Repentance and Reconciliation in the 1662 Anglican Liturgy
The liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer follows the ancient patterns of Jewish and Christian liturgies. The remarkable quality of the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer is the biblical model that is its foundation. The model used is the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. The result is that there is a focus on repentance from sin and reconciliation to God. More
The liturgy found in the Book of Common Prayer did not arise in a vacuum. First, there is the pre-biblical and the Mosaic origin. We also find the early Christian liturgies to be part of the formative background, along with the biblical background of the prayers and recitations (Palmer, 1885. Bailey, 1835). There was a lengthy history, probably predating Moses, of worship in this liturgical fashion. Certainly, by the time of Moses, we see a developed liturgical style in the worship of Yahweh. Jesus, the same God who hands down this form to Moses, worships in the same way while on earth and His disciples keep this practice. When they are forced to find their own places of worship, they keep the pattern they know and important to this worship is repentance from sin and turning to God.
Ancient Christian liturgies have this same Jewish/Yahwistic pattern, such as the Liturgies of St. Mark, St. James, St. John Chrysostom and St. Basil. Included in each of these is an explicit call to repentance from sin and reconciliation between God and Man. During the Reformation, this evangelistic idea caught hold once again. There is, at this time, great emphasis on repentance and being reconciled to God. When Thomas Cranmer begins his work on the Book of Common Prayer, he comes under the influence of noted Reformation theologians Peter Martyr Vermigli, Martin Bucer, and John Hooper. By these men Cranmer is influenced to show what God expects of Man and his depravity due to sin (Leuenberger, 1990). The Decalogue which Cranmer places in the Liturgy preaches repentance from sin to those who believe. The Decalogue is to be kept at the present day since it is part of the Covenant agreement of the Old and New Testaments. Staying true to the Church Fathers becomes important when he fully develops his understanding of repentance and holds to an Augustinian (Null, 2000) view during his final formation of the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer is thus designed to awaken faith and lead one back to God through the road of repentance and back into the covenant relationship.
While all ancient Christian and Jewish liturgies have a common organization and many common theological attributes, only the Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer focuses upon the idea of repentance and reconciliation. This is the genius of Thomas Cranmer. The central idea of the Communion Liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer is repentance from sin and reconciliation to God.
It would seem, then, that the model for the Liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer may have come from one of Jesus’ parables. Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son in which the son strayed and wasted his inheritance. When he repented, he returned to his father, only to find his father running to him instead. This seems to be the purpose of repentance in the Book of Common Prayer: that humans be led to repent of their sins and in faith turn to God. In this turning, they find, instead, that God runs to meet them and has already accepted them to his banquet table. The start is painful, but the end of the liturgical journey is joy.