• on September 2, 2018

The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Common Prayer, Liturgy,and Music

The Beauty of Holiness:

The Book of Common Prayer, Liturgy, and Music

          Sometimes, we may wonder why traditional Anglicans continue to worship as we do.  Most of the parishes in our denomination are small, struggling works, finding it difficult to exist year after year.  Why should St. Paul’s continue this effort when it seems that so few are interested in what we do.   We do so because of the doctrine we teach, with its emphasis on the Church and the sacraments which few other Christian groups emphasize.  Our worship seems very formal to some people.   They are right.  It is very formal, and we want our worship to be as formal as possible.   One of the reasons we use the liturgy contained in the Book of Common Prayer is that it inspires a formal, reverent style of worship.  One of the questions that we are often asked is, “Why do you continue to us this old liturgy that you have in the Book of Common Prayer?”  One of the main reasons is that the worship that is enjoined in the Book of Common Prayer is fitting for the God that we worship.  We are one of the few churches that maintains the sense of the majestic in every part of its worship.    We worship a Savior who is seated in majesty, and we offer him a worship that befits his majesty.  Every part of our worship honors the majesty of God.

Now, you may think, “How could a small congregation of 40 people offer majestic worship?”  We don’t have a huge organ or a huge choir.  We don’t have a building with gothic arches that would inspire a sense of reverence and majesty.   Yes, but if you look closely at our services, you will see that our hymns, our Scripture readings, our preaching, our sacraments, our gestures and movements (kneeling, making the sign of the cross, etc.)  and our vestments are maintained as they are because they are characteristic of majestic worship.  While it is true that we don’t have many of the things the larger churches have to offer, and we don’t have some of the activities for young people that the larger churches have, we do have the one thing that so few churches have.  We have worship that is fitting for the majesty of God.

This majesty is seen in the language of the Scripture we read.  The majesty of our worship is seen in the very language that we use.  With so many modern translations of the Bible available, some people might wonder why we use a Prayer Book that has so much of the King James Version in it.  Not only that, but I read from the King James when I am preaching.  Occasionally, I may use another translation in the course of the sermon for purposes of clarity, but the standard text in our reading and our preaching is the King James Version.  Why is that?  One word—majesty!    Now, I am not one of the “King- James-Version- only” crowd.  I don’t believe that the English of the King James Version itself is verbally inspired and inerrant.  People often ask me if the King James Version is the best translation.  The truth of the matter is that no translation ever has or ever will be able to put into English all the richness and nuances of the Hebrew and Greek languages, but as translations go, the King James Version is a good translation.   People often ask me, “What is the best translation?”  I usually respond by asking, “The best translation for what?”  There are translations that are good for individual Bible study.  There are translations that are good for easy reading.  But when it comes to the question of what is the best translation to be used in public worship, there is no debate.  The King James Version is the best translation for public worship.

You may ask, “But if there are other good translations in more modern English, why not use one that is easier to understand?”  We use the King James Version in our worship because it is still the most majestic of translations.  The King James Version is not merely a good translation—it is also a work of art, and since Anglican worship is very much concerned with art and beauty, we naturally gravitate to a translation like the King James.  The translators of the King James Version weren’t merely trying to produce a good translation.  They were also trying to produce a translation that had a certain style.  The King James Version is to some of our modern translations what Shakespeare is to some of our contemporary playwrights.  The contemporary playwrights may write some good and interesting plays, but they are not on the same level with Shakespeare as a work of art.    When you look at the King James Version, you see the painstaking care they took in composing this translation.  People often ask why we use a translation that is in the language people used in 1611.  The fact of the matter is, people didn’t talk like that even in 1611.  The person you met on the street in 1611 did not sound like he stepped out of the pages of the King James Bible.  The language was old and different even then, and for a good reason.  The translators wanted the language to be different, to be distinctive, and to be memorable.  Certainly, they wanted it to be understood, but they also wanted it to be distinctive.  Some of the King James Version is actually written in iambic pentameter.  If you remember from your study of English, iambic pentameter is a poetic device where a line of poetry will have 5 stressed beats and five unstressed.  No one in 1611 used iambic pentameter in their daily speech.  It was used in poetry and plays.  When the King James Version translators were making their translation, they weren’t trying to put it into the language of the street.  They were using language that would be distinctive, recognizable as Scripture, and most of all, majestic.

I was talking to someone the other day who had attended a church where the pastor was reading from one of the very new, contemporary language Bibles, and she made an interesting comment.  She said that she didn’t know when the pastor’s reading of Scripture had ended and when his sermon began.  His words were in the same language and style as that of the translation he was reading.  The language of the Bible should be different.  You should know when you are going from Scripture to ordinary language.  Because the language of the King James Bible is so distinctive, it has survived the centuries.  Even modern translations, to this day, find it difficult to stray from the language of the King James Bible, especially in passages like the 23rd Psalm.  The beauty of its expressions finds a way into the heart, just like Shakespeare.  For example, Hamlet could have said, “I can’t decide if I should kill myself because I’m so unhappy.”  Well, that is essentially what Hamlet said, but if Shakespeare had written it that way, I don’t think we would still be reading it or performing it.   Hamlet lives on, because he expressed such a dilemma in this way:

To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–

No more–and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished.

Yes, Hamlet could have said, “It might be better to die because life is too painful,” but who would remember his words?  People express such feelings in that kind of language every day.  Saying it the way Shakespeare wrote it is memorable because it is a work of art.  We use the King James Version because it is the  Shakespeare of Bible translations,  and is therefore worthy to be used in the worship of a majestic God.

As most of you know, the Psalter in our Book of Common Prayer is not from the King James Version but from the Coverdale Bible of 1535, which Myles Coverdale edited and revised until 1539, when it was included in the Great Bible.  It may not be as accurate as the King James Version, but the language itself is incredibly beautiful.  As John Dowden put it in The Workmanship of the Prayer Book (1899),   “In the Prayer Book Psalter we possess a noble monument of diction characterized by an archaic stateliness, yet possessed withal of a singular freedom of movement.  It abounds in happy turns of expression, and furnishes not a few examples of the tenderest grace and most delicate beauty” (175).  I like that phrase, “archaic stateliness.”  We moderns don’t like anything archaic,  or old, because we view it as outdated.  But as Dowden put it, there is in our Psalter, an archaic stateliness.  In our worship, we are seeking stateliness and dignity, and that archaic language lends itself well to such worship.

