"The good old Prayer Book alone"

From The Ecclesiastical Review, Volume 65, July-December, 1921:

THE importance and the value of a good prayer book can scarcely be overestimated. The average Catholic has no opportunity and no inclination for much mental prayer. Nor is he able to concentrate his mind for any considerable length of time on any given subject of meditation. He must find his beliefs and his aspirations expressed in the printed word, in terms that appeal to his intellect and to his heart. Besides, at divine service, the language of the Church is incomprehensible to him. Hence he cannot take part in the ceremonies as fully as was the case in former centuries. A good prayer book is required as an interpreter and a guide. And it affords the easiest means of familiarizing the faithful with the essentials of the devotional life: Holy Mass, Holy Communion, Confession, the other Sacraments, and the various practices in general use in the Church ...

The Third Council of Baltimore saw the need and tried to supply it. However much the Manual of Prayers may appeal to converts, it is not the prayer book Catholics generally use. There is about it a certain formalism that repels; it has an abundance of Latin texts that are irrelevant for the average Catholic; a long collection of hymns that, however beautiful, belong more properly in a hymnal. It never attained to that popularity which the English Book of Common Prayer enjoyed for centuries, and enjoys to-day. "I value the Prayer Book as you cannot do," says one of the Anglican characters in Newman's Loss and Gain (Ch. VIII), "for I have known what it is to one in affliction. May it be long before you know it in a similar way; but if affliction comes on you depend on it, all these new fashions and fancies will vanish from you like the wind, and the good old Prayer Book alone will stand you in any stead."

The reasons for this extraordinary popularity are various. The Book of Common Prayer embodies a national creed and a national form of worship. It symbolizes, however vaguely for the present generation, the spirit of revolt that alone justifies the existence of the Anglican Church as a separate communion. Having been in use for many generations, it has thereby acquired a setimental [sic] value that is one of its greatest assets. Lastly, to Cranmer who compiled it, must be conceded "a splendid command of the English language and an instinctive sense of what would suit average English minds. His genius for devotional composition in English is universally recognized even by those who have least sympathy with his character and career." To the average Anglican the Book of Common Prayer is as much of an unconscious masterpiece as are Shakespeare's works. It is part and parcel of the nation's life, and as such is often used even by Nonconformists.

Whether any prayer book we may produce will ever attain the popularity of its Anglican counterpart, is problematical. That we need it, however, is beyond question. A certain uniformity is very desirable, specially for public devotions. The prayers used in the church on those occasions should be within the reach of all, familiar to all and the same for all.


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