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  • Jan Mahood

Father of the Prayer Book Crafted Words for the Ages


Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489 - 1556), whose birthday we mark on July 2, knew the power of words. He introduced the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, in the knowledge that the language of the catholic and apostolic Church, presented to the people of England in their own language, would strengthen their faith. Cranmer's martyrdom, March 21, is memorialized on the Church Calendar. But it is fitting to celebrate his birthday, because it began the life of a remarkable man: theologian, scholar, author, leader of a national church, and father of the Book of Common Prayer. As Archbishop during the reign of King Henry VIII, Cranmer was assigned the difficult task of getting the English church out from under the rule of Rome. He managed to navigate those turbulent times only to be burned at the stake for his faith by Henry's Roman Catholic daughter, Queen Mary. Had Cranmer managed to survive for three more years, he would again have flourished under Elizabeth I, whose reign began in 1559. In that year, the restoration of the Anglican Church began, and the "Elizabethan Prayer Book," a variation on Cranmer's original, was introduced.

Cranmer understood the power of The Word in the practice of religion. His words resound down the centuries, ever constant, always powerful, while each cliché du jour gibbers around our empty churches and fades into nothingness as the next infantile jingle takes its place. Just one example of the spiritual riches of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which comes to us virtually unchanged from Cranmer's own pen, is his Prayer of Humble Access, in which we ask God's mercy as we prepare to take communion: We do not presume to come to this thy Table O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. -- 1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 82

On Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's birthday, we give thanks for his immortal words of worship. -- JM

(photo- Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, martyrs of English Reformation. Christ Church, Little Rock


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