This is the fifth part in a series on what we love about the Anglican way. To read parts 1 through 4, click here.
5. The Anglican Way Is Catechetical
If one spends just a little time reading about the traditional liturgy, he or she will come across a Latin phrase: “lex orandi, lex credendi.” Translated, this means that the law of what is prayed is what is believed. Sometimes, the words “lex vivendi” will be added to this phrase, and in adding those words, the idea is expanded to mean that the law of what is prayed is what is believed and then lived. This “law” is yet another thing we love about the Anglican way.
Anglicans use the Book of Common Prayer (“Prayer Book”) for their daily prayer/Scripture reading times, Holy Communion, and other services and events. The Prayer Book, by its nature, is catechetical. Rather than leaving the believer to his or her own devices to read the Word and pray, the Prayer Book shapes how we read and what we pray, by pounding into our heads on a daily basis the great truths of the Christian faith, and it does so in the larger context of Christian community, the Church.
An example: at the beginning of each Morning or Evening Prayer service, the participants, together, offer a confession of sin to God: “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”
It’s certainly fine to simply ask God to forgive us our sins, and we do that throughout the day as sins come to mind (perhaps, we hope, immediately after we’ve sinned!). But this prayer offers more than a mere prayer asking forgiveness. It teaches us, so that our prayer shapes our belief, and then, hopefully, our lives. How so? Well, first, this prayer starts by reminding us of God’s mercy and power. There’s no sin He cannot forgive and He has the power to assist us in overcoming sin. Second, we acknowledge our “sheepness” before God—we tend to wander. This prayer reminds us of that. Third, it teaches us how sin starts—the devices and desires of our own hearts (as St. James tells us also). Fourth, it reminds us that there are sins of omission and commission and both are grievous. Fifth, we are taught that the only health in us, spiritually speaking, comes from God. Sixth, it reminds us again that God is merciful. Seventh, it recognizes that God has made promises in Christ and asks in faith for God to honor those promises. Eighth, it appeals to God to sanctify us to live a more godly life, for His glory.
Sure, such prayers can become rote. But a rote prayer still has a catechetical value, for the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind to convict of sin in the same way He might use scripture. And, this is just one example. Whether it’s repeating the Gloria Patri (which reminds us that God is Three-in-One), the Nicene or Apostolic Creeds (which orient us to a proper view of the Trinity and God), or a host of other repeated prayers or songs, we are taught daily and consistently the Gospel story in our prayer and Communion services. If we participate frequently, we are certainly shaped by these prayers and liturgy. One need only read Exodus to see how quick God’s people can be to forget the truth. We need catechesis and to be reminded of the truth, and yet another reason we love the Anglican way is that it catechizes us as we worship and pray.
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