Dcn. Isaac Chavez, of Christ the King Anglican Church, graciously answered our questions for a two part series on Family Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer (found after the Catechism, on page 593 of the REC Prayer Book). Dcn. Isaac is married to Sarah and has four children. He was ordained as deacon in the Reformed Episcopal Church in June, 2015
When Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer, how do you think he envisioned families using it in daily life?
Cranmer, and many of the other English Reformers, believed that one of the problems that had occurred during the High Middle Ages was that the spiritual life of the Church had been cut off from the common lay person. They believed this had manifested itself in many ways, but one way that the English Reformers uniquely singled out, was the actual prayer life of the Church. Cranmer basically asked this question: “Why should the Daily Hours and the rich prayer life of the monasteries be kept only within the walls of the monasteries?” Rome had created so many books and rules that only the monks knew even how to follow them, much less speak and read the Latin in which the majority of books were written. Cranmer thus intended to translate the prayers into the common language of the people, and to extensively compile, edit, and shorten the daily offices.
Now to your question specifically, I think the better question would be how the editors of the Prayer Book throughout the years have intended it to be used, because there is more knowledge about this than the specific motives of Cranmer for your question. The Prayer Book is designed to be the Prayer Book of the Gathered Church, which is the Church under the Bishop and Clergy, gathered together for Holy Communion. All the other offices and prayers in some way are seen to extend from this Office of Holy Communion. As the years progressed, it became clear that the Morning and Evening Prayers were likely too long for most normal families to observe consistently. In order to encourage family devotion, along with giving a tool to help form this devotion, a section in the back of the book was added for Family Prayers. In a way, they were continuing the same spirit of Cranmer who borrowed the prayers from the monks and made them more accessible to the whole church–but they, by adding a section for Family Prayers, were borrowing the prayers of the whole Church and making these offices more accessible to the family and the common layperson in their busy routine of life.
As such, the main idea of how a family should use the prayer book in daily life, is nearly the same concept as how the church should use it. The Family Prayers are a continuance of the Holy Communion service. Thus, they are designed to form one’s daily life and to focus one on God’s created cycle of time, nature, and life. Morning Prayer begins with confession, already acknowledging that the purity that came at Holy Communion has begun to slightly be dirtied again. Thus, we daily seek God’s holiness and cleansing. Then there are prayers to thank God for getting through the night. This is an acknowledgement of our utter dependence on God’s provision, and our awareness that our times are in his hands. After this there is of course the Our Father, which should be every Christian’s main prayer, and other prayers that are meant to ask for God’s help for the day, and to pray for others who may come to our mind. Evening prayer is basically set up the same way, but with focuses on the ending of the day, the sleep that lies ahead, and the day to come tomorrow. The offices are meant to keep you in the Spirit of the Holy Communion and to get you, by God’s moment by moment help, back to the Holy Communion feast at the next gathering.
You can read the second part of this series on Friday!
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The Family Prayer section in the 1928 BCP is a masterpiece of Anglican theology and spirituality. See what Massey Shepherd wrote about it in his Oxford Commentary on the (1928) BCP. It taught me how to pray when I was in college and a new Anglican.
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