In my latest YouTube video, I include a long quotation from Richard Hooker while discussing liturgical worship.
Hooker as quoted in the video:
The end which is aimed at in setting down the outward form of all religious actions is the edification of the Church. Now men are edified, when either their understanding is taught somewhat whereof in such actions it behoveth all men to consider, or when their hearts are moved with any affection suitable thereunto; when their minds are in any sort stirred up unto that reverence, devotion, attention, and due regard, which in those cases seemeth requisite. Because therefore unto this purpose not only speech but sundry sensible means besides have always been thought necessary, and especially those means which being object to the eye, the liveliest and the most apprehensive sense of all other, have in that respect seemed the fittest to make a deep and a strong impression: from hence have risen not only a number of prayers, readings, questionings, exhortings, but even of visible signs also; which being used in performance of holy actions, are undoubtedly most effectual to open such matter, as men when they know and remember carefully, must needs be a great deal the better informed to what effect such duties serve. We must not think but that there is some ground of reason even in nature, whereby it cometh to pass that no nation under heaven either doth or ever did suffer public actions  which are of weight, whether they be civil and temporal or else spiritual and sacred, to pass without some visible solemnity: the very strangeness whereof and difference from that which is common, doth cause popular eyes to observe and to mark the same. Words, both because they are common, and do not so strongly move the fancy of man, are for the most part but slightly heard: and therefore with singular wisdom it hath been provided, that the deeds of men which are made in the presence of witnesses should pass not only with words, but also with certain sensible actions, the memory whereof is far more easy and durable than the memory of speech can be. (Hooker, Laws, 4.I.3)
I had the blessed opportunity to attend a lecture by Sarah Coakley at the Vancouver School of Theology back in 2018 about Trinitarian theology and mysticism. During the Q & A, somehow liturgy comes up (amongst Anglicans, not very surprising), and Coakley said something that has lurked within me ever since — setting aside the BCP would be a great loss, in part because of the rich Augustinian theology of the collects.
This struck me this week in particular because the Prayer Book collect is this:
ALMIGHTY God, who through thine only begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Canadian BCP 1959/62
The opening to this prayer is taken from the Use of Sarum, with origins at least as early as the Gelasian Sacramentary (7th-c):
O God, by Your only-begotten Son you have overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; grant us, we ask you, that we who celebrate the solemnities of our Lord’s resurrection, may by the renewing of Your Spirit arise from the death of the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
My modernised version for congregational use.
I have to confess that I prefer the medieval version, but perhaps I am too cautious of moralism.
I did not ask Professor Coakley to elaborate with examples, of course, but I wonder if this collect, or collects of this sort, are what she means by “Augustinian”. According to Barbee and Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, the very opening of this prayer is anti-Pelagian, for the -ism associated with the name of Pelagius argues that we can by our own merit live good enough lives to reach heaven, thus rendering null and void the mystery of the cross.*
Cranmer then writes his own petition for the collect. In his version, we actually have an interesting little phrase that was excised in 1959/62, “as by thy special grace, preventing us, thou dost…” Preventing us in contemporary English sounds like God’s grace is stopping us from doing something. In fact, though, it is a thoroughly Augustinian concept that has been hijacked in modern theology — prevenient grace.
Prevenient grace in the context of 1549 when Thomas Cranmer wrote the prayer (thus eleven years before Arminius was even born) is the idea that the grace of God goes before us (pre-vent, go before, praevenio) and thereby empowers us to choose the good. The term has been adopted by Arminian side of the Arminian-Calvinist debate, it would seem, but here in Cranmer’s collect, it rides closer to Augustine and Luther than Jacobus Arminius.
How does it do so? Well, Cranmer is using the phrase “preventing us” to describe God’s “special grace” in its activity in our lives. And, by that preventing grace, God does “put in our minds good desires”. The question if the resistability or otherwise of God’s grace does not arise, but what we do see is that our good desires are a direct result of the action of God’s grace in our minds.
The petition proper is also itself of the school of Augustine — “so by thy continual help we may bring the same [ie. good desires] to good effect”.
