I have two handsome books in my study. I have come to realize that they are far more than books. They are actually treasure chests. Fittingly as treasure chests they are bound in leather and lettered in gold. One is called the Book of Common Prayer, the other the Book of Alternative Services.
From the late 16th century to the mid 20th century the Book of Common Prayer is the text with which all Anglicans once worshiped and many continue to do so today. However the Book of Alternative Services has taken its own place with many Anglicans, and there has developed much experimenting with liturgies beyond both books.
My own experience came from being of a particular generation. I came to know the Book of Common Prayer as a seven year old choirboy in 1935. By 1965 I had been formed as an Anglican by its beauty. I knew large sections of it off by heart – Psalms, Collects, Prayers. I know those things to this day. Beauty remains.
On the other hand when in the 1980s I first received the Book of Alternative Services, I was interested and excited because I felt that these new forms would lead us eventually to the next generation of the Book of Common Prayer. For many reasons this did not happen, and I for one regret this.
After a few years of using both books regularly at Sunday worship I began a quest. I was already aware of many beautiful things in the pages of the BCP. I now began to search for beauty in the BAS. Over time that quest has been richly rewarded.
I would like then to offer two short lists of treasures found, both lists very obviously partial.
First, seven things I treasure from the Book of Common Prayer:
- An Offertory Sentence: You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor that you through his poverty might become rich.
- The Collect for the fourth Sunday after Trinity: O God, increase and multiply upon us thy mercy, that we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.
- General Intercession: Remember for good all those that love us, and those who hate us, and those that have desired us, unworthy as we are, to pray for them. And those whom we have forgotten, do thou O Lord, remember.
- From Family Prayers: For life and health and safety, for power to work and leisure to rest, for all that is beautiful in creation and in the lives of men and women, we praise and magnify thy holy name
- From Psalm 84: O how lovely are thy dwellings, thou Lord of hosts! Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
- From a prayer at Eventide: Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
- From the prayer of Humble Access before receiving Communion: We do not presume to come to this thy table…trusting in our own righteousness but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table…
Now a list from the pages of the Book of Alternative Services:
- A powerful, succinct summing up of Christian faith used in the Eucharist: Christ has died: Christ is Risen: Christ will come again.
- From a prayer translated from the Dutch for use in the Burial Offices: God of grace and glory, we thank you for N. who was so near and dear to us, and who now has been taken from us. We pray that nothing good in this woman’s life will be lost… and that everything in which she was great will continue to mean much to us now that she is dead…
- Litany of the Holy Spirit: Come Holy Spirit, breath of God, give life to the dry bones of this exiled age, and make us a living people, holy and free.
- From Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child: A prayer for a child born handicapped: Note how sensitively this prayer is given its title. What is made primary is the child, not the handicap. God, grant us understanding, compassionate and accepting hearts, and the gifts of courage and patience to face the challenge of caring for (our child). Let your love for us show forth in our lives, that we may create an atmosphere where he (or she) will live a life full of dignity and worth…
- From the Occasional Prayers, a prayer for those suffering from Addiction:…look with compassion upon all who through addiction have lost their health and freedom…remove the fears that attack them, strengthen them in the work of their recovery, and to those who care for them, give patient understanding and persevering love…
- From the Blessing of a Marriage: Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads. Bless them in their work and in their companionship, in their sleeping and in their waking, in their joys and in their sorrows…
- From the Commendation in the Burial Offices: You only O Christ are immortal, the creator and maker of all; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return…All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
There is my list of treasures. My hope is that you may roam in these two books and find material that you will come to treasure.