After a year characterized by many blasts from the past, Alan Edwards wonders if this might be the year for a welcome revival of the BCP
Last year was a good time for Comeback Kids. Joe Kinnear, one-time manager of Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang, came back, after a decade away from football, to manage the even crazier Newcastle United. John Sergeant came out of retirement from quizzing politicians to become the ‘Dancing Pig’, and Peter Mandelson popped up yet again as de facto PM.
Having lunch recently in The White Hart, Kilworth, a splendid village pub a hymnbook’s hurl from Wyclif’s Lutterworth, I was wondering if 2009, the 450th anniversary of the Elizabethan Settlement and the return of the BCP, would be marked by a present-day comeback of the BCP. My thoughts were accompanied by an excellent ale. Real ale is making a comeback.
As a bookseller I’d lose if the BCP made a comeback. No more ‘Have you got a copy of Order for the Eucharist.’ as priests try to solve the Sudoku puzzle of the new liturgical set-up. An end to laity asking, ‘Got a copy of the CofE version of the Roman Mass our priest uses?’
That loss would be a ‘richest gain if there came back the habit of folk having a personal prayer book, in which, by following ‘a calendar which is plain and easy to be understood’ [Concerning the Service of the Church], they prepared for the Eucharist by finding and reading the Epistle and Gospel rather than being battered by a barrage of readings.
If that calendar came back, then goodbye to the liturgical lunacy of following Rome and switching the Feast of Christ the King (itself a 1920s innovation) to the end of November and thereby clashing with Stir Up Sunday, as if the ‘wills of the faithful people’ no longer needed stirring up. Remember, the Church of Rome ‘hath erred in manner of ceremonies’ [Article XIX] and ‘it is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one and utterly like’ [Article XXXIV].
‘Concerning ceremonies’, it is good that the last century saw a comeback of rites missing from the BCP, like the Imposition of Ashes. The accompanying loss has been the virtual disappearance of the Commination Service. Cursing of those who remove landmarks could apply not only to those who have removed the BCP but to New Labour’s removal of many constitutional landmarks.
Sad also that, as Britain soars to the top of the Promiscuity Premier League, the Prayer Book exhortation introducing the Marriage Service is seldom heard. Its commendation of matrimony as ‘an honourable estate’, in contrast to the behaviour of those who are like ‘brute beasts that have no understanding’ is surely needed today. How odd that, in an age priding itself on frankness of speech, Prayer Book language is thought too strong.
Where promiscuity leads abortion follows, and Britain leads in this also, a holocaust slaughtered in the womb. Come back the service for the Churching of Women, giving thanks for childbirth.
At the other end of life, the Diana legacy has been the growth of funerals which downplay committal and commendation, and needful words to the mourners, to allow a ‘celebration of the life of the departed’. Come back the BCP Order for the Burial of the Dead which, as well as committing the departed, reminds the living that they need to say miserere themselves before celebrating Aunty Flo’s wicked skill as a karaoke queen.
Of course, however clear the language of debate or rational a proposal, there will sadly be now, as in the seventeenth century, ‘factious, peevish and perverse spirits’ that will not be satisfied with anything [1662 Preface to the BCP].
Now who could that be in 2009?