Benjamin Schwarz on the Book of Common Prayer

The King James Bible gets all the glory, but the Book of Common Prayer is amazing.  From this month’s Atlantic:

Brian Cummings, the editor of this volume, rightly asserts that the language of The Book of Common Prayer “has seeped into the collective consciousness more profoundly than that of any other book written in English, even the Bible.” A work that for nearly half a thousand years marked the hours (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer) as well as the days (Moveable and Immoveable Feasts) and the moments of greatest sorrow (The Order for the Burial of the Dead), suffering (Visitation of the Sick), happiness (The Order of Baptism), crisis, and triumph (Prayers and Thanksgivings Upon Special Occasions), it shaped the inner life and branded the tongue of the English-speaking peoples. Its phrases and rhythms did not merely enter the language. They largely defined the language. Although he was a ferocious atheist, Orwell, probably the 20th century’s most astute critic of the English language, frequently quoted The Book of Common Prayerfrom memory, and insisted on being married (“to have and to hold from this day forward”) and buried (“In the midst of life we are in death”) to its texts. (Daniel Swift illuminates the profound impact of The Book of Common Prayer on Shakespeare’s work in his keen if somewhat overstated Shakespeare’s Common Prayers, to be published next month.)


Also, here’s James Fallows on three of his favorite pieces from the BCP: “Rhythm, repetition, and the Book of Common Prayer”

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