Book of Common Prayer phrases have become part of our everyday lingo
PUBLISHED: 19:41 20 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:29 21 August 2019
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James Marston says we should have greater awareness of one of our greatest English texts
Don't tell him, Pike", "Four candles", "Lovely Jubbly", "It's good night from me and good night from him", "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore", "To be or not to be", "May the Force be with you", "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn", "A handbag!"
All of us know these cultural references, we all recognise those phrases whether they be from the world of television, film or even theatre. Indeed these references are part of our cultural heritage.
As regular readers will know I have recently been admitted into Holy Orders, as even more regular reader will know I am a big fan of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) - or Prayer Book as it is known - a foundational document of liturgy and doctrine of the Church of England, it is one of our greatest English texts.
This is because for hundreds of years the BCP was one of the few things that generation after generation of English speaking peoples were exposed to week after week. The BCP provided a deeply unifying cultural experience and heritage that pervaded the length and breadth of the Kingdom and permeated through all social classes, as well as a religious one. Everyone knew the words; the BCP provided the "Don't tell them pike" of yesteryear.
Church attendance might have declined - partly, I suspect, as our prosperity has increased and we have turned our attention to worshipping money and status and self - but the BCP's influence lingers on with, perhaps, surprising tenacity.
It's just that people don't always realise it. People do not recognise the source of the myriad of phrases that are BCP inspired and which are part of everyday use; and which have been appropriated by men and women of letters, scriptwriters, playwrights, television producers, film directors and the like ever since.
From ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
To have and to hold
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In sickness and in health
Till death us do part.
Peace in our time
This vernacular use of the BCP outside its church context interests me, not simply because it is the phrases that we use, but also the rhythm of language that we employ.
Our humour, our rhetoric, the way we use language has been shaped by the BCP perhaps more than Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Wordsworth, Betjeman, and all the rest, not because those people weren't influential but that so many people for so long were exposed to the BCP far more regularly and consistently than they were the words of Shakespeare or the metaphysical poets.
The way we are unified today through language, I suggest, is thanks to the linguistic influence of the BCP. And it is through that linguistic heritage that language develops and through language we communicate, we make each other laugh, we express our humanity and our beliefs, and indeed our identity.
One final point, we are told consistently how divided we are, how political division has ripped apart our society, how we are disconnected with one another - there may be some truth in this but there is a real danger of over egging the division pudding - and I can't help suspecting our politicians are feeding into a narrative of division for their own ends. The BCP and its influence has survived hundreds of years of division, wars, and political upheaval.
It the book and its legacy are still a timeless source of stability and unification in a changing world and perhaps something that might help unify once again - indeed inside its covers is a final treasure that I thought many of us might agree on - a prayer for the high court of parliament: ~ Most gracious God, we humbly beseech thee, as for this Kingdom in general, so especially for the High Court of Parliament, under our most religious and gracious Queen at this time assembled: That thou wouldest be pleased to direct and prosper all their consultations to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, the safety, honour, and welfare of our Sovereign and her Dominions; that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations.
These and all other necessaries, for them, for us, and thy whole Church, we humbly beg in the Name and Mediation of Jesus Christ our most blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.
Is James right? Has the BCP influenced us more than we realise? What do you think? Write to him at email@example.com>