Gleaning - Patterns of Reformed Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer is responsible for much of the finest tradition of the Reformation. It is often not appreciated that while it was written by Thomas Cranmer (over three years from 1549 to 1552), the development of the English Reformed Church remained under the watchful eye of Reformers outside of England; John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Peter Martyr and others. Upon being published, Cranmer's prayer book was fully accepted by them as a reflection of Reformed theology and piety. Indeed, when creating their own liturgies, the European churches led by these men implemented many of the same ideas, especially with respect to the Order of Morning and Evening Prayer. In Europe they didn't give the core liturgy a name, but Thomas Cranmer called it "Common" Prayer. Reformed liturgies were universally designed to teach provably Biblical patterns of worship while turning people away from the idolatrous worship of the middle ages. We'll now look at the patterns of worship and prayer that the various Reformed liturgies shared, especially how they were incorporated into the vision of Thomas Cranmer.
To be sure, there are other important occasional liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer (notably Holy Communion), but the core Anglican liturgy, aspects of which were deeply shared by other Reformed churches of the era is Morning and Evening Prayer. Over nearly six centuries, many even outside the Anglican community have used patterns of worship first invented here. The liturgy forms the basis of much Reformed tradition. Of course there are some in the Anglican community that are embarrassed by the Reformed heritage and have thought to change and deemphasize this liturgy. They don't wish to share (ecumenically) the central theme of Anglicanism but have instead turned to liturgies and theologies beyond the scope of the Book of Common Prayer; Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Arminian Evangelicalism, Charismaticism, and the Seeker-Sensitive movement.
For those of us that are true Reformed Anglicans, we emphasize what we can share with other Christians ecumenically, and that is principally the liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayer. Here we will try to uncover its Reformed aspects, and thereby identify which patterns Anglicans may truly share with the wider Christian Church.
Four Reformed Patterns
Here is how Thomas Cranmer outlined Christian worship in "The Daily Office":
- Approach The Throne Of God's Grace
- Confession of sin and absolution
- Songs of Praise and Thanksgiving
- Hear God's Word
- Psalm reading
- Old Testament reading
- New Testament reading
- Meditate Upon God's Word.
- Contemplate the Word just heard
- Affirm the Faith by Creed and Confession
- Formal prayers: Litany, Collects, etc.
- Informal prayers
Approach the Throne of God's Grace
In the Reformed tradition there is an assumption of our helplessness apart from God's mercy. As such, there is much emphasis given to confession of sin and to the cleansing ("absolution") that comes from God's grace to the believer. The first step in Anglican worship is to consider how far short the Christian comes from salvation if left to his own devices, then to humbly confess his sin(s) and beg the Lord's mercy to forgive and remit it according to the promise in Jesus Christ.
One must immediately note that the liturgy does NOT require the presence of a minister for absolution since confession is made to the Father (in the Name of the Son by the power of the Holy Ghost). Even when a minister is present, he is not an intermediary but only Jesus, and we may reasonably expect God to answer the prayer of confession. If a minister should be present, which is not the default situation, then he will "pronounce an absolution", but his words do not effect God's forgiveness and remission of sin one way or another. Following confession and absolution, one then proceeds to give thanks and praise to God with acknowledgment that it is He who opens their lips for that purpose.
Hear God's Word
Christians may then properly say or sing the "Lord's Prayer, the "Gloria", the "Venite" the "Te Deum Laudamus", the "Benedicite" or other hymn that is suitable for preparing the heart and mind to hear God's Word.
Notwithstanding that lectionaries in the 16th century (Anglican included) were inconsistent in providing for the reading of only canonical Scripture, it is clear that the #1 objective of the Reformers was to teach its exclusive and complete authority, and to provide for its reading such that no part should be skipped. By means of a comprehensive lectionary, Cranmer made it clear that the liturgy should be used for daily devotional purposes and that all men (and women) were expected to read the Scripture themselves rather than having it read to them. The printing and distribution of Bibles and Prayer books became widespread after Cranmer, especially in homes. Literacy grew tremendously, and Christians were no longer dependent upon priests to teach them God's Word.
The pattern of reading in an Anglican lectionary is to have a reading of one Psalm, one Old Testament lesson and one New Testament lesson... twice per day. The pattern on Sundays and "holy days", being different because of their special nature is beyond the scope of this article.
Meditate Upon God's Word
Following each reading of Scripture, the liturgy suggests responses, whether a psalm, hymn or canticle. Following the readings, there is further guidance:
Note that in the liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayer, there is no provision for a sermon to be preached. Although when the liturgy is used in church, a sermon by a qualified preacher may properly be added, or a pre-set Homily read, but there is no assumption that a minister be even present. As it was in the New Testament, worship according to the daily Order is primarily designed for "common" reading, engaged by Christians from house to house and other places of convenience. While not disdaining the preaching of the God's Word, careful attention to creeds, confessions, catechisms and homilies is the principal means by which the Church defeats false doctrine. Over-reliance upon preaching belongs to later Reformed and evangelical traditions. It is not Anglican.
The overall intent of the response to God's Word is to provide guidance, and it may consist of a sermon, a Homily, a hymn or canticle, or even well considered discussion. What is NOT permitted in response to the reading of Scripture is un-Biblical musing. To this end, the liturgy insists that we declare the Faith by an oral recitation, the most common of which would be one of the Creeds (three being authorized for this purpose; Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian). One surmises that Cranmer, if he had finished writing the Articles of Religion in 1552 might have also authorized their reading at this juncture, even as in many Reformed churches there is a reading from a Reformed confession or catechism. In the Reformed Anglican tradition we may also respond to the Scripture reading by reciting parts of the 39 Articles or another traditional Reformed Anglican confession or catechism such as Nowell's Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Irish Articles of 1615. Reformed Anglicanism is ecumenical toward other Reformed traditions, but does not desire ecumenical unity so desperately that it is willing to bless non-Reformed standards.
Having digested God's Word, the liturgy turns to the formal and informal prayers of those gathered together. It includes the Lord's Prayer. Anglicans have additional formal prayers at this point; the "Collect of the day" and collect prayers which are not unlike the formal prayers in other Reformed traditions. There is however no fixed tradition among Reformed or even Anglican churches in respect to erastian and ecclesiastical prayer (for state and church authorities). Similarly, Anglicans have a huge library of formal prayers for all sorts of miscellaneous occasions, and it is safe to say that spontaneous informal prayer is absolutely permitted and expected, especially in the default situtation which is in the home. The liturgy which we call "common prayer" is responsive. It follows a petition/response dialog, and it suggests certain topics that this prayer ought to cover;
- God's mercy
- God's sovereignty over the world
- The inspiration of the Church
- The salvation of the Lost
- The peace and prosperity of all men
- The return of Jesus in judgement
Other things can be added to the daily Order of prayer such as the Litany which is called for at least once per week, and Holy Communion. Both are regarded as prayerful services in response to the reading of God's Word. Although they are formal and occasional responses, they are not different in character. When we include these services, they are an extension of daily devotion.
The Book of Common Prayer's central theme is articulated by the Reformed liturgy of Morning and Evening Prayer. "Established" Anglicanism must necessarily focus on the original intent and historical context of Thomas Cranmer.