Fergus Butler-Gallie explains the need for a new glossary for the Book of Common Prayer
The secular press has picked up the story of a new glossary for the Book of Common Prayer with such gusto that it seems only right that the venerable readers of New Directions are filled in on the story. Tim Stanley, the head of public relations for the Prayer Book Society (PBS), mooted the idea that we might produce some sort of glossary for lesser understood words in the Prayer Book. This suggestion was the result of regular criticism that the Prayer Book has received from some (I have to say often middle-aged and older clergy) that its language is not understandable. We might (quite rightly) quibble with questions about the necessary incomprehension of the transcendent divine or point, more prosaically, to the role of beauty over mere utilitarian simplicity in worship, however, it seemed easier (and more constructive) to take the naysayers head-on and provide a simple guide that would help those who, for whatever legitimate reason, might struggle with the particular language of Prayer Book liturgy. Indeed, as I spoke to some ordinands and lay people in the process of compiling the glossary, there was some confusion evident. This was most obvious with regard to those words that have meanings in the Prayer Book liturgy that differ from how they are used in contemporary language. For instance, ‘prevent’ has the meaning of ‘go before,’ so ‘prevent us, O Lord’ is not asking God to stop us, but to go ahead of us and ‘miserable’ means ‘worthy of pity’ as opposed to ‘grumpy,’ as the modern reader might assume.
A further rationale for the new glossary is the fact that the PBS has recently been swelled by a number of younger enthusiasts among clergy, ordinands, and laity. As past fads lose their charm, a new generation (very often, as in my case, from unchurched backgrounds) is discovering the Prayer Book for the first time. Many of these young people have identified the theological rigour and honesty, the space that the liturgy provides for serious reflection, and the unique beauty of the language that Prayer Book rites provide as being key to further explorations of faith. Indeed, it is no surprise that Evensong is one of the Church of England’s fastest growing services in terms of numbers. As such, it was thought prudent to provide a tool that might prove not only helpful to these numbers of new converts—many exploring the great theological truths told forth in the liturgy from a totally secular background—but also helpful in stimulating conversation in theological colleges across the country where some ordinands would be experiencing the Book of Common Prayer for the first time during their training. Given the particular attraction the Prayer Book appears to be having among many younger church members I, as someone who is still (just about…) in the 18–25 age bracket, was asked to go about working through which areas might need most clarification and putting together a glossary to be given to every ordinand when they receive their Prayer Book at the start of training. Through the very hard work of Tim Stanley, John Service, the PBS and many others, this has now become a reality.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, not only from ordinands pleased to see attempts to broaden the Prayer Book’s appeal, but also from priests in parish ministry as well. Several clergy have requested copies of the glossary (which is available free of charge, in convenient bookmark form, from the PBS) for use with their congregations. The two most common uses of the Prayer Book in parishes are at early morning communions and at Evensong. Often these congregations can feel a degree of separation from ‘the main’ service on a Sunday morning, making engagement beyond the purely liturgical difficult. One priest suggested that the glossary might allow a form of contemplative, lectio divina style meditation for members of such congregations, inviting them to focus on a particular word that stands out to them in a new way. Another has said it would be a good tool to use when introducing young people and children to the liturgy and a number of school chaplains are keen to use it in a similar vein. I would hope that there may be clergy or laity reading this who have more ideas and suggestions as to how it might be helpful; if so, do let us know! In both the setting of the theological college and the parish however, the key purposes of the glossary remain the same: to help those who are unfamiliar with some of the language, to clarify some words with meanings different to those they have in common parlance, and, perhaps most importantly, to stimulate a deeper engagement with the liturgical treasure trove that is the Book of Common Prayer.
Fergus Butler-Gallie is an ordinand at Westcott House and a member of the Prayer Book Society