Why Does the Prayer Book Matter? By H.R.H. The Prince of Wales An Address on the 25th Anniversary of the Prayer Book Society of the Church of England Lord Charteris, ladies and gentlemen: I am deeply conscious that I am here in the presence of experts of all kindsnot least the spiritual, theological and scholastic. I am particularly touched that so many people, like Dr Spurr, have come from as far away as Australia; others have come from Canada; and I was particularly glad to see the Bishop of London. So I hesitate to speak with any learned authority on a subject as important and central as the Book of Common Prayer. But I hope you will forgive a few thoughts which I think you might suspect come from the heart, rather than from the pen of a scholarly individual. I was struck, when turning some of the less familiar pages of the Prayer Book the other day, by the poignant way in which Cranmer and the church fathers so succinctly understood the problem of preserving the integrity of literature and liturgy in a turbulent and changing world. I am sure you will all recall how the second Preface begins: There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted. In a speech I made, which Lord Charteris mentioned, before some of you at S. James Garlickhythe seven-and-a-half years ago, I described the Prayer Book as a most glorious part of our heritage, and a book of prayer for the whole community. Due in no small part to the hard work of you all and your Society over the last two-and-a-half decades, I am delighted to say that the Prayer Book remains today in cherished use in many more churches across the country than might otherwise have been the case. So, why does the Prayer Book matter, together with the numinous mystery of its language? Because, as its very survival over the centuries has shown, its language and liturgy are sensitive to the profound human need for continuity and permanence, and have shown themselves not of an age, but for all time. But, ladies and gentlemen, what is it about tradition and traditional values that, at the mere mention of these words, normally intelligent people go into paroxysms of rage and indignation, even vilification, as I have discovered? Is it because they feel threatened? It is as if tradition represented the enemy of man's lofty ambition; the primitive force which acts as an unwelcome reminder deep in our subconscious of the ultimate folly of believing that the purpose and meaning of life on this earth lie in creating a material form of Utopiaa world in which technology becomes a virtual-reality God, the arbiter of virtual-reality ethics, and thus the eventual murderer of the soul of mankind. To my mind, tradition is not a man-made element in our lives, it is a God-given awareness of the natural rhythms and of the fundamental harmony engendered by a union of the paradoxical opposites in every aspect of nature. Tradition reflects, in my opinion, the timeless order, and yet disorder, of the cosmos, and anchors us into a harmonious relationship with the great mysteries of the universe. Some scientists claim to have discovered the origins of the universe and explain it all quite confidently in terms of a Big Bang. If it was a Big Bang, then I suggest it was a controlled explosion. Likewise, I believe that man is much more than just a biological phenomenon resting on the bottom line of the great balance sheet of life, where art and culture and religion are increasingly in danger of becoming optional extras. While appreciating that so much of the simple innocence of our lives has been destroyed, I do believe that the survival of civilised values, as we have inherited them from our ancestors, depends on the corresponding survival in our hearts of that profound sense of the sacred. The genius of Cranmer's Prayer Book, in my humble opinion, lies in the conveyance of that sense of the sacred through the power and majesty of the language of the Prayer Book, so that, in the words of the collect, Among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found. The Orthodox Church, for example, has never lost, abandoned, or diminished the sacred beauty and symbolism of its liturgy. The great, overwhelming sadness for me, and I am sure for you, too, is that we seem to have forgotten that for solemn occasions we need exceptional and solemn language: something which transcends our everyday speech. We commend the beauty of holiness, yet we forget the holiness of beauty. If we encourage the use of mean, trite, ordinary language, we encourage a mean, trite, and ordinary view of the world we inhabit. Many people look in dismay at what has been happening to our language in the very place where it evolved. They wonder what it is about our country and our society that our language has become so impoverished, so sloppy, and so limited; that we have arrived at such a dismal wasteland of banality, cliché, and casual obscenity. For many, it has been an absolute tragedy to witness the abandonment of the idea of English as something really to be learned by effort and application, by long and careful familiarity with those who have shown how to clothe thoughts in the most precise, vivid and memorable language. We have ended up leaving ourselves open to the terrible accusation once levelled by that true master of the banal, Samuel Goldwyn: You've improved it worse! However, there are signs of encouragement in that the last 25 years do seem to have brought about a slight change of atmosphere in this debate; and in particular that the Church of England Liturgical Commission is now making more effort to honour the Prayer Book tradition than in the past, and is proposing to include the Book of Common Prayer in its new prayer book, so that it will be much more available to everybody. There is no doubt in my mind that the Prayer Book Societys work to commend the Prayer Book to the next generation through the Cranmer Awards scheme matters a great deal. So, the Prayer Books survival is, I believe a touchstone of our ability as a society to value its spiritual roots, its liturgical continuity, and its very identity as a nation of believers. This is, therefore, not the moment to relax your efforts, but to encourage them even further. I look forward to your next 25 years of endeavour and success. Your work could not be more important to the rediscovery of tradition, as the Bishop of London has so succinctly put it.
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