Rich Irony   3 comments

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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There is a liturgical joke that highlights certain denominational differences.

In a county seat town somewhere in the United States of America, the First Baptist Church was hosting the annual community Thanksgiving service.  The local Episcopal priest was one of the participating ministers.  When the priest’s role in the service had come, the host pastor said,

Now Father Jones from the Episcopal church will lead us in one of his…written prayers.

Father Jones walked up to the pulpit and said,

Let us pray.  Our Father, which art in heaven….

I was thinking of that story, which could be true, even if it is not, because of an ironic written prayer I read on page 202, from the “Other Prayers for Worship” section of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), from the mainline of U.S. Presbyterianism:

For Those Who Write Prayers

Almighty God:  you have no patience with solemn assemblies, or heaped-up prayers to be heard by men.  Forgive those who have written prayers for congregations.  Remind them that their foolish words will pass away, but that your word will last and be fulfilled, in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This prayer, indicating a traditionally Puritan Presbyterian hostility to written prayers and to prayer books, exists in the same volume as many written prayers for congregations to use.

I find this matter rather amusing and theologically alien to me, for I belong to The Episcopal Church, which has a rich and unapologetic record of written prayers–Books of Common Prayer, even–reaching back through the corridors of time to The Book of Common Prayer (1549) and deeper into the past, to missals and the Liturgy of the Hours, and before that, to The Didache.  If one does not approve of written prayers for congregational use, one can avoid them, but hopefully such a person will avoid the hypocrisy of writing or using a written prayer asking divine forgiveness for those who write prayers for congregational use.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIP SCHAFF AND JOHN WILLIAMSON NEVIN, U.S. GERMAN REFORMED HISTORIANS, THEOLOGIANS, AND LITURGISTS

THE FEAST OF FRIEDRICH FUNCKE, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY A. LATHBURY, U.S. METHODIST HYMN WRITER

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3 responses to “Rich Irony

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  1. It is not a matter of words, but the heart. When one reads a written prayer, it can be just as meaningful and spiritual as an unwritten prayer if one’s heart is in the reading and the praying!

    • Exactly. Much of the Book of Common Prayer (1979) has become so much a part of me. For example, I do not read any portion of Holy Eucharist Rite II off the page anymore, unless the priest is using Eucharistic Prayer D, which is especially verbose. I do not need to read Holy Eucharist Rite II (except parts of Eucharistic Prayer D) anymore because I know the ritual so well.

      Also, I find that the ritual “sets the table,” if you will. It creates an environment of holiness obviously separate from the world outside the church doors.

      By the way, I found the ironic prayer while consulting the Worshipbook for prayers to use in the new series of post and to fill in whenever the 1966 provisional Book of Common Worship has no such prayer. I have two posts to draft before I reach a natural pausing point and begin to post.

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