII, his son with Jane Seymore, Edward VII (1547 – 1553), a staunch Protestant (or, at least, his advisors), continued the Reformation begun by his father. He ascended the throne at age nine. When he died of consumption at age 16, his sister Mary, a devout Roman Catholic, came to the throne and immediately sought reunification with the Pope

During Mary’s reign, over three hundred of her subjects were sent to be burned at the stake, Bishops Latimer of Worcester and Ridley of Rochester among the most notable. As the wood was being lit under their feet, Bishop Latimer is quoted as saying, "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out."

Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury who fully supported King Henry’s divorce and was a leader in the movement to reform the church catholic. He was one of the major architects of the Book of Common Prayer. Many of the beautiful prayers and collects we say together every Sunday were first penned by Cranmer.

The story goes that five times, at the request of Queen Mary, Cranmer wrote a letter of submission to the Pope. Four times, he ripped up the letter. The fifth letter was reportedly sent but ultimately rejected as fraudulent by Queen Mary, who ordered him to be burned at the stake.

At the very end, he repudiated his final letter of submission, and announced that he died a Protestant. He said, "I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart. When the flames are lit, this hand shall be the first to burn." The story is told that when the fire was lit around his feet, he leaned forward and held his right hand in the fire until it was charred to a stump. Aside from this, he did not speak or move, except that once he raised his left hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

Pretty amazing, right? The more you know about the people we have in our baptismal family tree, the more meaningful becomes our religious heritage as Episcopalians, which is embodied most passionately in the Book of Common Prayer.

To get your free copy of this most glorious book, or to make a donation so that even more will have their own copy, please see Rev’d Elizabeth.

1 comment:

muerk said...

The Carthusian Martyrs of London:

On May 4, 1535, Fr. Houghton, Fr. Lawrence, and Fr. Webster were led to the Tower Gate. The martyrs, still dressed in their white religious habits, were tied to a sled and dragged by horses through the dirty streets to the public gallows at Tyburn...

Prior Houghton was hanged first. He dangled for a few moments, then was cut down and disemboweled as he prayed, "0 Jesus, have mercy on me!" His last words, as the executioner ripped out his heart, were "Good Jesus, what will you do with my heart?" The Prior was dead. Priors Lawrence and Webster suffered the same. Each had been offered a full pardon if he would accept Henry VIII as head of the Church, but they could not in conscience before God and would not. They were beheaded and their dismembered bodies displayed, with Prior Houghton's limbs nailed over his monastery gate to persuade the Carthusians to yield.