Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Unlike many works of literature, the Book of Common Prayer comes into its own not when perused by an individual in silence, but when performed orally over and over by an assembly meeting regularly for worship, hence the words “common prayer” in its title. As a manual meant for such a setting, it brings to expression virtually all the great themes of the Christian religion, organized and packaged for public rehearsal. The deeds of God in history, from creation to the consummation, pass in review on an annual basis in the readings of the lectionary and the homilies based on them, and are compressed into each recitation of the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed. At every weekly Eucharist there is a special focus on proclaiming, by word and sacrament, the death of Jesus for the sins of the world, his resurrection on the third day, his present reign, and his awaited return as judge and savior, together with an appeal to put personal faith in him for salvation.

Also implied by the words “common prayer” in the title is the network of Anglican churches at the levels of parish, diocese, and national province, bound together by the collegiality of their bishops. Churches for centuries tapped into essentially the same resource, this book of prayers, each time they gathered to render divine service. Although Anglicans in the twenty-first century tolerate a lesser measure of uniformity from place to place than they did in the past, there remains a family resemblance among the various national and local liturgies, which enables a traveler to feel oriented even in a parish away from home.

From another perspective, the Book of Common Prayer surrounds an individual with the truths and graces of the Gospel at every stage of life, from birth (Baptism), through adolescence (Confirmation), marriage (Matrimony) and childbearing (Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth), to death (Burial of the Dead).