The Bible itself, in the Hebrew and Greek, is written in just such a style, and those who translate it into modern language should try to achieve that same majesty of style.  There is a statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith, used by the Presbyterians, in the chapter on the Holy Scriptures, which tries to explain how we know that the Bible is the word of God:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of                the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of                the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the              full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable                                 excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence            itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the                          infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing                   witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, V.)

What evidence do we have that the Bible is the word of God?  The Westminster divines said that part of the evidence is in the heavenliness of the matter and the majesty of the style.

Why do we have so much poetry in the Bible?  Why do we have books like Job and Psalms?  This kind of language was used because poetry has the power to move us.  Sure, David could have said, “I want God to forgive me because I’m sad,  and I feel guilty about the sins I have committed.”  That  statement would have been true, but how much more powerful is it when we hear him say, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.   Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:1-3).  Expressing his sadness and his desire for mercy in this manner is more than just the truth.  Conveying  those feelings in this way is beautiful,  powerful, and it is a fitting prayer to use in the worship of a majestic God.

We also use a Prayer Book that has this same concern for majesty of style.  There are modern liturgies in more contemporary language available in various churches, but there is no comparison with our Prayer Book when you think of majesty of style.  Just as the translators of the King James Version were concerned to produce a great literary work, the compilers of our Prayer Book not only desired to maintain the sound doctrine of the ancient liturgies, but they also wanted to maintain beauty and majesty of style.  Again, as in the case of the King James Version, the language of the Prayer Book was not the everyday language of the people in the 16th century.  They composed this work in this style to make it distinctively majestic and reverent.  Dowden puts it like this:


There is a fitness in the language of the Church’s devotions being distinguished from the colloquial language of every day life, even as there is fitness in the places of her worship being built in a style distinct from the architecture of public buildings designed for secular use.  None would desire that our parish churches should be constructed after the model of a music-hall or a lecture-room.  And what has been said by the late Bishop Lightfoot of the language of the English Bible may be applied with equal truth to the language of the Prayer Book:  “Whatever may have been the feeling in generations past to alter the character of our version, the stately rhythm and archaic coloring are alike sacred in the eyes of all English-speaking peoples. (The Workmanship of the Prayer Book, 192-3)

Dowden goes on to quote Dean Swift, “As the greatest part of our Liturgy, compiled long before the translation of the Bible now in use, and little altered since, there seem to be in it as great strains of sublime eloquence as anywhere to be found in our language”  (193-4). Of course, these quotations were taken from the works of those who lived in another time when people appreciated art and beauty.   In our modern era, people don’t care if their church looks like a barn and their liturgy reads like the funny paper.  But, in the Reformed Episcopal Church, we use this Prayer Book because it is filled with sublime eloquence.  I don’t even like Prayer Books that are called “modern language prayer books.”  When one changes any of the wording, even the words “thee” and “thou,” one changes the beauty and the rhythm of the sound.  It is another reason why I am so against liturgical revision.   While it is true that the Book of Common Prayer has been revised from time to time down through the centuries, the revisions maintained the basic majesty of style.  Our modern versions cannot do it, because the modern revisers are not artists.   I will consider using a revised Prayer Book when we can resurrect Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton to do the revisions.  Until then, keep your hands off my Prayer Book.  You should bring up your children in this kind of church, so that at least, one day a week, for a few minutes, after having been exposed to the increasingly vulgar and trite language of our day, they can be exposed to something beautiful, something profound, something with sublime eloquence.  Who knows, they may grow up to be great writers.  Some of the greatest novelists and poets in the English language owe so much of their style to both the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version.

Someone may object and ask, “Why must you use archaic words such as “vouchsafe”? Couldn’t we use a more modern synonym?”  No, because there is no synonym for “vouchsafe.”  Don’t get me started on this issue about synonyms.    I don’t believe in synonyms anyway.  There is no such thing as another word that means exactly the same as another word.  If it meant the same thing we wouldn’t have invented the other word.  The other word means something different, though it may be a small difference.  If you don’t know what “vouchsafe” means, get a dictionary and look it up, or have a priest  explain it to you.  I love it each Sunday when we pray, “Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ…” “Vouchsafe” means to grant or bestow in an act of lowly condescension. God stoops, bends low, to grant us his favors.   Isn’t that beautiful, and isn’t it worth finding out what “vouchsafe” means?

Since we are Prayer Book Christians, we have no choice but to follow this set form of worship.  Our Prayer Book is so majestic, so profound, so beautiful, and so sublime, I couldn’t bear to part with a single syllable of it.  It is the kind of language that should be used in the worship of a majestic God.

This concern for the majestic in worship is reflected even in our hymns.   I think we are one of the last churches not to give in on this music issue, for most churches have submitted to the demand of my generation that worship music  must be in the style of the Beatles.  I say “Beatles” because all rock music since the Beatles has been derivative.   Now, anybody who knows me knows that I am a Beatle fanatic.  I love rock music, but I wouldn’t allow rock music in our church, because rock music is not majestic.  I love Bluegrass, but I don’t think that is appropriate in Anglican worship. Anybody who knows me knows how much I love Southern Gospel music.  If there were such a thing as reincarnation I would want to come back as the tenor for a Southern Gospel group (or maybe for a doo-wop group in the 50s), but I wouldn’t use it in our worship, because it lacks the element of majesty.  The worship of the true and living God is a worship that demands hymns that are majestic, sublime, and worthy of a king.    Now, I can get out my guitar and sing some so-called “praise and worship music” with friends in an informal gathering, but it wouldn’t be appropriate for public worship.  Compare some of the modern praise choruses with words like these:

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,

Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height

In ancient times dist give the law

In cloud and majesty and awe


O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,

From every foe deliver them

That trust thy mighty power to save

And give them vict’ry o’er the grave


Rejoice, Rejoice Emmanuel!

Shall come to Thee, O Israel.


Such a composition is a work of art, befitting an audience with the King of kings and Lord of lords.  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”  is not only beautiful in its poetry, but one needs to have some Biblical knowledge about the book of Exodus and the prophecies of Isaiah to appreciate it.   Why do we use the 1940 Hymnal rather than a more contemporary hymnal, or praise choruses shown on a jumbo-tron?  We prefer this hymnbook because of the sense of majesty imparted by it.