I think that the phrase “preventing us” renders this prayer solidly with Augustine — but does it exclude other perspectives? No, it does not. The nineteenth-century Russian St Theophan the Recluse continually haunts my thoughts on grace and prayer:
It is most important to realize that prayer is always God-given: otherwise we may confuse the gift of grace with some achievement of our own.
In The Art of Prayer, ed. Igumen Chariton of Valamo, trans. Kadloubovsky and Palmer, p. 98
This is not the only time he says something like this. He repeats it in similar words throughout the book. The fifth-century Greek writer, St Mark the Monk (who made it into the Philokalia) says similar things about grace. I think this is worth considering because when we think about “grace” and how we need God’s help to think and do good, we think we are being particularly Augustinian and/or Reformed. And this collect, I would argue, is certainly part of that tradition, expressing these ideas in an Augustinian fashion, so Professor Coakley is assuredly correct in this characterisation.
Yet the wider tradition also sees a necessity for grace in our lives. And I think Prof. Coakley would emphatically agree, particularly that we have a tendency to drive a wedge between “East” and “West” that does not really exist when we look at the deeper agreements of our theological traditions.
*I have not read Pelagius, Caelestius, or Julian of Aeclanum myself, so I set aside judgement as to whether this is a fair statement of what they believe, simply noting that it is what the -ism associated with Pelagius is understood to be.
This is a reflection I put together for my church, Urban Abbey, in Thunder Bay for this past Sunday.
Since ancient times, Palm Sunday has had two Gospel readings—a short reading for Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and then a long reading of a passion narrative, recounting Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and execution at the hands of sinners. The English word passion comes from the Latin passio, the word for suffering. This suffering and death, recounted to us in Mark 14:1-15:47 in today’s Gospel, is something that I have meditated on in these reflections the past few Sundays, pointing to Jesus, high and lifted up, glorious and dead, saving us, drawing us to the Father with whom he now reigns in glory.
A surface reading of this passage in Mark shows us a beaten man, dying unjustly under the thumb of an imperial power. Yet when we unite this with the events of Palm Sunday, something starts to peek out, as the crowd calls, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13, quoting Psalm 118:25, 26) and our Lord’s fulfillment of ancient prophecy, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15, quoting Zechariah 9:9). On Palm Sunday we glimpse Jesus as the King of Israel, the Messiah, the anointed one of the God of Israel.
Philippians 2:5-11 brings out the deep meaning of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. This passage is thought to actually be an early Christian hymn incorporated by St Paul from the church’s worship into his letter. Here we read that although Jesus was “in the form of God” he chose to “take on the form of a slave”. Most modern English Bibles have “servant” here—the ESV unhelpfully gives us the antiquated word “bondservant” in the notes as an option for “servant”. The Greek is doulos. It means slave. It’s worth thinking on this mystery.
Jesus is fully God—completely and utterly God, as much God as the Father is God. Anything we can say about God we can say about the Christ: immortal, invisible, wise, almighty, eternal, omniscient, just, loving, merciful, compassionate, infinite. He is also fully man—that is the upshot of Philippians 2:7, that he has the “form of a slave” and was made “in the likeness of human beings.” God in His very Self knows precisely what it means to be the lowest of the low—there is no one in ancient society lower than the slave. A Roman slave was the legal property of another human being. It was part of the regular process of Roman law to simply torture slaves if they were witnesses at trials—not even if they were defendants. If a master was killed by a slave, the entire household of slaves was liable for the murder and put to death; they should have known better or done better to protect him. This is how far God chose to come down to be with us.
God knows everything about being human—he is not aloof.
For us to consider to how deep the love of God the Word for us is, the next verse brings us to the cross—”he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8) First, Christ our God took on the form of a slave, the lowest of human society. And then he did not merely suffer, he died. And he did not merely die, he died the death reserved for the lowest of the worst criminals. Romans crucified those they considered the scum of the earth, such as Spartacus and 6000 of his fellow slave rebels, the thieves and murderers on either side of Jesus, or 2000 Jews who rebelled against the Romans around the time when Jesus was born. It is a terrible way to die, as many Good Friday sermons enjoy describing for us.
Just as a reminder, here are of some of the divine attributes ancient Christians and Jews believed in and passed along to us—God is immortal. God cannot suffer. God is eternal. God is infinite. As Charles Wesley put it: “’Tis mystery all, the Immortal dies!”
What is the result in the divine plan of his action in human history, his taking on our flesh and dying as one of us? “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:10-11) Because of the basic nature and order of the universe, humans and the rest of the creation are meant for loving and worshipping God; as has been said, our main purpose in life is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” In falling away from the worship of God, we have fallen from our truest life, and therefore we have gone away from our truest joy and happiness and source of contentment.
Part of our salvation is for God’s glory because, when we give glory to God, we are living our best life now. This is what the Paradise we lost was and what the Paradise we shall regain is going to be. Following Jesus means going through suffering to glory. The grand narrative of the Bible is not simply creation to fall to redemption, but also from redemption to glory, to the new heaven and the new earth of the book of Revelation.
Let us now go back to Philippians 2:5. I quote my own translation, “Therefore, let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” From here, St Paul describes the mind that was in Christ Jesus. Ethics and theology are intimately united in the Bible. The ethics that flow from the theology that I have just described, the way of living that we disciples (or better, apprentices) are called to follow by our master and teacher, is given in Philippians 2:6-11. We are called not to grasp for power and authority but to pour out our whole selves in love for others. We are called to humble ourselves and deny ourselves daily. To take up our cross and follow Him—Jesus the Messiah, God the Son, Saviour, Lord, Prophet, Priest, King. His mind is a mind filled with loving humility, with humble love.
Humility, of course, is a strong biblical virtue, and through the centuries, disciples of Jesus have had much to say on the subject. Since we at the Urban Abbey follow a version of the Rule of the seventh-century Irish abbot St Columbanus, I thought I would commend some of his words to you this Palm Sunday:
if … we first hasten by the exercise of true humility to heal the poisons of pride and envy and vain glory, through the teaching of our Saviour Who says for our example, “Learn of Me for I am meek and lowly of heart’’ (Matt. 11. 29), and so on, then let us all, made perfect with no further blemish, with hatred rooted out, as the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, love one another’ (cf. John 13. 35) with our whole heart. (Letter II.4)
The only pathway to humility, as with all virtue, is grace. St Columbanus reminds us of God’s grace in his third sermon, where he urges those pursuing eternal life to
call on God’s grace to help [your] striving; for it is impossible for anyone to acquire by his own efforts alone what he lost in Adam. (Sermon III.2)
In closing, here is the prayer of the day (called a “collect”) for Palm Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer, bringing together many of these themes:
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This morning, to save battery on my phone and for a bit of variety, I prayed the morning prayers from A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers instead of the Prayer Book Society’s Daily Prayer App. Some of these prayers are worth praying over and over and over again as well as meditating on. What I want to blog about, however, is the final rubric (which really ought to have come first):
If the time at disposal is short, and the need to begin work is pressing, it is preferable to say only a few of the suggested prayers, with attention and zeal, rather than to recite them all in haste and without due concentration.
A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, p. 11
I think this is a very important instruction. In fact, in Living Prayer, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom goes so far as to say that it is better to pray just one line of the Lord’s Prayer carefully, attentively, and truly mean it than it is to pray the whole thing without much thought.
As any longish-time reader of this blog knows, I am a big advocate of the Book of Common Prayer for both personal and corporate prayer and worship. But sometimes, in the midst of two kids under five, managing a cafe, and the various other pressures of life, I find myself swiftly rushing to reach the end. I often skip the Scripture lessons, to be honest. Sometimes, then, it is a blessing to have something shorter, such as the Canadian 1959/62 BCP’s prayers for use by families, or the book Celebrating Common Prayer, or, when truly pressed, to be Franciscan and pause simply to pray the Lord’s Prayer before life consumes you.
The main thing with praying fixed-hour prayer is to pray the prayers attentively and seek the Lord’s face. If you have the time to do this with the BCP or the Roman Breviary or some other long-ish book of hours — glory to God! If not, do not think yourself a failure in your hour of prayer. Make the most of the time available through attention and devotion.
Of course, there’s another facet to prayer life that’s a topic for another post, and that’s the fact that we have more time available than we think…
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.
