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Whitsunday, by T. Noyes-LewisHallo again to all.

The ninth of June in 1549 was Whitsunday, as the ninth of June 470 years later is Whitsunday. We remember the great celebrations in 1999 when it had been 450 years since the Book of Common Prayer became the lawful worship of England, Wales, Calais and all other dominions of the boy-king Edward VI. The coincidence of the date and the liturgical calendar is a happy one this year, but 470 years is not a particularly momentous anniversary. We wonder what the observances will be like in 2049 when the tradition of worship in English has reached its 500th year.

There is something meet and right about the Edwardian choice of Pentecost as the day on which our forbears would begin to pray in their own tongue. The mysterious event at Jerusalem on the fiftieth day after the resurrection had something to do with language: persons there could understand something of the fulness of the Christian revelation in a fresh way, in their own tongues. The spread of Christianity since the first Pentecost has always been about translation and interpretation. Cranmer and his colleagues moved that project forward in the Church of England much as Luther had done for German-speaking Christians with his translation of the scriptures. It was not so much that Christians in England could not understand the meaning of their faith when their worship was only in Latin—the rich traditions of religious observance and culture are evidence that laypeople did know and love their religion. It is more true that the translators under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth were expanding the thoroughness with which all people in their society could make true religion the treasure of their minds and their hearts—in the language they had learned from their mothers and their fathers.

The Prayer Book has been a multilingual project since its inception. It was essential in the home islands themselves to produce Welsh, French, Irish and ultimately Manx and Scots Gaelic translations. (Cornish took a very long time.) The self-presentation of our church to other churches made Latin, German, French, Dutch, Greek, Italian necessary. The expansion of empire meant that Mohawk followed quickly, and would be joined by Maori, Hawai'ian, Mota, Cree, Lakota, Arapaho, Cherokee, Gitxsan, Cheyenne, and a host of languages from the Indian subcontinent. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Inuktitut, and Spanish BCPs became containers for the words through which the New Life is given in baptism far away from Jerusalem or London. We know in our own day of good efforts to render our worship in better versions of Gwichin, Portuguese, Haitian Kreyol, Farsi, Turkish, Naskapi, Spanish for use in the United States, and the language spoken on Ontong Java Atoll.

The point of Prayer Book translation has always been the replication of Christian community in its ability to baptize, feed, teach, form, comfort, strengthen, correct. The Bible itself is of course necessary for this, but its size has sometimes meant that those portions of the sacred text used in the Book of Common Prayer have been the first ones translated. The truly heroic—often forgotten—translators who rendered the Collect for Purity or the General Thanksgiving into new languages did their part to form souls in patterns of belief and belonging that became permanent once they had begun.

This Pentecost, we look at the zeal for Prayer Book translation and wonder if our generations are doing their part to carry the practice forward globally. Is the distinctiveness of Anglican Christianity an important enough treasure for us to invest resources of all sorts in efforts to make the inheritance of 1549 available widely in Quechua, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, several varieties of modern Arabic, Russian, Mandarin, Hindi?

There are old stories about the nearly magical ability of stray copies of the Book of Common Prayer to create new churches—on the American frontier as well as in places like Madagascar where individuals discovered that they could lead a complete life of prayer and nurture between its pages occasionally even without the benefit of clergy. The digital frontier presents a new opportunity to publish glad tidings begun first at Pentecost and renewed at a subsequent one.

See you next week.

Our Signatures

Richard Mammana


All of us at Anglicans Online

9 June 2019

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