Peter Hitchens on the Intelligibility of Worship with the BCP
In the last edition, we featured an interview with Peter Hitchens. This is a follow-up. As always, Hitchens responds as an informed layman in a modern world all the while holding forth to an earlier view of the Church and its worship.
EC: What do you say to those who say the language of the BCP is unintelligible to modern readers and hearers?
PH: “They should give examples of what they mean. I can discuss those. I have noticed that when Biblical passages are hard to fathom in the King James version, they are usually equally hard to fathom in more modern translations. 17th century English is admirably clear and robust, generally preferring short words. Prayer Book language is very clear. I suspect that what they really don’t like is the rather tougher ideas about authority, penitence and sin which the 1662 book conveys.”
EC: Finally, would you as an informed layman care to comment on the growing attendance to choral BCP Evensong (pre-Covid)? Is it due to the message of the BCP or the lack of a sermon that might contrary the liturgy?
PH: “Most people don’t listen to sermons. But there are several reasons why these services are popular. The abandoning of Prayer Book Matins in parish churches (once the main service of the Church of England, now vanishingly rare) has meant the end of accessible broad-church worship.
“Factionalism at either end has made churches into clubs for initiates, rather than places where anyone can go experimentally, without feeling subjected to pressure-selling, or excluded by not being an initiate. In some, you must take Communion when you don’t much wish to, or watch others do so without being able to; In others, you must be an enthusiast, happy to join in with the often noisy and declaratory approach to faith of the evangelicals. Of course, Prayer Book worship supported by trained choirs is often beautiful whereas modern parish worship, in my experience is seldom beautiful.
“The real point is that a tentative person may attend such services and make a gradual approach to the Throne of the Heavenly Grace, which is how most people seeking Christ in this unchurched country prefer to do it. I also think that there is something especially compelling about worship at the end of the day, as the shadows lengthen, which has been almost entirely lost since so many parish churches more or less stopped doing it in the 1960s.”