Richly usable words

Thomas Cranmer’s phrases echo through English literature and popular culture.

From “God Talk: The Book of Common Prayer at 350” — a literary appreciation by James Wood in The New Yorker:

“A grand sonority (with the characteristic Cranmerian triad of ‘all holy desires,  all good counsels, and all just works’) gives way to a heartfelt request: please defend us from enemies, so that we may ‘pass our time in rest and quietness.’ It’s interesting to compare the original Latin of this old prayer, which  appeared in the Sarum Missal: ‘Tempora sint tua protectione tranquilla‘ can be roughly translated as ‘May our time under thy protection be tranquil.’ In a fourteenth-century English primer, it was translated into English, and the prayer was now that ‘our times be peaceable.’ But Cranmer has made the plea smaller and closer at hand. In the Book of Common Prayer, the language seems not to refer to the epoch (our time) but to something more local (my days); and tranquillity and peace have become the comfier ‘rest  and quietness.’”

Wood draws a conclusion that I would not when he says, “the words persist, but the belief they vouchsafe has long gone.” He does go on, however, to say that “the words are, in the absence of belief, as richly usable as they were three hundred and fifty years ago.”

I hope, for my part, that you will find your belief strengthened by the “richly usable” words of our Book of Common Prayer, and especially by the canticles, collects, and prayers of the Daily Office.

A Collect for Peace

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior (BCP 123).

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