Anne Lamott wrote once that prayer boils down to saying either Help Help Help or Thank you Thank you Thank you. The description’s accurate enough, as I have some reason to know, and as a default mode for prayer, I guess a person could do worse. To believe in God to begin with, and to believe that that God might be in any way connected with events which transpire for good or ill in your own life is better than nothing. On the other hand, as I have come to realize, better than nothing really isn’t all that much, and to — I hope — my soul’s benefit, I have been trying to establish greater discipline in my own habits of prayer. Help Help Help.
In my house there are many prayer books, and I have toured most of them. I’ve said the Daily Office using The Book of Common Prayer, as my husband has always done. I’ve used the form in the Magnificat. My parish priest has instituted Morning and Evening Prayer following daily Masses, using Shorter Christian Prayer, so I’ve been praying that at home as well, though after Coverdale I confess I find the psalm translations wooden in the extreme. Help . . .
The prayer book to which I turn most often, however — in fact, it’s the one I travel with — is a little Anglo-Catholic volume called Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book. Mine is a 1996 reprint; the book originally appeared in 1947, a date of some Anglo-Catholic interest, being also the year of publication for a document entitled Catholicity, authored by a confraternity of modern Anglican divines including Michael Ramsey, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dom Gregory Dix. Its purpose was to chart a Catholic way forward for the Church of England’s postwar future. By the time my husband meandered along, a character in search of a subject for a doctoral dissertation, Catholicity had lapsed into obscurity, so that in Cambridge he attained some notoriety among the other theology postgraduates as “that man working on that thing nobody’s heard of.” Writing on Catholicity, he wrote himself ultimately into Roman Catholicism; if you want a really heavy-duty conversion diary, I’ll be happy to send you a copy of one called The Sanctification of Church and Culture, With Special Reference to Catholicity. Or . . . something like that. I know, at any rate, that the title contains all those words, though perhaps there are more words I’m not remembering. I happened to leave my copy at home this time.
Anyway. 1947. Big year for Anglo-Catholicism.
Why do I like the Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book? It combines much of the best of Catholic devotion — novenas, Marian prayers, Mass prayers, devotions for Eucharistic Adoration, and a very rigorous examination of conscience — with the best Prayer-Book English, that’s why. It also contains an entire introductory section detailing “The Christian’s Obligations: As to Worship, Fasting and Abstinence, and the Six Precepts . . . Being the Irreducible Minimum of Catholic Practice:”
1. Of Mass. To assist at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.
2. Of Fast and Abstinence. To keep the fasts and abstinences, prescribed in the Prayer Book, according to normal Catholic custom.
3. Of Confession. To seek sacramental absolution when needed for mortal sin, and at Easter time to do so as a matter of obedience to normal Catholic custom.
4. Of Communion. To receive Holy Communion at least once a year, during Eastertide.
5. Of Almsgiving. To give regularly to the support of the Church and the ministry.
6. Of Marriage. To keep the Church’s law of marriage.
Okay, bear in mind that this prayer book was designed for Episcopalians. In fact, let’s all just pause for a moment of silence.
Defend us, we beseech thee, O Lord, from all perils of mind and body; and at the intercession of the blessed and glorious Mary, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, of blessed Joseph, of thy blessed apostles Peter and Paul . . . and all Saints, graciously bestow upon us both peace and safety: that all adversity and error being done away, thy Church may serve thee in untroubled freedom. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book.
[Rating: 97 out of 100]
If it came with a breviary, it would be well-nigh perfect.
But Thank you Thank you Thank you anyway.