Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Foundations of the Anglican Church LXXV

I know I was a bit harsh in my recent assessment of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and I must admit that I am surprised how much my own understanding of the Reformation in the Church of England has shifted since I have been writing this blog.  Cranmer was never a hero for me, but I did have great respect for him.  But as I have looked again at the historical data and the various—and variant—roles Cranmer played through his life,  it is difficult for me to ascribe to him the historical gravitas that I once had believed was his.  He is just too slick, to oily in his politics, to be worthy of heroization.  I won’t deny that the place in history is great, it is the man who filled that place who seems to have been too much the opportunist, to much the political player, too much the sycophant and too little the man of principle to be considered as “great” in any significant sense. 
The nave of Cranmer's
Cathedral Church at
But there is one thing that cannot be taken away from Cranmer’s greatness and that is the contribution he made with the Book of Common Prayer.  I must admit that I prefer the 1549 Book which preserves more of the Catholic Order of the Mass than the more Protestant 1552 revision, but the prayers themselves are pretty stable between the two editions.  But even the 1552 revision which makes some drastic re-ordering of the Mass—such as putting the Lord’s Prayer after the Holy Communion and moving the Gloria from the beginning of the Liturgy to a post-communion hymn were well researched for historical precedent and not done simply for the sake of innovation. The real credit however is in the composition of the prayers—and especially the collects.  Cranmer drew the best from various pre-Reformation rites, and especially the English Sarum Rite, and translated them from the Latin to an elegant English while eliminating any ideas that sounded to him less than orthodox.  Perhaps the best example of his work is the Collect for Purity which he took from the Sarum Rite.   (It also had appeared in the Leofric Missal and the Roman Rite where it was found in the Mass ad Postulandam Gratiam Spiritus Sancti.) 
Deus, cui omne cor patet et omnis voluntas loquitur, et quem nullum latet secretum, purifica per infusionem Sancti Spiritus cogitationes cordis nostri, ut te perfecte diligere et digne laudare mereamur. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Qui tecum vivit et regnat, in unitate ejusdem Spiritus Sancti, per omnia sæcula sæculorum. Amen.
Cranmer translated this magnificent prayer into an equally magnificent English:
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secretes 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.
giving us a prayer that many Catholic priests have borrowed into the current rite of the Mass, most particularly to close the bidding prayers.
Another example of Cranmer’s fine work is the Prayer of Humble Access said in preparation for Holy Communion. 
We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.
This prayer is not the translation of an older prayer but an original composition woven together from Mark 7:28, John 6:56, the Liturgy of Saint Basil, a collect from the Sacramentary of Pope Saint Gregory, and the writings of Thomas Aquinas. 
I have often heard the beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer while attending services in the Anglican/Episcopalian Churches but the time I was most struck by it was on a visit to Prague when I entered the Church where the original Infant of Prague is venerated.  Mass was going on at the main altar in English—which didn’t surprise me as pilgrim groups are always there.  But something seemed different about this Mass.  I couldn’t tell what it was.  It all seemed very “Vatican II.”  The priest faced the people across the altar.  But the language was different in tone.  And then I recognized the Prayer Book phrases.  It was a group of American pilgrims who follow the Anglican Usage –the approved rites drawn from the Book of Common Prayer for Anglicans/Episcopalians who have come into full union with Rome but who wish to retain their own liturgical tradition.  I was deeply impressed to see this sign of respect for another tradition within the Church, but I must admit that I wondered what Thomas Cranmer would have thought of his liturgy  being used in a Church dedicated to the veneration of an image of the Child Jesus. 

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