Regretably, the mistaken quest for political and social “relevance” plagues even the most traditional denominations, including the Anglican. While every denomination is under threat from rampant secularism, not to say deliberately destructive attack with the purpose of driving religion from the public sphere, the risk to Anglicanism is much greater, owing to its origins in liturgy-based traditions.
Modern Anglicanism are no longer taught by their clergy to understand the “why” of Archbishop Cranmer’s masterwork, the Book of Common Prayer. I suspect that Cranmer knew in his heart that future clergy would stray into a wide variety of campaigns against real or perceived social, political or economic theory. What he left to the Anglican world is an approach to Sunday worship which is set in a framework that was understood by 1st C. Christians as well as those in the 16th C., when the first Book of Common Prayer was used on Whitsunday, 1549 A.D. He added Advent as the start of each new Church Year and set forth a carefully-structured form of worship that started with the prepatory and penitential purpose of Advent and transitioned into a joyful celebration of the Incarnation. On his Calendar, Epiphany follows, offering each Sunday for up to six Sundays after Epiphany, a carefully plotted introduction, as the sub=title of the season says, examples of the Manifestations of the Christ to the Gentiles (and not, as in modern abuse of the word “epiphany” some form of sudden realization.). For the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany the reading gives evidence of Jesus healing a leper and the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:1-13).
Following Epiphany are the three “gesima” Sundays which are a means of transition and preparation for Lent, the greater of the two penitential seasons; moving on to the Crucificion on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Day. The Sundays after Easter lead to Ascension, Whitsunday/Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. Cranmer envisioned a church world in which Anglicans are taught the basics of the Christian faith through celebration/observation of the Gospel lessons about thematic events from First Sunday in Advent to Trinity Sunday.
This carefully structured plan leaves the clergy with the challenge of teaching doctrine during the long weeks of Trinity season and until the calendar transitions again with the Sunday Next before Advent.
He left another, even greater legacy: a devout and inspiring set of liturgical words which have no parallel in other denominations and which are endlessly inspiring and uplifting, shedding light and hope whenever the Holy Communion liturgy is read. In my view there is nothing as powerful as the Collect for Purity, attributed to Alcuin of York, spiritual advisor to Charlemagne, which encapsulates the essential Hebrew and Christian understanding of the nature of God and, read properly, set a devout and respectful tone for the entire Holy Communion liturgy..
ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sadly, these inspiring words are often, at the worst, mumbled or, more often, rushed through, leaving worshipers unsufficient time to absorb or, to use one of Jesus’ favorite phrases, to abide (from the Greek meno) in the hearts of the faithful.
This conversation will be continued in coming weeks.