It is my duty as a minister to jealously guard and protect the music of our worship services so that it will be conducive to the worship of the majestic God.  I don’t have any choice in this matter.   In the Constitution and Canons of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Title IV, Of Work and Worship, Canon I, Of Ministers and Their Duties, we find these words:


It shall be the duty of every Clergyman in charge of a Parish or Mission Parish, with such assistance as he may see fit, to obtain from persons skilled in music, to give order concerning the tunes to be sung at any time in the church; and especially shall it be his duty to suppress all light and unseemly music, and all indecency and irreverence in the performance, by which vain and ungodly persons profane the service of the sanctuary.


There is a kind of music that is reverent, dignified, worthy of a king, and a kind of music that is light and leads to indecency and irreverence.  True Anglican worship strives to maintain a sense of majesty in the vocabulary of its hymns and in the musical accompaniment itself.

Our Scripture, our liturgy, and our hymns reflect our desire to worship a God who is majestic.  Not only do we have majestic Scripture, majestic liturgy, and majestic hymns, but we also have majestic preaching and teaching.  Now, I’m not saying that I am a majestic preacher.  I am fully aware of my limitations as a public speaker.  I wish that I could preach in the majestic style of a John Donne or a Lancelot Andrewes , but God did not gift me that way.  When I say that we have majestic preaching and teaching, I am saying that the Triune God that is preached here is a majestic God.  The Christ we worship is the exalted Christ, the one who is lifted high above and given a name that is above every name, the one before whose holy presence we must bow.  The God that Anglicans preach is not the “man upstairs.”  The Christ that Anglican preach is not your good buddy down the street.    He is king of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The God that Anglicans preach is a majestic God, a God who rules with absolute sovereignty all people and all events in history,  a God who works all things according the counsel of his own will, a God who is full of love and compassion, but also a God of wrath who demands justice, a God so  loving and kind that we long to draw near him, but a God who is so awesome in his holiness that we approach him with fear and trembling.    We take seriously the words of the Psalmist, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11).    Yes, we rejoice, but it is a rejoicing that is never light and flippant.  We preach an exalted God, a great and mighty king, so our preaching and our teaching always emphasize the majesty of this great God.

The time when we bow most humbly before the majestic, glorified Christ, is during the sacrament of Holy Communion.  We believe that during the Sursum Corda, when the priest says, “Lift up your hearts,” we are transported to the heavenly precincts.  In those moments we have the clearest sight of the Lamb who was slain, and we bow in humble adoration, realizing that that the great and majestic God of the universe loves us so much that he would willingly give himself to die on a cross in order that our sins might be forgiven.  This is another reason why we celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday, for there is no other time when we gaze so clearly on the majesty of God as during the Holy Sacrament.

Sometimes people ask me, “Do you have a casual, informal kind of worship?”  No, we don’t have casual, informal worship.  It would never enter our minds to have such a form of worship.  We don’t have casual worship because there is no such thing as casual worship.  Our service of Holy Communion is structured in such a way that we first realize we are in the presence of a holy God, who teaches us out of his holy word.  Then, we confess our sins, confessing our unworthiness to even approach his table, relying only on his merits, and then humbly partaking of the blessed body and blood of the Lamb who was slain.  There is nothing casual about such an encounter with the majestic Christ.  Anglican worship provides a place where Christ is worshiped with the awe and reverence that befits his majesty.

Surely, we must render the kind of worship described in Revelation, the worship worthy of his majesty:

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;  And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.   And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;   Saying with a loud voice

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.   And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. (Rev. 5:9-13)

Anglicans worship in the manner they do because such worship befits a majestic God.

The second reason we engage in the liturgical worship as set forth in the book of Common Prayer is that it is Biblical.  When one thinks about the various Christian denominations, certain images come to mind that we associate with those groups.  If we think of Baptists, we may think of believer’s baptism by immersion.  If we think of the Presbyterians we associate them with predestination.  If we think of Pentecostals and Charismatics, we think of speaking in tongues.  But what image comes to mind when we think of Anglicans?  Unfortunately, we may think of the rich, the snobbish, and those who attend a church that is morally apostate.  What do we want people to think of when they hear the word “Anglican?”  What is unique about the Anglican church?  Our uniqueness is not our belief about the Bible.  There are other churches in our city that believe, as we do, that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God.  We are not unique in preaching the Gospel.  The Gospel is preached by many good and godly men in this city.  Our uniqueness is not found in liturgical worship, since there are other churches that use Scripture-based liturgies.  Then what is unique about us?

Any discussion of our distinctives must begin with The Book of Common Prayer.  Though there are other churches in our city that use a liturgy, what we believe about The Book of Common Prayer is distinctive.  Sadly, people who have been Anglicans all their lives do not realize its importance, and those who have recently become Anglicans have not yet been enraptured by this priceless treasure.  In The Heart of the Prayer Book, William Cox writes:

Christianity is Christ – what He did, and said, and was – working in the lives of men; the Church witnesses to Him. The Holy Bible is The Book of all books. It is the Word of God, the message of God to men, the supreme communication in all history of the Will of God, made known to us in its fullness in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is our one authentic record of what Christ did and said and was. But the same Bible, the life and teaching of the same Lord, are differently interpreted by each of two hundred or more different denominations and organizations calling themselves Churches. In the midst of this Babel of voices, the question naturally arises: Where can we learn, accurately and authoritatively, what our Church teaches, and how she interprets the religion of our Lord? And the answer is: In The Book of Common Prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer is the Church’s Official Book of Worship and Instruction, set forth with Authority, and the only book so set forth. All other books having to do with the teaching of the Church are but the efforts of some member of the Church to explain her teaching. This may be done well or ill, but it is at best the writer’s understanding of the teaching, and the writer’s point of view.  The prayer book is the voice of the church. (6-7)

The attitude of William Cox is the attitude that we should have toward our Book of Common Prayer.  Instead of being embarrassed that we use a set form of worship and written prayers, we must learn to be proud of our heritage of worship, for it is a Biblical and historical form of worship.

Since the seventeenth century, many Christian groups have criticized those who use a set form of prayers and worship.  Some have thought that extemporaneous prayers and free forms of worship are more spiritual.   For some reason, “spontaneous” became synonymous with “spiritual.”  Those who said prayers from a prayer book were accused of not praying from the heart, or not following Christ’s commandment to use no vain repetitions.  Of course, there is a time and place for using extemporaneous prayers.  Hopefully, all of us know how to pray with and without a prayer book.  But I want to make the case that using a set form of prayer and worship is Biblical and has been the historic practice of the church.