I have not delved into the secondary literature on late antique and Byzantine liturgy too deeply, but I do know that this prayer is also in the Divine Liturgy of St Basil the Great — so either it is deeply traditional and included by both, or it is newer than both and incorporated later. Both are options; I do not have the facilities or research skills to answer the question.
Nonetheless, it is a great prayer, and it reminds us of how powerful a thing it is when we pray together, be it Morning Prayer or Evensong, a prayer before Bible study, family prayers after a meal, or a husband and wife before bed. When two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, He will grant their requests. The next time your church service has a low turnout (as in, this coming Sunday, what with lockdowns and all), praise God for His mighty power that is present!
This prayer, as I noted above, is from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the Eucharistic liturgy used by the Eastern Orthodox Church as its regular liturgy. It is not quite as long as that of St Basil (but it’s still a time commitment, O Protestants who want things short and snappy), but it is beautiful and theologically powerful AND ancient.
When I say this liturgy is ancient, I’m not just repeating what an Orthodox priest once told me (although, in fact, I am). First, of course, the Words of Institution from 1 Corinthians 11, used in/adapted for traditional liturgies, are an actual apostolic liturgy. This passage is not St Paul’s own words; this passage, like a few others in his epistles, is a liturgical quotation. St Paul heard this at church — probably from St Peter and St James, frankly.
Second — setting aside for a moment the question of wording — the very structure of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, like that of the Roman Mass, the Book of Common Prayer, the Divine Liturgy of St James, the Divine Liturgy of Addai and Mari, etc., matches what we find in first- and second-century descriptions such as the Didache and Justin Martyrs.
Third, various traditional parts of this liturgy pre-date St John Chrysostom: the sursum corda — that part of the liturgy that includes “Lift up your hearts” — and the Sanctus — “Holy, holy, holy Lord” — come immediately to mind.
Fourth, in an illuminating article the reference to which I do not have, Robert Taft demonstrates, using data analysis, that at least the anaphora of this Divine Liturgy, beginning with the sursum corda and continuing to at least the epiclesis is actually by St John Chrysostom, being his own reworking of traditional material from the Church of Antioch. Chrysostom died in 407, so this is also ancient.
Fifth, a variety of the prayers found elsewhere in the Divine Liturgy, while not by Chrysostom, can be traced to other ancient figures or ancient moments in history, such as Romanos the Melodist in the sixth century and John of Damascus in the eighth.
What’s the upshot of all this? Well, if you want to encounter ancient Christian worship, here it is. I mean, not entirely. For example, if you go to an Orthodox church, theicon screen and the serving of the elements with a spoon are mediaeval developments. But the vast majority of what goes on here is, in fact, ancient or has ancient precedent.
We are reminded of the power liturgy can have to help transform us by renewing of our minds. An example of how it shapes our theology is when it echoes Chrysostom’s work On the Incomprehensibility of God:
You, O God, are ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, existing forever, forever the same, You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.
Straight from there, we find some of the main themes of St Athanasius’ On the Incarnation being bodied forth:
You brought us out of nothing into being, and when we had fallen away, You raised us up again. You left nothing undone until you had led us up to heaven and granted us Your Kingdom, which is to come.
Throughout, the theology of the Eucharist and of salvation by Christ our God, is pressed home in the Divine Liturgy. At this moment in time, I see nothing in the Anaphora that should trouble me. Indeed, most Protestant liturgies I’ve met pale in comparison! This is a spiritual worship.
Also, and here I get controversial — what worship is shaping our congregations? Are we cutting verses to hymns because they’re too long? Swapping theologically rich worship for emotionally satisfying singing? Putting on a feel-good show but neglecting the spiritual act of worship? I encourage you to read this text and meditate on what you do on a Sunday morning, especially if you are clergy or a worship leader. What might change in light of the theological thunder of Chrysostom’s liturgy?
I circle back to the Prayer Book. The one question that has been lurking all day is — where did Cranmer get it? I mean, he must have had a copy of the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Print? Manuscript? Where did it come from? How widespread were Byzantine liturgical books in England at the time? Who knows the answers to these questions?
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. Normally we say, “This is when the Wise Men visited Jesus and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” And we’re not wrong in that.
But why is it called Epiphany?
