At our last reflection we got through a whole three pages of the Service of Holy Communion! Don’t worry, we’ll be slowing things down a bit today.
Kyrie – A Greek Tradition
We start today on page 70 with three little phrases that we never forget to say, but seldom pay much attention to – “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.” The official name for this little prayer is the “Kyrie, eleison” which means (you guessed it!), “Lord, have mercy.” The unique thing about the Kyrie is that it is not a Latin phrase. It’s Greek. In fact, even when this prayer was sung in Latin worship, it was always sung in Greek!
These three lines are a leftover from a time before Rome had completely Latinized worship in the Western church. In the earliest church, most worship was done in Greek, the language of the New Testament and the majority of the first Christians. Even after the division of the Church into the East and West, this prayer, which is still very prominent in Eastern Orthodox Worship, remained even in the West.
You might be surprised to find that we’ve already used the Kyrie in our service! If you look at the responses to the Ten Commandments and Shema which precede the Kyrie, you will find they all begin with the phrase, “Lord, have mercy.”
Collect for the King/Queen
A very significant change which came about in the development of worship in the early Church of England was the removal of prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) and for the Pope. Roman Catholic theology concerning the BVM was borne almost completely out of legend and tradition, not Scripture, and therefore was repugnant to most Reformers. Prayers for the Pope, especially in England, would have been problematic since the King was now the Head of the Church. As a result, featured prominently at the beginning of the service, we find a prayer dedicated to the King/Queen which highlights his/her pivotal role in the church and each person’s duty to be a faithful servant.
Throughout the history of the many versions of the Book of Common Prayer, one regular change which has been made is the name of the monarch. Looking for the name of the monarch in the Holy Communion service is actually a very good method for dating the book in your hands.
Collect of the Day
I’d like to take some time to introduce to you the most consistent voice in all versions of the Book of Common Prayer: Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.
Born in 1489, he received his formal education at Cambridge, and was ordained in 1520. Thomas became part of the English ambassadorial staff to the Holy Roman Emperor and, while travelling through Europe with the Emperor, Charles V, Cranmer met and befriended a number of Protestant leaders. He eventually married Margarete, the niece of protestant theologian - Andreas Osiander. Yes, not only did he, a priest, get married, but he married into Protestantism! During this ambassadorial period, he failed at procuring the annulment of the marriage Henry and Catherine of Aragorn (who was conveniently the aunt of Charles V).
Thomas was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532 in no small part due to the efforts and influence of the family of Anne Boleyn, who King Henry was openly courting at the time. Returning to England, with Anne inconveniently pregnant and secretly married to Henry, Cranmer worked to establish the legal procedures to annul the marriage to Catherine, publicly marry Henry to Anne, and in the end he himself personally placed the crown on Anne’s head. Elizabeth was born a few months later and Cranmer immediately baptized her and took the role of godparent.
Under Edward VI and his ruling council, Cranmer was given real freedom to reform the church. He used Roman and Reformation resources to compile the Book of Common Prayer. Though much of the book was a translation from the Sarum Missal, Cranmer oversaw the translation, the composition of new prayers, and made decisions about the final structure of the book itself, including the services it contained. Both the 1549 and 1552 versions of the Book of Common Prayer are direct results of his direction and evolving theology. His triumph was short-lived, however.
After Edward’s early death, Mary had Cranmer imprisoned, put on trial (with Cranmer offering many recantations and re-recantations), and burned at the stake in 1556, only two years before his goddaughter came to the throne.
Of all the contributions Cranmer made to the Book of Common Prayer, some would argue that his greatest and most long-lasting was his translating and writing of Collects.
“Collects” are simple prayer, having one purpose or theme, used to ‘collect’ or ‘bring together’ other prayers. The collects found in the BCP, in good protestant fashion were tied, more or less, to scripture of the day.
Cranmer’s collects consist of 5 parts:
(P. 236) – Highlighting the Reformation principle of Sola Gratia.
The address: "Almighty and everlasting God,”
The doctrine: "who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve,”
The petition: “pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy,”
The aspiration: “forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid and giving unto us that which our prayer dare not presume to ask;”
In Jesus’ name: “through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
(P. 97) – Highlighting the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura.
The address; “ Blessed Lord,”
The doctrine: “who has caused all holy Scripture to be written for our learning;”
The petition: “grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them;”
The aspiration: “that by patience and comfort of thy holy word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of eternal life,”
In Jesus’ name: “which thou hast given us in our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Note: The image above is of a Service Book from The Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. I had the privilege and honour of attending Holy Eucharist (The Holy Qurbana) at St. Mary’s Church in Toronto a number of years ago. One of the common prayers and refrains used throughout the liturgy is the Kyrie, eleison