A Treasure of Antiquity Found

PD4

The section of the above book titled “The Memoir of the Author” contains this statement:

It has been often said, that the history of the great majority of Parish Priests is best told in the words of the poet: —

“Along the calm, sequestered vale of life,

  They kept the noiseless tenor of their way”

Thus begins the Reverend Doctor Matthew Hole’s Practical Discourses on the Liturgy of the Chruch of England in three volumes which was published by William Pickering of London in 1837.   And why, pray tell, is this book significant to me and how might have I come by it in the year 2016? Well, this past Thursday I met my friend, a seminary graduate and ordained minister, for coffee at our usual haunt and he handed me this book as if he were handing over a piece of buried treasure from a forgotten age.  His motivations were multifaceted as first The Reverend Doctor Hole had gone to great pains to take the English Book of Common Prayer and annotate it with scriptural references with explanations.  This fits my friend’s ecclesiastical bent as a self styled “evangelical” so all must start and end with scripture. The Prayer Book for him is but a recycling of the  Bible and this book adds another straw to the pile of his already impressive evidence that this is so.

Second it has been his  habit to present a new book to me each time we meet and, I think, he would be very disappointed if he could not present something new and unique each time.  On this occasion he was not to be disappointed.  As he moved the volume across the table in my direction I mentally pictured yet another detailed analysis of the theology of Jonathan Edwards or perhaps a new rendition of the Puritan Prayer Book but alas and alack this book fit neatly into my own obessional devotion to the Daily Office as it expanded and elucidated each and every sentence and prayer and provided a neat pedigree as to its origin. It was with joy and reverence that I received it.  My friend is a treasure.

In addition, my friend informed me that Amazon was offering a new edition of this book both in paper and electronic form.  That made the decision to acquire a copy for reference a finality as our American Prayer Book,  even in its 1979 form,  can be amplified with this information to those just beginning to grasp its magnificence. In that vein I must say that I  inherited from a very dear priest friend the care and delight of administering and maintaining the provision of the Daily Office on a “daily basis” in my parish.  And, I think this book will serve very well as a resource in that duty.  I am scheduled to train new officiants next week and I am encouraged to share with them some of the knowledge imparted by the Reverend Doctor Hole as to why the Prayer Book is the way it is.  In a “calm sequestered vale of life”  we can keep the “noiseless tenor of our way” by impressing upon those coming to a fuller understanding of our faith by imparting a fuller understanding of where we come from.

Before closing I would like to share some of the Reverend Doctor Hole’s  thought found in Discourse XXIV titled “On the Alternate Way of Praying”.  This discourse examines the underlying ratio decidendi for the a manner of prayer incorporating congregational responses examining  in particular the Precis of the Daily Office:

O Lord, open thou my lips,

and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

As we all, most likely,  know this derives from Psalm 51, verse  15 which is as Hole has described it — David’s famous penitential psalm seeking from God remission of his sin with regard to his murder and adultery as regards Bathsheba the daughter of Eliam and her husband Uriah, the Hittite.  I expect everyone reading this piece knows the story from 2nd Samuel.  If not,  here is a precis:   One day in the spring when kings go out to battle king David observed from his tower in the palace a beautiful woman bathing and desired her greatly. He found out she was married to one of his soldiers, Uriah, the Hittite and he conveniently arranged for Uriah to be “gotten out of the way” by making sure he was sent to the front of a raging battle thus hopefully assuring his death.  “Surely nough” that’s exactly what happened and Bathsheba became King David’s wife bearing him a child. In the psalm King David seeks forgiveness and  reconciliation with God by lamenting his sin. His turning point comes when he is enabled to open thou his lips and orally state his praise to God.

Hole uses this as a way of explaining why this portion of the prayer book requires a congregational response.  Opening one’s lips enables one to truly praise God and brings one into his presence in a way that “silence” simply cannot.  He explains that these words are found in the “most ancient liturgies of the Church; nothing being more proper and penitent both for minister and people, when they are about to offer up their solemn prayers unto God, than to call upon him to “open their mouths”.. (thereby enabling).. “both to sound forth his praise.” Noting that this “alternate way of praying” where the minister and the people are taking their turns had been the subject of criticism he brings to bear the words of Saint Jerome who tells us “Populus cum sacerdote loquitur in precibus” “the people spake with the priest”, and Eusebius who states that the Christians in his time sang their hymns “secum invicem” –that is , by turns, and in parts.

Having this background in hand I am gladdened and encouraged  anew to advocate for the practices of saying the Daily Office on a “daily” basis using this “alternate way of praying”.  I shall make this book a part of my library and I urge it for your consideration as well.

 

 

 

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