The law of prayer is the law of belief which is the law of life.
Essentially, how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live. The law of prayer or worship is the law of life.
As an Anglican, our whole life should be shaped by Scripture and the Holy Spirit through our common regula of the Book of Common Prayer. It used to be said that if you want to know what an Anglican believes, go to a service and listen to their prayers. Nowadays, however, that may not be the case with Episcopal Bishops crossing their fingers during the creed and the ‘plain meaning’ of words being twisted to form something completely contradictory. Our prayer book was written, in my opinion, as a reformed Catholic book. It’s little “r” reformed because it took what was considered essential liturgically and ritually for a proper service and that’s what was made mandatory and big “C” Catholic because it was based not on some continental Reformational document, but on the ancient liturgical rites of both Sarum in England and the East. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s lack of devotional material and the downplaying of both the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the role of the Communion of the Saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, make it less than perfect. However, I think it takes the idea of unity within the Faith seriously in bringing those who would otherwise kill each other into the same fold. But how does this book, that so many ignore, actually shape our faith?
Matthew Dallman, a friend and liturgical scholar, is focusing his academic portfolio on the works and life of Fr. Martin Thornton. Thornton states that the Anglican regula is divided into three parts: Mass, Office, and Devotion. One without the other would make an incomplete Christian. For me, there is where I see truly the Anglican ‘Three Streams’ theology– it allows for a common service of communion (catholic), a focus on Scripture and prayer in the Office (evangelical/reformed), and the ability to have personal devotions that are less structured if so chosen (charismatic). These three parts, when used together, creates worship experience that is formational and participatory, rather than a service that is just ‘watched.’
I believe this was a major outworking of the Oxford Movement that quickly got lost in the ritualist movement and why I think going back to the ‘roots’ of our movement is key for those of us who are carrying on their mantle. As Anglicans, we need to learn to shape our life– including how we view time– by the Prayer Book. We need to regain our memory of our Saints and ‘Blesseds’, we need to participate either corporately or individually in the Daily Offices, we need receive Jesus at least weekly into our bodies through Holy Eucharist or the Mass, and we need to learn spiritual practices that bring us into a closer relationship with Him. As Anglicans, and especially for those of us within the context of the ACNA, we need to act and worship like Anglicans. With the upcoming finalized Texts for Common Prayer, we need to grasp and run with these rites (or older rites like the 1662 BCP, 1928 American BCP, or the 1962 Canadian BCP) and begin to use them to shape ourselves and our congregations. That is true catholicity. The Anglican Church, in all its messed up glory, is a fellowship or tradition within the greater Catholic church and we need to realize what that means for us and the responsibility that is on our shoulders to keep the Faith. It also means we need to lay down our own opinions and look to the example of the patristic church (as Lancelot Andrewes said: ‘One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period—the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith’) and give up innovations that are truly not catholic or ‘part of the whole.’
So pick up a Prayer Book (or go online here or here and print one out) and learn to say the offices. There is a great resource here and here for you to pray along with and if you are ever near Atlanta, drop me a line and we can join up for morning or evening prayer at my parish. If you are a Priest, Deacon, or lay leader within your parish, start a time of Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer sometime during the week to complement your weekly Sunday service. If you are not using a Prayer Book for your Sunday worship, pick one up and try it out. But most importantly, begin to let the words of your prayer shape your beliefs (and vice versa) so it works out into a life lived fully for Christ and His Church.