We know that in the Old Testament, worship in the tabernacle/temple was very formal and structured down to the most minute details.  Many Christians seem to have the idea that since Jesus came, he said, “Just be led by the Spirit.   Let every person in whatever way they feel led.”  But is that really the case?

In Luke 11 the disciples of Jesus came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Did Jesus reply, “Just follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and say whatever pops into your mind and heart?”  No, our Lord said, “When ye pray, say, “Our Father….”  Some people have said that Jesus didn’t mean that we should say these exact words, but that he was merely giving us a model to follow.  For example, in Matthew6:9, when our Lord gives his disciples this prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer, he says, “After this manner therefore pray ye:  Our Father…”  Some have interpreted this wording to mean that we are not to say the exact words.  We are merely to pray according to “this manner.”   But the interesting thing in the Luke passage is that Jesus said, “When ye pray, SAY, “Our father…”  Our Lord intended his followers to use these exact words on a regular basis.

It would not have been unusual for Jesus to have given his followers exact words to use in their prayers, because he grew up in a faith that was accustomed to repeating exact, prepared prayers.  After all, most of the Psalms are prayers.  When the people read these psalms in their services, when they used them in private devotions, or when they sang them, weren’t they praying them from the heart even though it was a set form of prayer?  When the people prayed or sang Psalm 3 down through the centuries, “Lord, how are thy increased that trouble me!” was it less from the heart because they were using prepared, set forms of prayer?

Perhaps the most famous instance of praying the Psalms is when our Lord Jesus Christ was hanging on the cross.  In all his agony he cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.”  Where did that prayer originate?  As you know, he is praying Psalms 22:1.  Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus prayed on the cross, he resorted to the language from his prayer book, the Psalms?  Just as our Lord is about to die, he prays, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”  Where did that prayer come from?  That prayer is Psalm 31:5, where David prayed, “Into thy hand I commit my spirit.”  Our Lord was so familiar with the Psalms that when he prayed, the language of Scripture came to his lips, and he used those prayers, even in his greatest agony.  Do you suppose he was praying from the heart?  Do you suppose that it was less spiritual because he didn’t put the prayers in his own words?

Many people say that they prefer to hear prayers that are extemporaneous and, thus, from the heart.   But many such extemporaneous prayers are not worthy of prayers to a king, and they are often filled with doctrinal error.   Check out Ricky Bobby’s prayer in the movie, Talledega Nights.  That has to be one of the best arguments that I’ve ever heard for never departing from the Book of Common Prayer.  I have heard some prayers said in churches that make Will Ferrell’s prayer sound like a liturgical and doctrinal masterpiece.

It’s a strange thing that those who object to using prayers from a book, sing hymns from a book, or from a jumbotron. The Scripture says that we must sing and make melody in our hearts unto the Lord (Eph. 5:19).  Is the singing not from the heart simply because it comes from a book?  It is true that we can sing in a manner that is cold and formal.  No doubt, we have caught ourselves daydreaming through a hymn, not paying attention to the words, and not really singing the hymns from the heart.  We can do the same with our written prayers.  Just as we concentrate during the singing of hymns, we must consciously make the effort to pray the prayers from the heart, but it can be done.

Praying set forms of prayer has been the practice of the Church throughout its history. The early church continued the practice of using set forms of prayer.  In Acts 2:42, we read, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  The King James Version left out the article before the word “prayers”, but it is there in the original text.  The early church continued in THE prayers.  Many Bible scholars are in agreement that the phrase, “the prayers” means that they used a set form of prayers, probably the prayers that they had used in the temple or synagogue services.  “The prayers” may even refer to the set hours of prayer for we know that the apostles still followed that custom of set times for prayer both in public and in private.  In Acts 3:1, we find, “Now Peter and john went up together into the temple at the hour or prayer, being the ninth hour.”

Also, we find set prayers in the Book of Revelation, where we have a description of heavenly worship.  There are many mysteries about the Book of Revelation.  Some people see it only as a prophecy concerning the end times, but the book of Revelation is primarily a worship service. The book of Revelation is actually structured around a service of Holy Communion.  If we look in the book of Revelation we find them repeating the same prayers over and over.  We read in Revelation 4:8-11:

And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within:  and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.  And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that on the throne and worship that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power:  for thou hast created all things, and for thy were they are and were created.

The four beasts, symbolizing all the created order do not cease saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.”  Do you suppose that is a vain repetition?  Those who think that repetitions are automatically “vain” repetitions should read the 136th Psalm where the psalmist repeats 26 times the phrase “for his mercy endureth forever.”  I suppose that was a vain repetition!

Some people say that because we use the same prayers we are engaged in vain repetitions.  If that is true, then all our hymns are vain repetitions, and the prayers in the Psalms are vain repetitions.  People often say that using the same prayers gets old and boring.  There are a few prayers that we say each day in Morning and Evening Prayer and in the service of Holy Communion, but most of the prayers in the Prayer Book we only pray once a year.  Most of the prayers in the Prayer Book are collects for a particular Sunday, and there is a different one for each Sunday of the year.  Compare that to the churches that practice so-called “extemporaneous prayer.”  Take me to any church in this city, let me worship with them for a month, and I will have memorized their prayers, because they use repeatedly the same stock phrases.  Let me pray with any man for about a week, and I will know all his prayers and their variations.  So, who is really being repetitive:  the Anglican Church with its great variety of prayers, or the churches who pray the same prayers over and over almost every Sunday “extemporaneously”?  If you want variety in your praying, attend an Anglican Church.

One of the great blessings of praying from the Book of Common Prayer is that you are praying according to the will of God, because you are praying from Scripture. Surely, since our Lord prayed from Scripture, we should pray from Scripture.  When you are praying from the Prayer Book, you are in reality using the language of Scripture.  To quote William Cox again:

The Bible and the Prayer Book are substantially the same book. The Prayer Book is the Bible in devotional form. More than two thirds of the Prayer Book is Scripture quoted word for word, and the remaining one third is the Scripture in essence just paraphrased enough to put it in devotional form. If you were to take out of the Prayer Book everything that is Scripture, or a paraphrase of Scripture, you would have little left but the covers.

Open your Prayer Book and see for yourself the large amount of Scripture quoted word for word. Turn first to the Collects, Epistles and Gospels, beginning on page 90. They end on page 269, a total of 179 pages. Allowing twenty-five pages for the Collects, which will fully cover them, we have here 154 pages of verbatim Scripture, with chapter and verse given.

