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it is much better for them not to understand the common service of the church, because when they hear others praying in a loud voice, in the language that they understand, they are letted from prayer themselves, and so come they to such a slackness and negligence in praying, that at length as we have well seen in these late days, in manner pray not at all.How is it, we might ask, that understanding the priest's words would actually provoke only "slackness and negligence" in the worshippers? Although this position might seem counterintuitive, within the devotional framework of sixteenth-century Catholicism it makes perfect sense: if the worshippers attend to the words of the priest, they are distracted from generating their own prayers. As Christopherson reflects upon the Book of Common Prayer, now rejected by the Catholic regime: "I have oftentime much marveled at us Englishmen of late that we came to the church at the time of our English service to hear only and not to pray ourselves."
Where heretofore, there hath been great diversity in saying and singing in churches within this realm: some following Salisbury use, some Hereford use, some the use of Bangor, some of York, and some of Lincoln: Now from henceforth, all the whole realm shall have but one use.Cranmer was generally careful to retain what he could from Catholic rites in order to maintain some continuity between the two liturgical practices. Based largely on a combination of the pre-Reformation Sarum Rite, which was the most common "use" in England, and the Reformed German liturgies that Cranmer so deeply admired, the Prayer Book that was issued in 1549 tempered its innovative changes to public worship by incorporating traditional forms and prayers. Although in this respect the Prayer Book was liturgically conservative, its alterations to the ways in which prayers were performed represented a radical transformation of the language of public worship.
At last the said Harding, in the year abovesaid , about the Easter holidays, when the other people went to the church to commit their wonted idolatry, took his way into the woods, there solitarily to worship the true living God, in spirit and in truth; where, as he was occupied in a book of English prayers, leaning or sitting upon a stile by the wood's side, it chanced that one did espy him where he was, and came in great haste to the officers of the town, declaring, that he had seen Harding in the woods looking on a book: whereupon immediately a rude rabble of them, like mad men, ran desperately to his house to search for books, and in searching went so nigh, that under the boards of his floor they found certain English books of holy Scripture. Hereupon this godly father with his books, was brought before John Longland, bishop of Lincoln . . . [who] sent him to the bishop's prison, called Little-ease, where he did lie with hunger and pain enough for a certain space, till at length the bishop, sitting in his tribunal-seat like a potentate, condemned him for relapse to be burned to ashes.Harding's death cannot in fact be blamed on his possessing vernacular translations of Scripture. And yet, despite the sensational nature of Foxe's description --the "rude rabble" of Catholic men searching "desperately" for books--this passage accurately conveys the anxiety in the pre-Reformation church over the unauthorized spreading of the English word.
When the priest goes to his book,
his private prayers for to look,
kneel thou down and say then this,
That next in black written is:
it will thy prayer much amend,
If thou will hold up both thy hands,
to God with good devotion,
when thou say this orison,
God receive thy service.
Excerpted from Common Prayer: the Language of Public Devotion in Early Modern England by Ramie Targoff Copyright © 2001 by Ramie Targoff. Excerpted by permission.
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