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Why Do I Like This?

December 8, 2021

In 1552 Thomas Cranmer rewrote the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The book completely revised the Catholic Mass that had been practiced, one way or another, for over a thousand years. The soon violent rejection of one way of worshipping Jesus to create another may seem odd to us today, where scores of “spiritual” means and methods of thinking beyond ourselves is in a pitched battle with the ease and comfort of atheism, perhaps a losing battle.

But Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake for writing the Book of Common Prayer, among other rejections of the Catholic Church, just four years after he wrote it. The King, who was Anglican, died, and the Queen who succeeded him was Catholic. Death was the sentence for heresy, or at least disagreement when dealing with the Almighty.

In that book was often the first common act by a congregation, the Confession of Sin. Given the time and the place, I said those words every Sunday, when it wasn’t summer, for a decade. Then I and it changed in 1969. I left to go high school and away from the Book of Common Prayer.

I am guessing that the reason my mother went to church was to escape my father, and when I was flung 600 miles north and west, away from him, and she visited, church was not necessary. For the Episcopal world the 1928 Prayer Book was unnecessary too. A new set of alternates were offered in 1980, when I returned to church to get married, and the remaining “old” parts were dubbed “Rite 1” – and those remaining parts were made “Better”.

Those revisions included The Confession of Sin. A new generic Confession is now commonly use. And in editing Cranmer for the remnant alternative, two clauses were silently omitted. When the dwindling numbers using that Rite 1 remnant Service after 1968 read it’s words, we, all of us, were no longer “miserable offenders” and we no longer declare that there is “no health in us”.

Of course we are not miserably sick. Of course.

My church offers up one service a year that uses the old words. It is led by a non-cleric (that may in fact be the “legal” justification for it). That’s OK in general, even after 1980: because there is a place in Rite 1, Morning Prayer, where a Priest is not necessary.

But in this service we are still “miserable offenders”. Those words mean a great deal to some – not just because we recited them when we were 9, but because I think we are.

I simply posted those words that you see above on a large, generic Episcopal website and within days there were hundreds of “likes” (which meant thousands upon thousands of reads) and scores of almost universally positive notes.

Why do some of us want to publicly declare that we are not great? Even miserable, offending and sick? I think it is because some of us know that we are. There are parts of who we that are simply not what we want to be. To pretend that all is OK, that “it’s all good” is simply not true. At least for me.

But we are with God when we say these words, and at every other moment.

We can be jackasses – or at least I can – at any given moment. Some are not good with that.  Our humanity was a seminal basis for grappling with God for some almost 500 years ago, because some know that our humanity in knowing the reality of God is not an oxymoron, it is just the truth.

Words matter. But God matters most. I know these words freak some out, or leave them cold. That is because the human Thomas Cranmer wrote them. He could not escape his humanity, or its end, and neither can I, or any if us.

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