Like the word “Christian”, we use “common prayer” often enough, but maybe when we try to define it we end up with a spectrum with different people and groups having varying edges beyond which their definition stops.

So – what is common prayer? For the purpose of this post, not a rhetorical question but a discussion opener. Everyone using the same words, ritual, robes… we are probably all happy that that is common prayer. But what about:

1) Using the same words with significantly different ritual and understanding. Eg. two Anglican churches using 1662 in the 1950s – exactly the same words, but one following Anglo-Catholic understanding, with eucharistic vestments, incense, etc. and the other in cassock, surplice, and scarf at the North end of the table…

2) Using different translations of the same text. Rite 1 and Rite 2 (Elizabethan and contemporary English) in TEC’s BCP. This Sunday, TEC’s translation cf. the current RC translation of the same Latin collect. The NZ RC Office translation is different to the USA RC Office translation – both are authorised. Other translations of the same text (eg. Universalis) are not authorised. The Vatican does not regard them as satisfying the requirement to pray the office.

3) Praying different texts. Different eucharistic prayers from the same prayer book or missal. Is it common prayer merely because these are bound together in the same book? Or authorised by the same authority? The NZ Anglican prayer book has different eucharistic rites with barely any resemblance to each other, at least verbally. NZ Anglicans can be praying quite different texts as their daily office – all authorised. If one person is praying one set of psalms and another person is praying another set are both praying “the prayer of the Church”? RC monasteries regularly end up praying quite a different selection of psalms than RC priests, yet both would regard themselves as praying “the prayer of the Church”, common prayer.

4) Following different readings. NZ Anglicanism has several different lectionaries authorised, with options within each. Does the RC Extraordinary Form follow the 3 year lectionary or use the traditional one?

What do you think? What is common prayer?

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