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A Book off My Bookshelf: The Book of Common Prayer

February 2nd, 2006 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

The is the first installment of what I hope becomes a series of posts that I will do intermittently.  The goal of the series is to offer a brief description of a book that I have on my bookshelf and then explain why I think it a valuable book to own and read.  I figure that if I do this long enough, I will discover those books that I can no longer justify keeping, thus helping me weed out a collection that pushes our small apartment beyond the breaking point.

What it is:  The Book of Common Prayer is the service and prayer book for the Anglican (and Episcopalian) church.  In its first edition, the bulk of the writing was done by Thomas Cranmer.  However, it has been updated numerous times since then to keep the language contemporary.  My favorite version is the 1789 version, however.  The English is rich, but not archaic. The Book of Common Prayer: Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church  / 1979 EditionNot only is the Book of Common Prayer the service book for Episcopalians–it is a treasure trove of prayers and passages of Scripture.  Occasionally, I will lack the words to speak in prayer to God–in those moments, I will follow the guide of the BCP and allow it to be the basis for my prayer that night.  By becoming familiar with the language of the Book of Common Prayer, I have been able to deepen my own ability to express my thoughts in prayer to God.  After spending the better part of a year attending evening prayer, I knew the prayer of confession for the evening prayer service fairly well.  It is still my favorite part of the BCP (that is, the older versions):

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen. 

By meditating on these thoughts,  I have been able to deepen my own confessions of sin (which, sadly, are frequently necessary!). 

The Book of Common Prayer  can be an excellent guide in dry-seasons of the devotional life.  It’s definitely a book worth keeping on the bookshelf.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.