We are not all 18 or 16 forever
The Prince of Wales has paid tribute to the “beauty of holiness” in the Book of Common Prayer as he opened an exhibition exploring the relationship between royalty and religion.
His Royal Highness rejected reservations about the “accessibility” of the words of the 1662 edition of the Church of England’s service book, saying its value becomes clearer as people grow older and experience more in life.
“As somebody who was brought up on that prayer book – day after day, year after year, Sunday after Sunday, school worship after school worship, evening prayer, communion, everything – those words do sink into your soul in some extraordinary way,” he told a group at Lambeth Palace.
“One of the things I have never understood is why there is such an anxiety about accessibility when in fact, if we think about it, we all get older and we are not all 18 or 16 forever.
“Even though you may not understand those words at that age, it is only when you get a bit older and you have lived through life and had all sorts of experiences and you have suffered, and you have survived perhaps, that you then realise just how valuable those forms of words are, just how valuable the sense of the sacred is in our lives.
“And how, when you are up against it, and you have terrible moments to endure or overcome, whether it is being in war or faced with some appalling difficulty, or even facing death, then those words, those wonderful words, come back to you, if you have been lucky enough to have absorbed them over your lifetime.
“So I do think that sense of the beauty of holiness is something of enormous importance.”
The Prince’s comments came after he opened Royal Devotion – Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer at Lambeth Palace in the company of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
The event marks the 350th anniversary of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the traditional service book of the Church of England containing the church’s historic beliefs and its official standard of doctrine.
Earlier, Dr Williams spoke of the “great achievements” of The Prince’s Trust and The Prince’s “tireless and imaginative” support in areas such as cathedral appeals, the musical and choral traditions of the Church of England and restoration and conservation projects connected with the church.
“All these have testified to your own commitment to the continuity of the life of the Church of England, a continuity represented in the lively and creative life of so many parishes and cathedrals throughout the country,” Dr Williams said.
“In the work that you have done for young people, you have expressed your own commitment to another kind of continuity, the continuity that wants to pass on to the next generation the deepest convictions and passions that animate our own moral vision through the Church of England.
“Your own deep attachment to the worship of the Church of England and the Book of Common Prayer are widely and warmly appreciated within the church.”
He added: “The exhibition is a marvel of diverse riches. In weaving together the life of the monarchy and the church over the centuries, it reminds us that the worship of the Church of England represented in the Book of Common Prayer is not, in spite of all attempts to present it in this light, simply a minority interest rather on a par with train spotting.
“It is something which is woven into the kind of society we think we are and, more importantly, the kind of society we want to be.
“To celebrate this interweaving of the monarchy and the prayer book is a reminder that societies do not last or flourish unless they are able to say corporately, clearly, with conviction, what kind of society they want to be.”
The Lambeth Palace library exhibition includes the order of service from the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last year which was used and annotated by Dr Williams. The Prince has also lent the event one of his own copies of the Book of Common Prayer, given to him by Lord Mountbatten.
Other items on display include the order of service used by the then Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Geoffrey Fisher for the 1953 coronation.
The book contains instructions to himself including precise details about how to place the crown on The Queen’s head and how much pressure to use when doing so.
The Prince was shown the exhibits by a group including Dr Williams and Brian Cummings, professor of English at Sussex University, and an authority on the Book of Common Prayer.
Prof Cummings, speaking afterwards, said: “He showed great fascination and great knowledge and he was already familiar with and knew what he was looking at in advance.
“He was obviously touched by some of the items with royal associations.”
He added that The Prince had been “very amused” by the instructions on how much pressure to apply when placing the crown on the monarch’s head.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, printed two years after the restoration of the monarchy, has been described as a “treasury” of prayers and reflection that has helped shape people’s lives over the centuries.