Simply put — it is the revelation of YHWH to the Gentiles, represented by the Wise Men. It is the proclamation of the glorious God to the nations, found in the person of Jesus, the God Word Incarnate.
I’ve been mulling over lectionaries and Bible readings lately. One friend was encouraging people not to do a typical “Read the Bible in a year” plan but to use the daily lectionary from the Revised Common Lectionary because it puts the Scriptures together in Christological, Christocentric perspective. I have a built-in skepticism about the Revised Common Lectionary, so I started evaluating other options, looking for something pre-modern. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with my friend Andrew (a mediaeval manuscript guy who is a theologically conservative Anglo-Catholic pondering Eastern Orthodoxy [you can see why we get along]), I learned from him that the Canadian BCP 1962 lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer is basically medieval.
Anyway, although this exchange also resulted in him sending me a 343-page Mass lectionary based on BCP-Sarum, I am going with BCP 1962, in large part because of the wonderful new Common Prayer Canada app from the Prayer Book Society! And its Scripture readings are doing just what my other, non-Anglican friend was lauding RCL for doing: Christological, Christocentric Scriptures.
Epiphany has been really exciting as a result — Psalms and Prophets proclaiming the recognition of YHWH by the nations, his revelation unto them, and Israel to be a light to lighten the Gentiles. You read this, and then you read …
not the three Wise Men.
This morning, the Second Lesson at Morning Prayer was the Baptism of Christ from Luke 3. And how does this end? “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” The revelation of Christ as God the Son!
The Eastern Churches use a different Greek word for today: Theophany. Today is the Holy Theophany of our Lord Jesus, and it explicitly includes the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan.
Some closing thoughts, then. First: Psalm 87 sees a day when Philistia and Tyre, Babylon and Ethiopia, will worship YHWH. Isaiah sees in multiple places the nations coming to worship the Lord, coming to his holy mountain. The nations, the gentes (hence gentiles), will see the glory of the Lord and recognise him. The wise men who met the child Jesus and bowed and worshipped him were the firstfruits of this crop. We are of the nations as well. What was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures is being fulfilled here and now as the glory of the Lord is made known to the ends of the earth because of the ongoing life of Christ, himself the Lord, in his mystical body, the church.
Second: Babylon is gone. The ancient kingdom of Israel is gone. The Persian Empire is gone. The Roman Empire is gone. Some day, the Dominion of Canada, the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will all pass away. “Earth’s proud empires pass away,” as the hymn puts it.
But the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Heavens, revealed and made manifest in Christ at his holy Theophany — this kingdom will never fade. Let us hold to this hope and this citizenship above all.
I have already blogged here about my inescapable Anglican identity. I would like to talk briefly about the things that consciously attract me in the Anglican church.
I love the Book of Common Prayer, as this blog can attest very well. Part of what I love about the BCP is the fact that it maintains more than a superficial link with tradition. It is a living part of the great tradition of liturgies that includes the Roman Mass, the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, the Divine Liturgy of St James, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, and more. It was born in the midst of Reform and schism, yet it keeps all that is best of the weight of the tradition, such that Protestants can safely use it, and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox only tweak it just a little to make it their own.
We have sacraments! A whole two (2) of them! Even if we’re five short of Roman Catholics and a bazillion fewer than the Orthodox, these two (2) sacraments are at the heart of the communal Anglican encounter with God. Yes, we have historic liturgy to order our worship — but that could just as easily be Morning and Evening Prayer as the Lord’s Supper. But today, and growing up, most Anglicans celebrate the Eucharist on a weekly basis, which is how it was done for, like, 1500 years (until the Reformation, that is). Meeting together to meet Christ in the mystery of the bread and wine is important. This importance is difficult to articulate sometimes.
The official doctrine of the Anglican church is found in the 39 Articles of Religion. In their positive affirmations, they are for the most part fairly standard, western/Latin Christian orthodoxy: 1 God, Trinity, 2 natures in Jesus, 1 Bible with 2 Testaments, salvation only through Jesus, predestination, etc. It has some anti-Roman polemic, but if you remove the archaic pejorative adjectives such as “Romish”, these points are mostly ones where, frankly, if you disagree with the 39 Articles, you’d best convert to Roman Catholicism or maybe Eastern Orthodoxy. Except perhaps the bit about the saints.