Turn now to the Psalter, pages 345–525 inclusive. Here we have 181 pages more of verbatim Scripture. The Epistles and Gospels together with the Psalter constitute more than half of the entire book.

Now begin with Morning Prayer on page one, and, turning the pages one by one, note the direct quotations of Scripture that run all through the Prayer Book. Morning Prayer begins with nearly three pages of Scripture. From the end of the Declaration of Absolution to the recitation of the Creed nothing is said or sung, except the Te Deum and the bare announcement of Psalter and Lessons, that is not in the words of Holy Scripture. The Lord’s Prayer is from St. Matthew 6:9–16; the Versicles which follow are from the 51st and the 40th Psalms; the Gloria is from Romans 16:27 and other parts of Scripture; the Venite is from the 95th and 96th Psalms; the Psalter is verbatim Scripture. The Lessons, one from the old Testament and one from the New Testament, are of course Scripture, read directly from the Bible itself; ….Evening Prayer follows the same general order as Morning Prayer, and has a like large proportion of Scripture. Turn the pages and note the passages of Scripture item by item.

Follow the Prayer Book on to the end, page by page, and note the passages of Scripture in the Penitential Office, the Communion Office, the Service for In-fant and Adult Baptism, the Catechism (Decalogue and Lord’s Prayer), also the Services for Confirmation, the Churching of Women (p. 305), Visitation of the Sick, Communion of the Sick, Burial of the Dead, the Thanksgiving Service (p. 264), the Ordination Services, the Consecration of Churches and the Institution of Ministers. Putting it all together, more than two thirds of the entire book of Common Prayer is taken word for word from the Bible.

The remaining one third of the Prayer Book is Scripture in paraphrase. There is scarcely a sentence, or even a phrase, for which a Scripture parallel can-not be shown. Much of the Scripture so paraphrased is easily recognizable by those who are at all familiar with their Bible.

The Rev. Henry Ives Bailey, in a book entitled The Liturgy Compared With The Bible, takes the sentences of the Prayer Book one by one, from the “Dearly Beloved Brethren” of the Morning Service to the last word in the Prayer Book, and shows by a simple assembling of texts that every sentence in the Prayer Book is either in exact Scriptural language, or has a Scripture parallel.  (Cox 8-9)

Let me paraphrase, adapt, and expand a little of Henry Ives Bailey’s observations and so you how our General Confession of Sin for Morning Prayer gets all its language from Scripture

The phrase “Almighty and most merciful Father” echoes II Corinthians 6:17-18, “I will receive you and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty, and Luke 6:36, “Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”  The phrase “we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, is a quotation from Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way,” or Ps. 119:176, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep, and I Peter 2:25, “You were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”

The line “we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts” takes its language from Proverbs 19:21, “There are many devices in a man’s heart,” and Jeremiah 18:12, “They said we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.”

The phrase, “We have offended against thy holy laws,” echoes II Chronicles 28:13, “we have offended against the Lord, our trespass is great,” James 2:10, “In many things we offend all,” and Romans 7:12, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”

The sentence “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done” is taken from Matthew 23:33, “Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”  The phrase, “And there is no health in us,” is taken from Psalm. 38:3, “There is no health in my flesh,” and Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me, (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing.”  The plea, “But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders,” repeats a frequent cry of Scripture found in places such as Luke 18:13, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” and Ps. 51:1, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.”  “Spare thou those O God, who confess their faults” reflects the language of   Nehemiah13:22, “Spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy,” and Malachi 3:17, “I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” The line, “Restore thou those who are penitent” borrows the language of Ps. 51:12, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,” and Ps. 23:3, “He restoreth my soul.”

This prayer of General Confession of Sin also pleads that God would forgive us and spare us “according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   What promises are these?  We could claim many of them:  “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:1`2); “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him, shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43); and “Your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake” (1 John 2:12).

The petition “And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life” comes from Titus 2:11,12, “The grace of God hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”

Then, we pray that God would forgive, spare, restore us, and make us godly, “to the glory of thy holy Name.”  When we pray that section we are claiming the promise of John 14:13, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”   Even the Amen is Scriptural, for we have the commandments, “All the people shall answer and say, Amen” (Deut. 27:15), and Psalm 106:48, “Let all the people say, Amen.”

Isn’t it wonderful that the Church Fathers and our Anglican forefathers did not write our liturgy based on their own whims and imaginations?  Everything they put into it was Scripture, so that we could know that the way we are worshiping and praying, has a Scriptural basis.  How they knew and loved the Bible!

As Dyson Hague writes in his book, The Protestantism of the Prayer Book:

In the Book of Common Prayer the Word of God is glorified. So completely is it saturated with the Word of God that there is scarcely one sentence which has not for its foundation and vindication some text of Holy Scripture. . . . We question, indeed, whether any human composition could, without any straining or purposed effort, compress with as much discretion, and in so short a compass, so full and varied a presentation of the Scriptures as is to be found in the order for morning and evening prayer. It begins with Scripture. It ends with Scripture. It exalts Scripture. It is based on Scripture. It is Scripture, Scripture, Scripture, from beginning to end. (29-30)

William Cox remarks, “Such is the book officially put in our hands by the Church, for purposes of worship, and also for our instruction. When we who know it for what it is, and love it for what it is, remember how it is so richly saturated with Scripture, and how it relates that Scripture so practically and so truly to life, we speak in words of truth and soberness when we say that “it stands in its matchless beauty second only to the Word of God.”

When the disciples came to Jesus and said,  “Lord, teach us to pray,”  He taught them by giving them what we call the Lord’s Prayer.  When our children come to us, asking, “Teach us to pray,” our church can say, “That is what we do best.”  We have the prayers of Scripture and the prayers of the Church down through the centuries in our Book of Common Prayer.  Let us give God thanks for guiding the Church in his wisdom so that we might know how to pray and worship according to the Scriptures.  Amen.

