The Rule of St. Benedict and the Episcopal Church

Several years ago, several distinct faces of history came tighter as I was trying to plan a season of worship.  One: the first Book of Common Prayer was written between 1538 and 1545 and revised shortly thereafter. It is marked by a simplified Daily Office and weekly Eucharist with primacy given to the Psalms in worship. It also includes a strong insistence on the regular reading of the Bible, which I always took to be Protestant overlay of the Roman Catholic pattern of worship.

But then Two hit me. Between 1536 and 1541 or so Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell closed the monasteries of England, Wales, and Scotland. The complaints and need for reform were real, but the dissolutions were terrible. Official numbers are hard to quantify, but somewhere between 620 and 900 religious houses were closed in an area 20% smaller than Arizona. Imagine all those monks, nuns, and canons integrating into local parishes. People who prayed multiple times a day in community, who read their Bibles devotionally, and lived according to a common rule of life.

Three sealed the deal: the marks of the devotional life in the Book of Common Prayer were the same as those that had marked the monastic lives of all those former religious who were swelling the church. And as we have said all along, those marks were adapted for life in the family and village; lives of regular people.

This influence is hard to ignore.  Of course, once this occurred to me, I found scholars and theologians were ahead of me by hundreds of years! My favorite past Anglican theologian, Martin Thornton, wrote a book called English Spirituality in which he says this very thing. 

So, for you and me this influence is helpful. We are meant to be shaped by a life of common prayer and reading, growing toward maturity in Christ while living out our common faith in common lives of parenting and marriage, singleness and jobs, golf courses and retirement homes.

Thank God for such a rich history. We are heirs to a legacy of life in Christ lived along a simple pattern that allows us to grow while living in freedom within the world where we are called to be as Christ in the boardroom and the playground and the pew and the grocery store.

Our worship is still deeply marked by the simplicity and beauty of the monastic and the laughter and joy of daily life.