Anyway, the theology of the 39 Articles is basic Protestantism, by and large: Scripture contains everything sufficient for salvation (Article 6); justification by faith (Articles 11-14); no Purgatory (Article 22); no praying to saints (Article 22); no transubstantiation (Article 28); no sacrifice in the Mass (Article 31). Fine with me.
The Fathers of the Church
That stream of the English Reformation that established what we call “Anglicanism” has always been friendly towards the Church Fathers. We may cringe a little at the idea that Archbishop Matthew Parker was helping Queen Elizabeth reset the church to how it was when St Augustine came to Canterbury in 597, but his earnestness and that of many other Anglican Reformers and divines was simply this: A lot of bad stuff has gone down, but most of it was fairly recent. Cut our losses with Rome, keep what is good from before, and rediscover the ancient Church.
Remember that the era of the Reformation was also a time when large quantities of editions of the Church Fathers were being printed. English clerics were purchasing them. The Protestant Reformation, especially Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican, was in many ways a rediscovery and appropriation of St Augustine of Hippo (not the guy who went to Canterbury). Anyway, the Fathers and the dogmatic definitions of the ancient councils are used by Anglican theologians from Parker and Hooker to Wesley through, of course, the Oxford Movement, and up to today in the likes of Rowan Williams, Oliver O’Donovan, and Sarah Coakley.
John Donne. Sir John Davies. George Herbert. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. William Wordsworth. C. S. Lewis. W. H. Auden. T. S. Eliot. Luci Shaw. Malcolm Guite. Need I say more?
One of the most famous collects in the Book of Common Prayer is the Collect for Purity which begins the order for Holy Communion:
ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I recently began reading The Cloud of Unknowing, a famous fourteenth-century English mystical/contemplative book. It begins thus:
GOD, unto whom all hearts be open, and unto whom all will speaketh, and unto whom no privy thing is hid. I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee, and worthily praise Thee. Amen.
Very, very similar to the BCP; a prayer that was popular 200 years before Cranmer. Not that being Anglican means getting spirituality from exclusively English sources, but it is interesting to read the notes from Blunt’s Annotated Book of Common Prayer:
This Prayer … also formed part of the Introductory Prayers of the Celebrant in the Sarum rite [the medieval liturgy of England], and is not found in any other of the English Liturgies or in the Roman. It appears again in a “Missa ad invocandum gratiam Spiritus Sancti” at the end of the Sarum Missal, a Mass which is attributed by Muratori [ii. 282] to St. Gregory, Abbot of Canterbury about A. D. 780. It is found too in the Sacramentary of Alcuin, and it also occurs among the prayers after Mass in the Hereford Missal, and at the end of the York Litany: so that it is probably a Prayer of the early Church, but preserved almost solely by the Church of England. (p. 371)
The Collect for Purity is one of those Prayer Book gems that turns up today in contexts where non-Anglican ministers, or Anglicans running without rubrics, incorporate bits of the liturgy. However, what I have observed is that the context is often totally changed — it is usually a penitent context, whereas in the BCP, Sarum, and the Cloud — despite a general penitential tone in the BCP — it is not.
In all three of these instances, BCP, Sarum, Cloud of Unknowing, the Collect for Purity is preparatory for what follows. We are not confessing our manifold sins and wickedness (yet) — we are simply preparing our hearts and minds to worship almighty God. In the two liturgies, we are about to engage in the archetypical Christian act of worship, the thanksgiving and reenactment of Christ’s lifegiving sacrifice for us. We are about to be ushered into the presence of Almighty God through the embodied praise and worship of the liturgy. So, meekly kneeling upon our knees, this collect is uttered.
In The Cloud of Unknowing, a text is about to be bodied forth that is precisely about pure hearts and minds, about perfect love and worthy praise — about focussing our hearts and minds on nothing but God himself — not even his acts in history. Pure prayer is the highest calling of the Christian — priest, laity, monastic. Purity of heart, according to John Cassian is a prerequisite.
So perhaps we could all adopt this prayer as preparatory for our own times of worship and devotion, seeking pure hearts as we seek the holy God.