The Millennial Revival of the Book of Common Prayer
While it is no secret that the Church of England is in crisis, divided as it is by questions of the ordination of women, the validity of LGBTQ (and whatever other string of letters provide ample “representation” nowadays) marriage, and the observative of Muslim religious rituals in Anglican cathedrals, an unlikely unifier is appearing from the wreckage: the Book of Common Prayer.
Despite the many efforts of hardcore modernists to “update”, or even completely do away with, the Prayer Book, it is enjoying an unexpected revival among the unlikeliest of churchgoers: millennials. For the past few years, vicars have been approached by younger members of their congregations with a simple request: to revive the use of Thomas Cranmer’s graceful verse, remaining essentially unaltered since 1662, in ordinary church services.
The Book of Common Prayer was cast into the spotlight last year, when Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II insisted upon readings from the text during her funeral rites. The result was the exposure of a new generation to the book’s elegant language on a scale not seen before, as the solemn words spoken within Westminster Abbey’s walls - “In the midst of life we are in death” - reverberated from the TV screens of modernists and traditionalists alike.
With the Coronation of His Majesty Charles III swiftly approaching, the Prayer Book is again in the eye of the public. The Prayer Book Society is advocating the use of the book’s Litany to pray for the King, Church, Kingdom, and Commonwealth on the Sunday before or on the evening before the Coronation, to be followed by prayers from the book as a preface and following the Coronation itself. According to the chairman of the PBS, Bradley Smith, the organisation has been flooded with inquiries since the beginning of the pandemic, with much of this interest coming from members of the younger generations (almost exclusively under 35). With the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth last year and the Coronation this Saturday, this revival appears to have gained new momentum.
While the unarguably eloquent language employed by Bishop Cranmer in the Prayer Book may be a significant part of the attraction, it would be a mistake to assign a purely aesthetic allure to the revival. Beneath the Shakespearean verses that have survived the test of centuries is a text of pure theology; a guidebook of religious discipline that reminds of the virtues of traditionalism in an age plagued by the decadence of modernism. Its opening prayer, “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts”, is an unrelenting defense of traditional Christian worship in the face of a society that is increasingly individualistic, narcissistic, and egoistic.
The census of 2022 revealed a decline in church attendance throughout the United Kingdom. This trend, unfortunately, continues. The revival of interest in the Book of Common Prayer, especially among the millennial generation, is a ray of light in an otherwise dire situation. Let us hope it may spark a revival on a grander scale, by which the former traditional Church of England may be restored to its rightful place at the heart of our proud United Kingdom.