The third reason we worship in such a stately, dignified manner using the book of Common Prayer is that it is beautiful.  When God created the world, he created a world that was good, and it was beautiful.  God could have created the world in just a solid gray, but he created a world with dazzling colors and intricate patterns and infinite variety.  As Brand and Chaplin write in their book, Art and Soul, “The trees of the garden, according to Genesis 2, were ‘pleasing to the eye.’ God had made a world of beauty and had made humans to respond to it; to enjoy green and gold and dappled light, knobbly bark and shapely branches, as well as shade and food” (46).  God made this physical world, and he made it good.  He made us with senses, so that we could know the pleasures of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

When God was giving his instructions for the building of the tabernacle and the garments that the priests would wear, he insisted that they should be beautiful:  “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty” (Ex. 28:2).  If God created things that would appeal to our senses, then we need no other justification for creating works of art that would be appealing to the senses as well.   When Christians become afraid of the physical pleasures of life and joy in the sensual we become Gnostics or Platonists who think that matter is evil and that the point of spirituality is to escape the physical world. *In his book, Art in Action, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes:

“It is the Platonist and not the Christian who is committed to avoiding the delights of the senses, to taking no joy in colors, to avoiding the pleasures to be found in sounds.  Delight in the colors and textures of eucalyptus seed pods, as well as in the sculptures of Henry Moore; delight in the sounds of the sea, as well as in the music of Debussy’s La Mer; delight in the rhythms of John Donne’s poetry, as well as in the movements of flowing streams—all contribute to human fulfillment.  The tragedy of modern urban life is not only that so many in our cities are oppressed and powerless, but also that so many have nothing surrounding them in which any human being could possibly take sensory delight.  For this state of affairs we who are Christians are guilty as any.  We have adopted a pietistic-materialistic understanding of man, viewing human needs as the need for a saved soul plus the need for food, clothes, and shelter.  (82)

If God created a beautiful world, a world that appealed to all of our senses, then why should we think that when we worship God, such worship should appeal only to our brains, and that worship should be entirely a mental activity?  When God commanded that the tabernacle/temple should be made with such ornate beauty, did God suddenly become a gnostic in the New Testament and tell us that there should be nothing more of physical, sensual beauty in New Testament worship.   Unfortunately for those who think so, the worship described in the book of Revelation is once again filled with beautiful colors, ornate thrones and altars, robes, jewels, and many other beautiful objects.   Anglican worship is filled with beauty.  Anglican worship appeals to all of the senses.   God created us as human beings, capable of enjoying all our senses, and there is certainly nothing wrong with employing all of them in our worship, unless one thinks that the physical senses are evil and lead us away from the flesh to the truly “spiritual” mental activity.

The fourth reason we worship God in this liturgical manner is that this form of worship is the historic tradition of the Church.  There are several historic liturgies that have their roots in the early days of the church.  According to Blunt:

The Liturgy of St. James, or of Jerusalem, was that used in Palestine and Mesopotamia, the dioceses of both which countries were included within the Patriarchate of Antioch. A singular proof of its primitive antiquity is found in the fact that the Monophysite heretics, who now occupy all these dioceses, use a Syriac Liturgy which they attribute to St. James, and which is nearly identical with that attributed, to him by the orthodox, between whom and the Monophysites there has been no intercommunion since the Council of Chalcedon, which was held A. D. 451. Such a coincidence goes far to prove that this Liturgy is at least fourteen centuries old, and also offers some evidence that it was the one in use by the Churches of the Patriarchate of Antioch before the great division which arose out of the Eutychian heresy. The Liturgy of St. James is also mentioned in the 32nd Canon of the Constantinopolitan Council held in Trullo, A. D. 692; and traces of it are to be found in the writings of Fathers who lived or had lived within the Patriarchate of Antioch, and may thus be supposed to have been familiar with its words. Among such are Theodoret, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom (once a priest of Antioch), and St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem, two of whose Catechetical Lectures (preached in the latter half of the fourth century) are expressly on the subject of the Holy Eucharist, and describe the Service minutely. In the Apostolical Constitutions, written in the third century, there is a Liturgy, or synopsis of one, which has been called by the name of St. Clement, but appears to be that of St. James; and with the latter also agrees the description of the celebration of the Eucharist which is given by Justin Martyr, who was a native of Samaria (within the Patriarchate of Antioch), and died about sixty years only after St. John. 9 From this evidence it appears almost certain that the Liturgy of St. James which is used by the Monophysites, and that which is used on the Feast of St. James by the orthodox Church of Jerusalem, are versions of the primitive Liturgy which was used for the celebration of the Holy Communion in Judcea and the surrounding countries in the age which immediately followed that of the Apostles. From it St. Basil’s Liturgy was derived, and from St, Basil’s that of St. Chrysostom, which is the one used at the present day in the Eastern Church, and in Russia.

The Liturgy of St. Mark, or of Alexandria, is known to have been used by the orthodox Churches of North-eastern Africa down to the twelfth century, and is still used in several forms by the Monophysites, who supplanted them. The most authentic form of it is that entitled “The Liturgy of Mark which Cyril perfected,” and which is extant in the Coptic,-or vernacular language of Egypt, as well as in Greek, in MSS. of very ancient date. This Liturgy is traceable, by a chain of evidence similar to that mentioned in the preceding paragraph, to the second century, to whichdate it is assigned by Bunsen. Palmer says respecting it, “We can ascertain with considerable certainty the words and expressions of the Alexandrian Liturgy before the Council of Chalcedon, A. D. 451; and we can trace back its substance and order to a period of far greater antiquity. In fact, there is nothing unreasonable in supposing that the main order and substance of the Alexandrian Liturgy, as used in the fifth century, may have been as old as the Apostolic age, and derived originally from the instructions and appointment of the blessed Evangelist.”

The Liturgy of St. Peter, or of Rome, is found, substantially as it is used in the Latin Church at the present day, in the Sacramentaries of St. Gregory [A. D. 590], Gelasius [A.n. 491], and St. Leo [A. D. 483], although many additions have been made to it in later times. The Roman Liturgy is attributed to St. Peter by ancient liturgical commentators, who founded their opinion chiefly upon a passage in an Epistle of Innocent, Bishop of Rome in the fifth century, to Decentius, Bishop of Eugubium. But no doubt St. Innocent refers to the “Canon of the Mass” (as it has been called in later ages), that part of the Office which begins with the actual consecration of the Sacrament. There seems no reason to believe that this confident opinion of so eminent a Bishop in the fifth century was otherwise than correct; and like the preceding Liturgies, that of Rome may reasonably be assigned to the age succeeding the Apostles. St. Gregory revised the variable parts of this Liturgy, the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels; but the only change which he made in the Ordinary and the Canon was by that addition of a few words which is noticed by the Venerable Bede.  From the Roman Liturgy in its primitive form were derived that used by the Churches of North-western Africa, and the famous Ambrosian Rite which is used in the Church of Milan. Since the time of St. Gregory this Liturgy has been used over a large part of the Western Church, and is now the only one allowed by the See of Rome.

