A Genuine Prayerbook

In my zeal for all things Prayerbook and being something of a joiner, I mentioned to a friend that there should be a Prayerbook organization or society or some such thing that I could belong to.
“There is,” he replied.
“Really? There’s a Prayerbook Society?” I said enthusiastically.
“Well,” he said with a slight tilt of the head and a rolling of the eye, “it’s the wrong Prayerbook.”

Again I wondered, really? There’s a society for the 1928 Prayerbook? Sure enough, only a little Googling revealed that there is indeed a Prayerbook Society dedicated to keeping alive the use of “the last genuine Book of Common Prayer in America: the 1928 BCP.”

What does it mean to be genuine? According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the first definition of genuine is “of the original stock; purebred” and second is “really what it is said to be; actually coming from the alleged source or origin.” The Latin root of the word is genuinus – to be born, inborn, native.

Even a quick look at Dr. Hatchett’s introduction to the Commentary and one can see that the Prayerbook and the liturgies we use are born of many sources. There appear to have been endless liturgies, breviaries and missals, not to mention a whole lot of versions and revisions of the Prayerbook before we even got to 1928 or 1979.

Two early rites that we hear a lot about were the Roman used in Rome and North Africa and the Gallican used in Milan and the area of Europe north of the Alps. Other rites (Bobbio missal and Cetlic Stowe, for example) contained parts of both the Roman and the Gallican and bits of others. In the ninth century, Charlemagne wanted to unite the Holy Roman Empire under one rite and the Roman version prevailed. Does that make the Roman rite genuine?

Even after Charlemagne, those pesky English Christians went about their own way using several rites – Sarum, York and Heresford, to mention a few. After the many reforms of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary, Queen Elizabeth I finally settled things uniting the Anglican Church under the Act of Uniformity. The act, passed in 1559, required that folks go to church at least once a week and also reinforced the use of the Book of Common Prayer.

The American Colonies used the English Prayerbook until after the Revolution when the first American Prayerbook was published. (We had to eliminate those prayers for the king!) A revision was published in 1892 and then again in 1928. The current Standard Book that so many of us are familiar with was approved in 1979.

The liturgy and prayers of the 1979 Prayerbook are drawn from Holy Scripture, ancient texts and old Prayerbooks. It even has some new prayers. Are not all of these sources “of the original stock; purebred; really what it is said to be; actually coming from the alleged source or origin?” Are they not, in their own way, genuine?

In her guest post on December 13th, Debi Kraal wrote about how meaningful the Birthday Prayer is for her. The prayer is a great example of the ways that the 1979 Prayerbook draws on so much history and yet means something to us today. These few words that all of us know by heart are part of a prep school prayer that was added new to the 1928 BCP. They also remind us of Philippians 4:7 and are part of the Great Litany.

Yet, I imagine what really makes the Birthday Prayer (and the Prayerbook) genuine is not how old or new the words are; not where they came from or who wrote them, but that those words speak to us in worship and in our daily lives.

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