Advent is a time of year when I could wish I were still an Anglican, if only for the Collect for Advent Sunday (which is then used at morning and evening prayer throughout the season):
give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,
and put upon us the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life
in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;
that in the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge both the quick and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
As it happens, I’m using the (1662) Book of Common Prayer’s services of morning and evening prayer for my own personal prayer times at the moment. This is largely due to being mid-way (or so) through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which has put me in a Tudor frame of mind.
One thing which Wolf Hall has made me appreciate (indirectly) is the Book of Common Prayer’s inclusion of a general confession (“…we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep…”) and absolution at both morning and evening prayer, day in, day out. To modern tastes this seems excessive, and I’m not aware of any contemporary form of office that follows this approach.
Part of the backdrop to Wolf Hall is the whole medieval Catholic framework of pardons, purgatory, prayers to the saints and so on – and against that the “brutal truth from Tyndale”:
Saints are not your friends and they will not protect you. They cannot help you to salvation. You cannot engage them to your service with prayers and candles, as you might hire a man for the harvest. Christ’s sacrifice was done on Calvary; it is not done in the Mass. Priests cannot help you to Heaven; you need no priest to stand between you and your God. No merits of yours can save you: only the merits of the living Christ. (p.299)
Those unwilling to suffer the fate of people like Thomas Bilney and John Frith (both burned for preaching “Tyndale’s message”) keep their heads down, waiting for the darkness to lift. As Anne Boleyn says to Thomas Cromwell, as they recall the burning of “Little Bilney”:
“He was a fool,” Anne says. She blushes, deep angry red. “People must say whatever will keep them alive, till better times come. That is no sin.” (p.317)
Cranmer’s decision to include confession and absolution as a twice-daily feature of the Church of England’s prayers makes a lot of sense in that context of people longing to hear the simple of pardon and forgiveness in the gospel. It might be tempting to berate ourselves for the way we now take that message for granted, finding such repetition of it excessive. I’m more inclined to say that it was medicine that did its work.