Recently, I was challenged in my understanding of “common prayer” (see here). I appreciated the challenge – it made me think again.
This alternative, challenging understanding of “common prayer” is that all prayer is “common prayer”. Common prayer, in this alternative understanding, is simply those praying, those worshipping together in one place at one time, do so together. In this alternative understanding, there is no common between different communities worshipping, or the same community worshipping at different times. Common is only at this time in this place.
Having discussed this online and offline, individually, and in groups, I am affirming, I am asserting my original understanding. Common Prayer is the prayer of the Church. Common Prayer is the agreed praying within a community at one time AND between communities, and from one time a community celebrates to another time that community celebrates.
The purpose of The Book of Common Prayer (or A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa 1989; or the Roman Missal; or its equivalent in your context) is to resource your community praying at one time in one place AND to connect this particular celebration within the wider church catholic.
An ordination is not just what this particular community decides to do at this place, at this time, with this person – we vow and sign that an ordination takes place in this particular way so that a person is ordained within the church catholic, so that this ordination is not just accepted within the particular people present at the ordination but such a person ordained can move from community to community, leading in a variety of contexts, even having the ordination accepted between different denominations because there is an assurance that the ordination followed the agreed common prayer.
Initiation into the church is baptism into the church catholic, not simply a welcoming and acceptance into a particular local Christian community (and those who happened to be there at that initiation rite). We vow and sign that a baptism takes place in this particular way so that a person is immersed within the church catholic. This means that this baptism is not just accepted by the particular people present at the baptism but such a baptised person can move from community to community, with all the rights of the baptised in a variety of contexts, even having the baptism accepted between different denominations because there is an assurance that the baptism followed the agreed common prayer.
All this is true for Eucharist, for the Church Year, and so forth. Common Prayer is our shared, agreed worship across time and space.
One senior, well formed clergy-person here insightfully worried, in a comment to me, that our Church is suffering from dementia. In this Anglican Church of Or, repurposing words from Cranmer’s Preface of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, a Preface that continued into further editions of Books of Common Prayer as Concerning the Service of the Church: the number and hardness of the Rules, and the manifold options of the Service, is the cause, that to decide what to do is so hard and intricate a matter, that many times there is more work to decide what should be read, than to read it when it is decided. I have regularly called for clarification of what is required, what is allowed, and what is forbidden. To such calls has now been added the publication of A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa 2020 which has the same name but a different status to the previous books with the same name.