on 29 August 1999
This Book contains the many beautiful Collects composed by Thomas Cranmer in their original form from the the First Prayer Book of Edward VI (1549) for each Sunday and Holy Day in the year. Each Collect has an interesting historical note appended to it, detailing changes which have taken place at subsequent revisions such as 1552 and 1662, together with a most useful meditation.
I heartily commend this excellent book to all traditional Anglicans and Christian people of goodwill. Attractively bound and presented it is an ideal gift for a Confirmation or birthday - or as a Christmas present.
There have been many books that have had the title 'Book of Common Prayer' since the first one appeared in 1549; it has been used continuously in one edition or another in the Anglican tradition since 1559; the 'main' edition remains the 1662 edition. The American church modified the Book of Common Prayer for its own use beginning shortly after the Revolutionary War, and has continued modifications in successive generations. However, it doesn't matter how far in time or place one gets from the original -- Cranmer's language still speaks through the translations and modifications.
A bishop in the Episcopal church once said to me, 'We don't have a theology that we have to believe -- what we have is the prayerbook.' Please forgive the absence of context for this phrase -- while he would say that this statement in isolation is an exaggeration, and I would agree, nonetheless his statement serves to highlight both the importance of and the strength of the Book of Common Prayer, and the prayers contained therein, many of which conform to Cranmer's collects in many ways.
To be an Anglican one does not have to subscribe to any particular systematic theological framework. One does not have to practice a particular brand of liturgical style. One does not have to have an approved politico-theological viewpoint. One can be a conservative, liberal or moderate; one can be high church, low church, or broad; one can be charismatic, evangelical, or mainline traditional -- one can be any number of things in a rich diversity of choices, and the Book of Common Prayer can still be the book upon which spirituality and worship is centred.
The Book of Common Prayer is not, in fact, a book that changed my life. It is a book that changes my life. Even though it is not the primary book of my own church, it continues to provide for spiritual insight and development; it continues to guide my worship and my theology. It continues to help me grow. There are echoes of Cranmer now shared by Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and other liturgical churches, in different combination and priority.
The Collect is a particular form of prayer, and my particular favourite. Churches with high liturgical forms will recognise this form of prayer. Collects (pronounced call - ects) are short prayers that follow a general pattern, and are meant to collect the petitions and desires of the assembled group together into a common prayer. Collects can generally be said to follow a pattern of You - Who - Do - To - Through.
You - Collects always begin by addressing the one to whom the prayer is directed. This can be Almighty God, O Lord God, Heavenly Creator, or a number of other phrases. The choice will often set a tone for the overall prayer.
Who - The second part of the prayer identifies a particular aspect or attribute of God, the one to whom the prayer is addressed. It could call on God's mercy, God's memory, God's power, God's love, or any other aspect of God's being.
Do - This is the heart of the collect. This is where one asks the questions. The petition here is made simply and succinctly.
To - This is the follow-through. Why should God grant the petition? Why would God want what is being asked? The request is made so that something may happen.
Through - Christians pray in the name of Jesus, and here that is remembered in the conclusion of the prayer, in remembrance of the methods the gospels and other Christian traditions and writings indicate as proper methods of Christian prayer.
Collects are generally fairly short, only a few lines. This book lists all of the standard liturgical collects of Cranmer's original Book of Common Prayer; one for each week, and special major feasts. This is a kind of prayer that has become a part of me. When was asked to put together a liturgy for a houseblessing for Episcopalian friends, there were rooms that called for collects that had not been written -- I wrote new collects and inserted them into the liturgy.
'Can you do that?' the householder asked, worried about the flow and the approval of the priest doing the blessing.
'I trust Kurt to write collects -- his probably belong in the BCP,' the priest said in response, and I appreciated her vote of confidence. That was perhaps the first confirmation to me of this sense of incorporation of the book into my life. If my collects came close to Cranmer's, it would be a real gift of grace.
This book on Cranmer's collects is written in celebration of the 500th anniversary of Cranmer's first prayer book; it contains on each two-page spread the collect itself, a bit of history about writing, the holiday, or other relevant details, and then a full-page meditation. This is a book for use all year long. It is a wonderful tribute to a great book and great tradition.