The Liturgy of St. John, or of St. Paul, i.e. the Ephesine Liturgy, was the original of that which was used, probably in three various forms, in Spain, France, and England during the earlier ages of Christianity, and the only one besides the Roman which obtained a footing in the Western Church. This appears to have been disused in the dioceses of which Ephesus was the centre, at the time of the Council of Laodicea in Phrygia some time in the fourth century: the nineteenth Canon of that Council giving such directions respecting the celebration of the Holy Communion as shew that it substituted the Liturgy of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom, which is still used in those dioceses. But, at a much earlier date, missionaries had gone forth from the Church of Ephesus, and had planted the standard of Christianity at Lyons, that city thus becoming the great centre from which the Church spread itself throughout France; and as late as A. D. 177, the Christians of Lyons wrote to the Churches of Asia respecting the martyrdoms which had occurred in that city as to those who represented their mother Church, and had therefore a special sympathy with them. The primitive Liturgy of Ephesus thus became that of France, and, probably by the missionary work of the same apostolic men, of Spain also. This Liturgy continued to be used in the French Church until the time of Charlemagne [A. D. 742-814]. It had received such additions from the hands of Mussceus, Sidonius, and St. Hilary of Poitiers, as St. Gregory had made to the Roman rite, but these additions or alterations did not affect the body of the Liturgy, consisting, as they did, of Introits, Collects, and other portions of the Service belonging to that which precedes the Ordinary and Canon.

The Gallican Liturgy was partly supplanted by the Roman in the time of Pepin, who introduced the Roman chant and psalmody into the Churches of France; and it was altogether superseded by Charlemagne, who obtained the Sacramentary of St. Gregory from Rome, and issued an edict that all priests should celebrate the Holy Sacrament only in the Roman manner. In Spain the same Liturgy had been used in a form called the Mozarabic; but by the influence of Pope Gregory VII., Alphonse VI., King of Castille and Leon, was persuaded to do as Charlemagne had done in France, to abolish the use of the national rite and substitute that of the Roman Church. It was thus wholly discontinued until the beginning of the sixteenth century, when Cardinal Ximenes endowed a college and chapel for the use of it at Toledo, and there it still continues to be used.

The early connection between the Church of France and the Church of England was so close that there can be no reasonable doubt of the same Liturgy having been originally used in both countries. When St. Augustine came to England in A. D. 596, expecting to find it an altogether heathen land, he discovered that there was an ancient and regularly organized Church, and that its usages were different in many particulars from those of any Church with which he had been previously acquainted…. By the advice of St. Gregory he introduced some changes into the Liturgy which he found in use; the changes coming, not directly from the Roman Sacramentary of St. Gregory, but “from a sister rite, formed in the south of France by the joint action, probably, of St. Leo and Cassian, about two hundred years before [A. D. 420]; having a common basis, indeed, with the Roman Office, but strongly tinctured with Gallican characteristics derived long ago from the East, and probably enriched, at the time, by fresh importation of Oriental usages.” Thus the Liturgy of the Church ofEngland after St. Augustine’s time became a modified form of the more ancient Gaallican, which itself was originally the Liturgy of the Church of Ephesus, owing its germ to St. Paul or St. John. The English Church of St. Augustine’s day, and long after, distinctly averred that its customs were derived from the latter Apostle; but in many particulars the work of St. John and St. Paul appears to have traversed the same ground, as it certainly did in the Church of Ephesus, and probably did in the Church of England.

The Liturgy thus derived from the ancient Gallican, and the more recent version of it which had been introduced by Cassian, was again revised by St. Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, in A. D. 1085….; and it was the same Liturgy which also formed the basis of the other slightly varying Offices that were used in different dioceses of England, and have come down to us by the names of these dioceses. The Salisbury Liturgy eventually supplanted all the others which were used by the Church of England, and became the principal basis of the vernacular Liturgy which has now been used for more than three hundred years in all the churches of the Anglican Communion.    (Blunt, Vol. 2, pp. 810-813)

….St. Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, and Chancellor of England, collecting together a large body of skilled clergy, remodelled the Offices of the Church, and left behind him the famous Portiforium or Breviary of Sarum, containing the Daily Services; together with the Sarum Missal, containing the Communion Service; and, probably, the Sarum Manual, containing the Baptismal and other “occasional” Offices. These, and some other Service-books, constituted the “Sarum Use,” that is, the Prayer Book of the diocese of Salisbury. It was first adopted for that diocese in A.D. 1085, and was introduced into other parts of England so generally that it became the principal devotional Rule of the Church of England, and continued so for more than four centuries and a half: “the Church of Salisbury,” says a writer of the year 1256, being conspicuous above all other Churches like the sun in the heavens, diffusing its light everywhere, and supplying their defects.”  Other Uses continued to hold their place in the dioceses of Lincoln, Hereford, and Bangor, and through the greater part of the Province of York; though in the diocese of Durham the Salisbury system was followed. At St. Paul’s Cathedral, and perhaps throughout the diocese of London, there was an independent Use Until A.D. 1414. For about a hundred and fifty years before the Prayer Book era there was some displacement of the Sarum Use by Roman customs in Monasteries, Monastic Churches (though not at Durham), and perhaps in Parish Churches served by Monastic clergy: but the “Use” itself was not superseded to any great extent even in these. The Salisbury Use, that of York, and that of Hereford, are well known to modern ritualists. They appear to be traceable to a common origin; but they differ in so many respects from the Roman Breviary, and even from the Missal [with which a closer agreement might have been expected), that they clearly derive their common origin from a source independent of the Roman Church. And, whatever quarter they may have been derived from in the first instance, it is equally clear that the forms of Divine Service now known to us under these names represent a system which was naturalized so many ages ago, that it had been entitled to the name of an independent English rite for at least a thousand years. (Blunt, Vol. 1, pp. 28-29)

As you can see, Thomas Cranmer did not invent a new liturgy when he compiled the Book of Common Prayer.   The Book of Common Prayer was simply a careful revision of these ancient liturgies of the Church.  Therefore, the Anglican Church worships in the language and style of the Church from its earliest days.

