The Book of Common Prayer is enjoying a revival in the Church of England, despite the best efforts of some modernists to mothball it. Over the past two years, more and more churchgoers have asked me about a return to Thomas Cranmer’s exquisite language, essentially unaltered since 1662, for church services and private devotions. Other vicars tell me they have had a similar increase in interest.
It helps that the Book of Common Prayer has had a fair bit of attention recently. The late Queen Elizabeth’s insistence on the use of Prayer Book texts in her funeral rites meant that in September more people witnessed the beauty of this liturgical treasure than watched Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled as I heard on TV the solemn words echo around Westminster Abbey: ‘In the midst of life we are in death.’
And in the lead-up to the coronation, the Prayer Book has once again been in the public eye – although not all the publicity has been good. Cambridge University Press’s beautifully bound new Prayer Book, published in time for the coronation, had to be recalled from its first print run when it was noticed that the text mistakenly included France as a dominion under Charles III. Some priests have held on to their misprints in the hope that they might become rare collectors’ items or in case the sorry state of French politics makes them prophetic.
What’s interesting is that the C of E’s Book of Common Prayer revival is overwhelmingly led by millennials. What the 1960s ecclesiastical revolutionaries wrote off, a younger generation is embracing. Brandon LeTourneau, 27, a convert from Judaism and soon to be ordained ministry intern, is hardly a young fogey. He wears Dr Martens and is covered in tattoos. He jokes that from what he can see no one under 40 is joining a church that doesn’t focus on tradition and rigour.