A Prayer Book for the Ages
The Martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer
On this day, March 21 in 1556, Thomas Cranmer perished at the stake for his faith. The frail Archbishop, bent by his years, imprisoned and tortured on the orders of Roman Catholic Queen Mary, had finally cracked and denied the beliefs that had fueled the Reformation. But Mary overplayed her hand when, thinking to demonstrate her power, she had him paraded in public to again recant.
Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry VIII and Edward VI, Cranmer guided Henry in his efforts to separate the Church of England from the political power of the papacy. During the boy king Edward's reign, he produced the classic liturgy which has been central to the Anglican Church for 472 years -- the true Book of Common Prayer (BCP).
The 1928 BCP, with which we’re privileged to worship today, is Cranmer's legacy. His first BCP in 1549 became the official liturgy of the Church of England. The more protestant-oriented 1552 BCP with minor modifications was used in the Church of England during the reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I. It was followed by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, today the standard for worship throughout the Anglican Communion outside the United States, and the 1928 BCP, in use by Anglican and Episcopal Churches for the past 93 years. It is in use today, despite strident opposition by revisionists who claim it has ceased to be "relevant."
Relevant it is and will remain, for, unlike the empty rites that have followed it, the 1928 BCP is based on the authority of Holy Scripture.
In his final act, Cranmer proclaimed his faith. It has been recorded that he stated:
" '. . . . And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand, since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished. For if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.'
"Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly
burning, crying with a loud voice, "This hand hath offended."
As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while." -- John Foxe, The Book of Martyrs