Regular readers of this blog will have heard me wax lyrical about one of my heroes, Thomas Cranmer on numerous occasions. His 1549 and then 1552 revision of the Prayer Book would have changed English social history for ever had Edward VI only lived a few more years. As it was, Edward's untimely death meant the end of a reformed Prayer book, and soon after, an end for Cranmer, burned alive at the stake under Queen Mary.
We reformed modernists have turned our back on the old church calender with it's connection to the land, the seasons and the peoples of another age. However, the nuances of Cranmer's measured language, and his systematic teaching of theology to those who knew nothing of the gospel or the grand narrative of God's dealings with men, has yet to be surpassed in any generation. Quite simply, Cranmer discipled the entire English tribe with his short daily prayers and scripture readings. His biblical ideas gradually becoming established and embedded in a nation that lay under the darkness of catholicism.
More than this, for the average Priest and Peasant, both likely to be illiterate, Cranmer's methodical teaching through Psalm, song, collects and prayers brought the big story of the bible to life for those who had only every heard the Latin rites. Teaching both preachers and the congregation, in their own language simultaneously was Cranmer's great achievement.
Having an opportunity to enjoy Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral this week, I was reminded again what a hero of both the Christian faith and the English language Cranmer was. His much noted compromises and recantations under the two monster Monarchs Henry VIII and Mary, cause many to consider Cranmer in a less than heroic light. However, his reforming zeal under Edward and the ultimate manner of his martyrdom should leave no room for doubters.
The 1552 Prayer Book has many times since been updated (not for the better), but the structure and flow remains morning and evening in every prayer book service. Evensong today will continue it's way through the Psalms, 59-61, readings from Isaiah, Matthew, the ever present Apostle's Creed, and this Collect which highlights both the high view of the scriptures and this advent season:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever.