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The People's Book of Worship
A Study of the Book of Common Prayer

By John Wallace Suter and Charles Morris Addison

New York: Macmillan, 1919.

Chapter VIII. The Spirit of the Book and Its Use

THE question was asked in the opening chapter whether, and if so, how, our Book of Common Prayer expressed and fulfilled the manifold needs of the human heart as it came to worship God. It is hoped that this question has been answered. But not only, as was said in the closing words of Chapter V, does it satisfy the needs of the individual worshiper, not only does it bring the individual into a common worship with other individuals, its scope is far wider. It has no sympathy with the selfish "private worship in public," which so many try to make it. It is the People's Book. The word "Common" in its title has the same connotation as in "Commonwealth," it is less for the individual than for the community.

This comes not only from its Catholic comprehensiveness, its determined acceptance of opposite views, nor from its touching the needs and aspirations of every part of a man and of so many different kinds of men, but from its inherent interest in and insistence on the social side of man's life. It has caught its spirit from the Lord's Prayer, "After this manner, therefore pray ye, say Our Father." The "we" and "us" and "our" are not editorial but vital. They mean what they say and they call on us to mean it. The congregation which uses this Book is not a congeries of units, a number of grains of sand in a heap, with no cohesion nor unity. It is a body of worshipers approaching God as an organic unity, each cooperating with each, and all forming the body of Christ which is the Church.

There is a time and a place for a man to stand before God alone. We all must. But when we assemble and meet together to use this Book, is not the time. It fulfills and expands the form of worship Christ gave us in the Lord's Prayer. It compels us, like that, to clasp hands in spirit with all our brothers and thus to approach our Father together. Here we are forced to remember that all we are brethren, that we are one in our sin and in our need of salvation, one in our desire to praise God, and that it is good and necessary to pray one for another. The Prayer Book's Confession of Sin, whether in Daily Office, or Communion Service, is not your sin or mine; the terms are too general to satisfy the individual conscience, which has to say, "thus and thus have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight." It is purposely general, because it is confession of the corporate sin of a great body of people. Our thoughts are to be lifted from what we' have done that is wrong to the sin of the world, the sins of the people kneeling by us, the crimes committed in our community; and we are made to feel these vicariously as our own, the shame and blame of them, the need of repentance for them, and the need of forgiveness. Our common brotherhood makes us responsible for the sins of our brothers, makes us share them, makes us feel their weight. In like manner the great words of the Absolution declare that God promises forgiveness to his people, that he pardoneth all who truly repent, in which pardon we pray that we may have a share. And after confession and absolution comes the climax in the Lord's Prayer whose spirit we have now caught and whose words we can now say. This is what is meant by the Social Character of our Book of Worship.

It is still further expressed by its common praise, too often usurped by a choir. When we rise from our knees and stand in joy, all of us should sing aloud; "O come let us sing unto the Lord, let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation"; or "Glory be to God on High, and on earth peace." It is a perfect example of that modern exercise called "a community sing," the spontaneous expression of a common joy, into which all must enter if it is to be worthily expressed. And in the hearing of the message from God, wherever in any service the Word is read, the burden in the Old Testament is that of a people, a nation, guided and redeemed by God as a whole; and in the New, that of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. Nor do we forget how largely the prayers are intercessory, remembering the needs of others before our own.

Here is the Social Gospel proclaimed in every part of our Book. It belongs to the people and has their interests at heart. It is not something for good Episcopalians to enjoy, in beautiful churches and with sumptuous adjuncts, but should be heard like the Lord, by the common people gladly; as it will be when they understand what is their heritage.

If this is true, instead of being one of the distinctive (and separating) marks of our Episcopal Church, the Prayer Book should offer one of the strongest bonds of unity to Christians of every name.


This spirit of the Book, which makes of it a unifier for all Christian worshipers, imposes upon its users a serious responsibility. As its users, they are in a real sense its possessors, and its possessors in order that they may give it freely to the world's and the Church's needs. In the long run its wider influence rests upon the simple devotion of the worshipers who use the book, and upon their intelligent, high-minded, and true-hearted employment of its great expressions of worship.

As one dwells upon the beauty and impressiveness of each of its great services, a thought which is sure to be brought home is this. The occasion of the use of any one of these is a great opportunity, a great event. This ought to be the conviction of every individual who goes to God's house to worship. He is to take his part in a great act of worship, which is to be ordered according to a form of service, which has been perfected in its expression through the thought and experience and inspiration of ages of worship and of leaders of worship. There ought to be an exhilaration and a sobriety and a joy in his approach. His silent prayer of preparation ought to be a heartfelt prayer that he may be worthy to be a partaker, and that he may make a complete offering, keeping nothing back, whether of penitence or praise.

And here it must be recognized how much depends upon the leader of the worship. If the service is a great event for the worshiper in the pew, how great an event ought it to be for the minister. He brings not only the needs and offerings of his own soul, but the demands upon him of all the waiting people. His is a great responsibility,--to be the sufficient medium for utterance, the director and inspirer, the interpreter, encourager, ambassador in Christ's stead. These things are not said with a view of suggesting any external dignity of office, or any superior or imposed priesthood. They are said simply to call to mind the facts of the situation, the inescapable findings of experience. So much, so very much depends on the minister. It is true that there are the prayers and hymns themselves, the forms of the service, the great words and sublime thoughts, made doubly sacred by agelong and precious associations--these things which no man can take away. It is true that in a very real sense the book itself in the worshiper's hand is a protection from the vagaries of the minister. And yet when all is said, so much depends upon-him. In the light of the great event, there is surely no room for lack of preparation on his part. He ought to know beforehand what he is going to read from God's word and how to read it. Surely he ought to pray, not read, the prayers, and know and feel just what prayers ought to be prayed that day and that hour. And the words of praise in hymn and canticle that are to be the people's utterances ought to be his special care. The unity of impression of that given service which it is so possible to obtain, through an understanding of the book's riches and possibilities in variety and flexibility,--this must be his care. In face of the great event, there can be no room for thoughtlessness, carelessness, the slipshod or irreverent manner, the unintelligible utterance, the destroying wrong emphasis, the annoying and obtrusive mannerism, the unsympathetic and perfunctory rendering, and the halfhearted entrance into the act of worship. And yet these things happen, and happen often. Ministers and people cannot tell themselves too often that the service in which they take part is a great event.

Unity is the watchword of our day and generation. Whether it be unity between classes or races, unity industrial or social, the unity between nations which is to insure a new and better world, or the unity of the Church, which seizes the imagination and fires the zeal, it is for unity that the religious labor most earnestly, it is the vision of the coming Kingdom that most insistently inspires the enthusiasm of Christian worshipers. It is because our People's Book of Worship is so great a medium for the realizing of unity, so truly a handbook of the Kingdom of God and of his Christ, that the lovers and users of it must hold it as a sacred trust, and so deeply feel their responsibility that their use of it, and their whole-hearted participation in its services, will render it the efficient and compelling instrument it may well be in the great cause of universal Christian fellowship.

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