IF I had to prepare Meghan Markle for her baptism and confirmation (her baptism took place on Wednesday evening, press reports suggest), I would base our preparatory sessions on the texts in the Prayer Book catechism. These have lodged themselves in the Church of England’s memory. They appear (with one addition) in Common Worship, which provides a catechetical liturgy for the giving of the texts.
My impression, sadly, is that this is rarely used. Today, ministers tend to prefer “brands”, and I suppose the best of the brands setting out the key texts of the faith is the Pilgrim booklet The Pilgrim Way (Church House Publishing, 2017).
The Prayer Book texts were the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. Candidates were expected to know these by heart; and, after the Reformation, they began to be inscribed on boards in parish churches as a lasting aide-memoire. They represent a form of catechesis which goes back to the patristic era, though, unlike the Prayer Book pattern, this would usually begin with ethics rather than belief.
Our patristic forebears seem to have thought that no one could embrace the Christian faith without having some idea of what a good life would look like. I would want to begin here, too, with the Ten Commandments. They are not prominent in church life these days, but they point to a way of life which is sane, humane, and human. God is at the beginning; worship and rest are mandatory; family and neighbour are to be treated with respect. The point is that a sane, humane, and human life is lived within boundaries.
I would focus on the Creed next, since a truly good life is unattainable without purpose. In the ancient Church, the Creed was not a list of dogmas to be ticked off, but a living symbol of God’s grace, a precious and personal gift marking the believer’s entry to the Church and the hope of heaven.
The third text, the Lord’s Prayer, commits each believer to a life of prayer. The Prayer Book catechism does not go through the Lord’s Prayer clause by clause, as most commentaries do: it simply summarises it as an expression of desire for God’s grace, provision, and protection. It is, then, the most basic possible prayer, implying that Jesus did not give us an original prayer, but a bog-standard one for all times and places.
There is nothing in the way in which these three texts have traditionally been understood which points directly to the life of God’s Kingdom; and it is because of this that Common Worship (and the Pilgrim booklet) have added the Beatitudes to the other three texts. I can see the reason for this, but I prefer the sobriety of the first three. They do not require us to be saints: forgiven sinners is quite enough.
The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford.