If you’ve come into the Episcopal Church well after 1979, you probably missed the brouhaha over prayer book revision. I say ‘probably’ because there are still – still – places where the battle is being fought. It is amazing to recall how heated the disagreements could be. It was for me an occasion where I confronted my innate conservatism. I don’t mean conservative in socio-politico-economic terms but personally, like still riding the same road bike I bought in 1974. I have to remind myself of how much my inner conservative nature led me to be a sympathetic attendee at several gatherings at various churches in Washington and in Virginia where the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was being roundly denounced, not as a complete work of the devil, but close.
A turning point for me came at one such meeting where one speaker was ripping into the alternate beginning of the creed, “We believe,” instead of “I believe.” The disquisition went on for a while, eloquently and passionately presented. Much of the objection hinged on being faithful to tradition, although a lot was made about belief being individual rather than corporate. I was totally taken in, mainly I think because of the invocation of tradition. I didn’t participate in the dialogue at that meeting, but I had the thought at the time that I would bring my copy of Bettenson’s “Documents of the Christian Church” to the next meeting and join the conversation, reinforcing the point about tradition. Imagine my surprise on returning home and finding in Bettenson the earliest known version of the Creed and reading there the words “We believe.” It took my breath away. I realized instantly that, impassioned and angry as they were, the opponents of prayer book revision simply didn’t know what they were talking about. And I suddenly saw the new prayer book in a new light. It was like blinders coming off. I began to see the good in the changes and in the additions, many of which were restorations of prayers that had been in disuse for centuries, such as the incorporation into Evening Prayer of the Phos Hilaron, the oldest known Christian prayer, dating from the third century.
That was the end of my going to meetings of the disgruntled for sure, but it was more than that. The memory of the whole affair has served as a constant reminder to me to be on guard against my innate conservatism and to be ready to change my mind about something in the face of evidence and not to be swayed by the passions of others.
I close with another of the wonderful additions to the ’79 book, the Collect written by Thomas Aquinas for the Mass and Offices he composed for the Feast of Corpus Christi, the only Mass and Offices he wrote. That feast celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist in contrast to the tragic overtones of Maundy Thursday.
“O Lord, Jesus Christ who in wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion; Grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (BCP, pgs 201, 252, and 834.)
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 23-December-2014.