Now, there may be some question about the various symbols and movements found in Anglican worship.   All the symbols and movements point to our Lord Jesus Christ and his majesty.   The practices in our services were not invented out of sentiment or for mere decoration.   The practices contained in the liturgy have spiritual meaning and should flood our senses with a richness of beauty.

One of the distinctive features of an Anglican worship service is the vestments that the priests and the acolytes wear.  As an Anglican minister, I wear a white collar, not only on Sunday, but during the week as well. The collar is a symbol of a slave or servant.  When a priest wears the collar, he is reminding himself  and letting people know that he is  a servant of Jesus Christ.

The vestments that the priest, deacons, bishops, and acolytes wear are uniforms that set them apart.  They are a reminder to all who see them that something other than ordinary business is about to happen.  The vestments remind people that everything that is about to happen is connected with the worship of Almighty God.  The vestments add a sense of dignity to the service, reminding people that the priests and servers are acting in an official capacity for the Lord on behalf of the church.   All the vestments point to Christ in some way.

The priest and the acolytes wear an alb.  The word “alb” comes from the Latin word “albus” meaning white.  The white robe reminds us of the spotless purity of Jesus Christ.  It also reminds us that we are now clothed in white because we have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.  It is because we have been washed by his blood that we are made worthy to approach his altar and serve there.  In the book of Revelation we find that those who worship around God’s throne are dressed in white.  In Rev. 7:14, they are described as those who “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”   Therefore, our white garments are a reminder that when we worship, we are joining in worship with those departed saints who are now gathered around the throne in heaven.

The alb is held together by a rope that we call a “cincture.”  The cincture is a form of girdle.  Again, a servant had to wear a girdle, and had to gird himself in order to serve others.  This symbol reminds us of the Lord Jesus Christ who on the night when he was betrayed, girded himself to wash the feet of his disciples.  John 13:4 reads, “He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel and girded himself.”  When the priest puts on the cincture, he is reminded of how is to serve others as Christ did.  It also is a reminder to the priest and acolytes to gird the loins of their minds, that is, be mentally and spiritually prepared for the service they are about to perform.   The Apostle Peter wrote, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober.”  (I Peter 1:13).  Thus, when we put on the cincture, we pray, “Gird me, O Lord, with the girdle of Thy love, and extinguish within me the fire of all evil desire, that the grace of temperance and chastity may abide in me.”   The cincture is also a reminder of how Christ was tied and bound during his trial.  The knots on the ends of the cincture are there to symbolize the scourge that was used to whip and beat our Lord Jesus Christ, once again, reminding us of his sufferings for us.

The priest also wears a stole.  The color of the stole, chasuble, and the altar appointments will reflect the changes in the church calendar.  We use purple or violet during the penitential seasons, such as Advent and Lent.  White is the color of joy, triumph, and victory.  We wear it on at Christmas, Easter,  Feasts of the Godhead and our Lord, and on the days of angels and saints who were not martyred.  We use green during Epiphany through the Trinity season.  Green is the color of growth, so we wear it during the long Trinity season to symbolize our growth in grace.  Red is the color for Pentecost, which symbolizes the tongues of fire that sat on the heads of those in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.  We also use it on the days of saints who were martyred to symbolize their blood that was shed.

Getting back to the stole, only someone who is ordained can wear the stole.  It signifies that he has been ordained to preach the gospel.  The stole represents the yoke of Jesus Christ.  Remember how he said in Matthew 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   In Biblical days, a yoke was a harness frequently used to direct oxen.   The stole is a reminder that the priest wears the yoke of Christ, to be turned and guided by Christ in any way that the Lord should choose.  Whenever the priest puts on the stole, he kisses the cross that is on the back.  Wearing the yoke of Christ means bearing the cross for Christ’s sake.  Kissing the cross means that the priest not only accepts the life of suffering for Christ’s sake, but that he lovingly,  lovingly accepts the suffering that comes with wearing the yoke of Christ.

The priest also wears a chasuble.  Originally, the word “chasuble” means “little house.”  Chasubles were once so large that they did resemble little tents.  The chasuble represents the seamless robe of Christ that he wore to the cross, the robe for which the soldiers gambled.  The chasuble reminds us of the great sacrificial love, a love that was willing to suffer humiliation for the sake of his people.  The chasuble has also been used to symbolize the wedding garment that all Christians must wear if they are to attend the wedding feast of the Lamb.  For this reason, the chasuble is worn only if the priest is going to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the banquet of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When one enters an Anglican church, the focal point of our attention is the altar.  Normally, the altar has two candles and a cross on it.  The cross reminds us of the price our Lord Jesus Christ paid for our redemption.  The candles remind us of the presence of God.  As we read the Scriptures, we find that when God reveals his presence in a special way to his people, light accompanies that visitation.  From Moses on Mt. Sinai to St. John on Patmos, the worship of God is connected with light.  The candle also reminds us that our Lord Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The candle on the left side of the altar is referred to as the gospel candle and the candle to the right is the epistle candle.  The gospel candle is lit last, and it is extinguished first, because the gospel candle is never to burn alone.  The candles also remind us of how the early Christians had to meet in dark places such as caves and catacombs where the only light would have probably been the dim light of torches or lamps.  The candles remind us of how we are connected with the persecuted church of centuries past.  The candles are also a symbol of joy.  As Jerome said, “In all the churches of the East, when the Gospel is about to be read, lights are kindled, though the sun be shining brightly, not to put the darkness to flight, but to show a sign of rejoicing.”

The Psalmist said, “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth” (Ps. 96:9).   In Anglican worship, majesty, Scripture, and centuries of Church tradition combine to create a worship service of incredible beauty, one that leads us to rejoice and tremble before the holiness of God.

Works Cited

Blunt, John Henry.  The Annotated Book of Common Prayer:  Being an Historical, Ritual, and Theological Commentary on the Devotional System of the Church           of England.  New York:  Dutton, 1884.

Brand, Hilary and Adrienne Chaplin.  Art and Soul: Signpost for Christians in the Arts.  Downers Grove:

IVP Academic, 2001

Cox, William E.  The Heart of the Prayer Book.  Richmond:  Dietz P, 1944.

Dowden, John.  The Workmanship of the Prayer Book:  In Its Literary and Liturgical Aspects.  London:

Methuen, 1899.

Hague, Dyson.  The Protestantism of the Prayer Book.  London:  Church Association, 1893.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  Art in Action:  Toward a Christian Aesthetic.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdman’s, 1987.

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