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Cranmer’s point

04 September 2015


OLD-FASHIONED, perhaps. A refuge from modernity? For some, maybe. But Eurosceptic? It is surely stretching a point to say that the Book of Common Prayer is Eurosceptic.

In What’s the Point of . . . ? (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), Quentin Letts set his truculent gaze on the Prayer Book, although none of us was in any doubt about where his own loyalties lay. Indeed, we heard from priests and parishioners in his own part of Herefordshire, all of whom are devoted to Cranmer’s language.

For all that anyone was prepared to defend alternative Anglican forms of worship, this programme might have been more accurately titled What’s the Point of . . . Common Worship? Even Canon Giles Fraser’s contribution served merely to caricature the debate as one between modernity and the malcontents who would sooner have you horsewhipped than exchange the Peace.

It is unfortunate that contemporary society was presented as divided between people who “don’t much care for the modern world” (Canon Fraser) and “celebrity rappers and hysterical tweet-mobs” (Letts). The programme thus ends up in an awkward spot between satire and analysis, delivered by a personality who might at any time give you a wink and say, “Don’t worry! Only joking.”

Then there was the inevitable outpouring of sentiment for Cranmer’s language. Of course, there is no arguing against a text so replete with glorious quotes, just as there is no arguing against the beauty of a Raphael or a Tintoretto; but it is reasonable at least to ask whether it is the right thing to hang in your church.

Nor is it easy to argue against Choral Evensong, especially when it is delivered with as much panache and imagination as was provided by the Edington Festival of Music Within the Liturgy (Radio 3, Wednesday of last week).

Now celebrating its 60th year, the festival brings together cathedral choristers and jobbing professionals for a week-long holiday of music and liturgy, one of the highlights of which is broadcast evensong. New commissions sit side by side with Gregorian chant and more established Anglican fare, to demonstrate the flexibility inherent in Cranmer’s liturgy. In the crowded and ever more sophisticated cathedral-music market, the Edington broadcasts continue to stand out.

That we live in what the Revd Richard Coles described as a “mixed economy” of religious expression was articulated neatly by Francine Stock in relation to the concept of “charisma”. It is a quality possessed by saints and sinners in equal measure.

Stock began her series Charisma: Pinning down the butterfly (Radio 4, weekdays) with St Paul, who has been credited with coining the term in his first letter to the Corinthians. And it is the way in which we, as modern believers, interpret the notion of charisma which helps to define our churchmanship.

We could have done with somebody speaking for Charismatic worship during this discussion; but Fr Coles and Canon Fraser appear to be among the few clergy on the speed-dial lists of BBC producers these days.

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