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BCP reading Holy Scripture

Book of Common Prayer 1662How often do you read the scriptures? When you read the scriptures, do you pick a verse here and there, out of context? Or as you read are you conscious of what you are reading fitting within a whole scroll (“book”)? When you listen to someone preaching (or preaching yourself) is the preacher ducking and diving from one verse ripped out of context to another verse out of its context, or is there a careful reflection of a passage conscious of its genre and context?

We are celebrating 350 years of the Book of Common Prayer 1662. Many of its principles and rationales are deeply sound. There is much we can learn from it, embodying its principles into our different time and context. Each of the above questions is dealt with at the start of the BCP.

The vision of the BCP is of a Christian community deeply formed by a biblical world-view; with clergy able to lead the community within that world-view. The vision  (highlighted in this post) also includes the Christian community also repeatedly using a collect – Christians will journey with these collects “by heart”.

Hence, let us pause a moment and pick up The Order how the rest of holy Scripture is appointed to be read:

THE Old Testament is appointed for the First Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, so as the most part thereof will be read every year once, as in the Calendar is appointed.

The New Testament is appointed for the Second Lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, and shall be read over orderly every year twice, once in the morning and once in the evening, besides the Epistles and Gospels, except the Apocalypse, out of which there are only certain Lessons appointed at the end of the year, and certain proper Lessons appointed upon divers feasts.

And to know what Lessons shall be read every day, look for the day of the month in the Calendar following, and there ye shall find the chapters and portions of chapters that shall be read for the Lessons, both at Morning and Evening Prayer, except only the moveable feats, which are not in the Calendar, and the immovable, where there is a blank left in the column of Lessons, the Proper Lessons for all which days are to be found in the Table of the Proper Lessons.

If Evening Prayer is said at two different times in the same place of worship on any Sunday (except a Sunday for which alternative Second Lessons are specially appointed in the table,) the Second Lesson at the second time may, at the discretion of the minister, be any chapter from the four Gospels, or any lesson appointed in the Table of Lessons from the four Gospels.

Upon occasions, to be approved by the Ordinary, other lessons may, with his consent, be substituted for those which are appointed in the Calendar.

And note that whensoever Proper Psalms or Lessons are appointed, then the Psalms and Lessons of ordinary course appointed in the Psalter and Calendar (if they be different) shall be omitted for that time.

Note also, That upon occasions to be appointed by the Ordinary, other Psalms may, with his consent, be substituted for those appointed in the Psalter.

If any of the Holy-days for which Proper Lessons are appointed in the table fall upon a Sunday which is the first Sunday in Advent, Easter Day, Whitsunday, or Trinity Sunday, the Lessons appointed for such Sunday shall be read, but if it fall upon any other Sunday, the Lessons appointed either for the Sunday or for the Holy-day may be read at the discretion of the minister.

Note also that the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel appointed for the Sunday shall serve all the week after, where it is not in this book otherwise ordered.

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10 Responses to BCP reading Holy Scripture

  1. I would add as a footnote that this reading plan included the bulk of the Apocrypha with the first lesson at morning and evening prayer, thus elucidating what “the Church doth read” in article 6 of the 39, as a guide for life and behaviour but not doctrine.

    • After leaving the Episcopal church some 30 us ago, I am making my way back ,Reading my bcp, I received from my godmother when I was 10.having finished my confirmation.

  2. Summary of a conversation I had a few years ago:

    ‘Were there dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark?’

    Me ‘No. Dinosaurs and humans didn’t coexist. Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, humans have been around 500 000 years, or 200 000 if we’re talking about anatomically modern humans…’

    ‘The Leviathan in the Bible is a dinosaur,’

    Me ‘I think that represents a whale, in the book of Job…’

    ‘Anyway the earth is only 6000 years old.’

    Me ‘I don’t think so, fossil fuels take millions of years to be produced…’

    ‘You either believe it all or none of it- you can’t pick and choose!’

    Me ‘I can read it in context…’

    ‘No. It’s all true or none of it.’

    Hmm.

    We all choose the context we use the Bible and Bible readings in our lives. We have to read it in chunks- it’s impossible to condense or consider in entirity. I’ve come to the conclusion that some people are unable to reconcile science and Bible reading, though I don’t for the life of me know how that is compatible with driving a car or not living the life of a Levite Jew.

