The Corner

Happy Birthday, BCP

Prince Charles, heir apparent to the British throne, is widely disliked by conservatives because of some of his politically incorrect statements. But his introduction to a new book celebrating the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is one that cultural conservatives should cheer heartily. He writes:

Over recent years, we have witnessed a concerted effort to devalue the currency of [the 1662 BCP’s] resonant words. But who was it who decided that for people who aren’t very good at reading, the best things to read are those written by people who aren’t very good at writing? Poetry is surely for everybody, even if it’s only a few phrases. But banality is for nobody. It might be accessible for all, but so is a desert.

Complaint about modern liturgical language is one of my favorite subgenres of invective. (A classic instance comes from the conservative Roman Catholic priest Father George Rutler. After he converted from Episcopalianism to Roman Catholicism — a few years after the Vatican II modernizations — he was asked whether he missed anything about his old church. His response: “Oh yes. I do so miss the liturgy in English.”) Which is not to say that I am entirely in agreement with it: While I, like Prince Charles, prefer the more traditional liturgies, I would probably not go as far as he does in opposing the modern-language ones. But Charles’s sense of the richness of the older BCP is surely correct, and worth celebrating on the occasion of this anniversary.

(The book he is introducing is The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present, and Future; and it is imbued not just with the theology but also with the culture of Anglicanism. The biographical note for one of the contributors reads, in part: “The Revd Neal Patterson is Rector of the Ariconium Benefice in the county and diocese of Hereford. . . . When parish duties permit, he is to be found out on his horse or behind a cricket-scoring table.” It’s hard for me to picture that last sentence in the short bio of, e.g., a Presbyterian dominie or an R.C. padre.)

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