Sunday’s collect (opening prayer) is one of the best known in the Book of Common Prayer:
BLESSED lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to bee written for our learnyng; graunte us that we maye in suche wise heare them, read, marke, learne, and inwardly digeste them; that by pacience, and coumfort of thy holy woorde, we may embrace, and ever holde fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast geven us in our saviour Jesus Christe.
Well, perhaps our printed version is a little more modern.
Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I, was the leader of the English Reformation. Though difficult to tell exactly how much he actually authored, Cranmer produced the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and is credited with writing the beloved words of this collect.
Episcopalians have lived by these words for centuries, often first hearing them in Confirmation instruction: "hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” In Confirmation class, we also heard things like “stand to praise, sit to listen, kneel to pray.”
Cranmer originally wrote this collect to be used on the Second Sunday of Advent, but our present 1979 Book of Common Prayer has four distinct, new collects for the four Sundays of Advent.
This particular collect was moved to the next-to-last Sunday of the Christian Year, which is the Sunday before what is officially named the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. This prayer, therefore, is now used on a Sunday very near to the Advent season.
In liturgical planning, we look to the lectionary readings as well as the Collect of the Day. When I saw this collect for this Sunday, I immediately thought “holy scripture hymn.”
The Hymnal 1982 is organized in the same sequence as the Table of Contents of the Book of Common Prayer, an Anglican virtue that is completely intentional and wonderfully convenient and educational.
In many ways, I suppose Anglicans historically defined “Order of Service,” at least in the English language. (We like organization.)
The “Holy Scripture” section of our hymn is one of the smallest, with only nine hymns, and a couple of them are parish favorites.
A few weeks ago, we sang “Book of books, our people’s strength,” set to the German chorale Liebster Jesu, the tune to which we sing another parish favorite, “Blessed Jesus, at thy word.”
Directly across the page from “Book of books” is “O Christ, the Word Incarnate,” which we will sing this Sunday morning at the 10:30 service. "O Christ, the Word Incarnate" is set to the hymn tune Munich, another Protestant greatest hit.
This text, indeed, is a prime example of the poetic term personification or a literary apostrophe or poetic apostrophe, that is, assigning a personal nature or human characteristic to something non-human.
In the first stanza of this hymn, written by English bishop and hymnist William Walsham How (1823-1897), the simple virtues of wisdom, truth, and light have become proper names for Jesus Christ.
O Christ, the Word Incarnate,
O Wisdom from on high,
O Truth, unchanged, unchanging,
O Light of our dark sky;
We praise thee for the radiance
that from the scripture’s page,
A lantern to our footsteps,
shines on from age to age.
Photo Credit: www.freeimages.com