    We have the Amish here who try to be true to ancient beliefs by not embracing modernity- they still use electricity and other technologies which post-date the Bible, but with caution: not from the national grid but by generating their own, for example. From what I’ve seen in books and documentaries where they interpret the Bible selectively and have crossover with modern society they try to do so peaceably and with humility, Gelassenheit, ‘letting be’. Where that has not been possible, schisms have occured historically, such as New Order and Old Order Amish who for example believe differently in salvation, the New Order believing no one can know the condition of their own soul whilst on earth.

    • Thanks, Tracy. Like you, I regularly end up in conversations like this, as the relatively-new flattening of the multitude of biblical genres into a single historical/scientific one seems to have such a loud voice. All of the Bible is true; and some of it happened. We need to help people to see truth is presented through so many different genres. We seem to have agility with this in every area except religion. Blessings.

  3. This is a great instruction, yet it depends on an expectation of people gathering for common prayer at least daily. This expectation and pattern of life has now been almost entirely lost – even amongst ordained ministers(!) There are many parts of the Anglican Communion where the canon no longer requires all ordained ministers to advertise and say morning and evening prayer daily! I do not think it was a good thing to lose, and am anxious to know how it might be restored.

    • Yes, Vincent. Some decades ago, our church went through the complex process of removing the requirement through a Bill at General Synod, voting in favour of the change at every diocesan synod, and once again at a newly-elected General Synod and then waiting a year before clergy were legally allowed to stop praying the Office. It is hard for me to fathom what drove them to go through this. The response is that many weren’t doing it – so we didn’t want them to feel guilty. There’s plenty of other rules that are broken without consequence and are still there as a backstop and indication of an ideal or principle. Now we get the new bishop of Wellington, for example, trying to get his clergy back to praying the Office – but the culture has been lost and it’s an uphill novel battle.

      Just one point: you don’t need to gather to be able to follow the discipline – but gathering does add another dimension.

      Blessings.

  4. I love the BCP and use it daily! I use the daily office for my morning and evening prayers and Scripture readings. Sometimes I give up because the morning readings take me more than an hour but I always end up coming back to it. No other devotional or Bible reading plan teaches me Scripture like the BCP does. It struck me anew just this morning how marvelous the arrangement of readings is – how the saints of old must have put the readings together led by the Spirit – when I realized what a contrast Gideon’s response in Judges 7: 19 – 8: 12 is to Peter in Acts 3: 12 – 26. I so appreciate your post and feel that Christian community formed over space and time in my bones.

    • Thanks, Anita, for your inspiring comment. I am surprised that the readings could take more than an hour. And hope that others reading this post might not be put off the discipline by this – because I don’t think it is indicative. Blessings.

  5. ‘All of the Bible is true; and some of it happened.’

    Perfect quote Bosco.

    : )

    ‘Flattening’ it is exactly what people are doing to the Bible. I had a conversation about the relationship of John’s Gospel to the synoptics a while back, we used to call that book ‘John the Evangelist’, and as Doug Paggitt points out in his writing, where it differs from the other three gospels is because it’s a sermon based upon them! When I said this the Sunday School teacher responded sarcastically ‘oh so now John’s not really a gospel…?’

    *

    Have just ordered BCP and also The Oxford Companion to BCP since I like to look at my texts in complete historical and political context!

  6. It’s worth noting that the January to December lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer 1662 published in the last 140 years is not according to Archbishop Cranmer’s original plan but the revised BCP lectionary of 1871.

    The 1871 plan gives comparatively shorter Scripture portions and less Apocrypha than the Archbishop’s original scheme. With a few exceptions – Archbishop Cranmer provided a full chapter of Scripture from the OT/Apocrypha and another chapter from the NT at each Mattins and Evensong throughout the year.

    There is a third C of E BCP lectionary – that of 1922. It is sometimes printed in addition to the 1871 lectionary in some BCPs and uses the ecclesiastical year from Advent to the last Sunday after Trinity as its structure, rather than a January to December plan.

    This means that the “Lessons proper to Holy-Days” table is only required to provide readings for those moveable feasts which depend on the date of Easter, such as Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter Week, Ascension-Day and Whitsun, when using the 1549 and 1871 calendar-based lectionaries.

    Anita: with a long BCP psalm portion, two long Scripture readings, and on a day when the Quicunque Vult replaces the Apostles’ Creed and on a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday when the Litany is also to be said, I can well believe you would be clocking up close to 60 minutes in celebrating Mattins. But as you’ll agree, it’s time well spent.

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