The Prayer Book and Public Worship (pp. 42-46)

“The printed prayers are no less sincere, then?” asked the Doctor.
“Not necessarily so,” replied the Rector. “Any prayer may be insincere. Sincerity is not in the prayer whether written or spoken, but in the heart of him who utters it. You may be quite as lacking in the spirit of worship in merely listening to a prayer as in reading it. It depends upon an inner condition that is quite apart from the method
“Some men have the gift of prayer; others have not. There is no greater burden placed upon a minister than to utter before a congregation a prayer that really carries upward the hearts and minds of the people.”
“But do the written prayers accomplish that?” asked the Doctor.
“They at least enlist every particle of the spiritual energy of the people,” said the Rector. “They make the act of prayer a positive act of the person, rather than a mere act of attention. And more than that, they cover every need, every aspiration, every sorrow, every hope of human life. Every person who attends church comes with his particular burden, his especial need. The prayers range over every phase of spiritual experience. They bring comfort to the sorrowing, hope to the burdened, courage to the tempted, joy to the despondent, and forgiveness to the penitent. Everyone who comes to Church with sincerity finds in the prayers some message to his own soul. The congregation in Church is like a group of voyagers on an ocean liner. Each is going on a different errand, for a different purpose, animated by a different motive. Yet for a time they share the same great pathway of an ocean voyage and mould their varied purposes into one great experience. Our services are like that. For a time all sorts and conditions of men share a great spiritual voyage in the service, in which each finds something which blends with his individual purpose. The prayers are so sublime, so free from any but the highest sanctions, so full of the needs of our common human nature, so complete in their religious expression, that no one need seek help there and not find it.

…they suggest thoughts and aspirations that search our very hearts. They are universal devotional experiences pouring its wealth through every mind and heart. They enlighten and inspire and educate the soul.”
“But do not the same prayers every Sunday grow monotonous?”
“Not if they satisfy a hunger, Doctor. Do your meals grow monotonous? Not if you are hungry. Human life day by day, with most of us, consists of repetitions of the same acts. Most of our lives consist in doing things that are usual and customary. They do not grow monotonous if such repetition contributes to a great end, a great duty.
“So the needs of men’s souls are much the same week by week. They need much the same spiritual food. They need hope, comfort, courage, faith and the sense of God’s presence. Variety in prayer may entertain but it will not edify and support the soul. But as a matter of fact the aspect of these prayers is as varied as the customary and monotonous forms of nature… So we bring a new man each week to share in the fundamental things of God, and each week the prayers glow with a different light and emphasis. They grow monotonous only to him who fails to bring his heart into tune with them.”
“But the minister reads them to the people,” objected the Doctor.
“No, indeed,” urged the Rector. “He is merely the leaders. He offers them to God. He interprets them to the people. That is his real part. He should read so that the force of the prayer makes itself plain. He reinforces with his voice that which they read with their eyes. He offers them to God, not to the congregation.”
“Moreover,” added the Rector, “the written prayers of the Prayer Book are among the finest creations of literature… We never tire of the masterpieces. Have you ever heard a play of Shakespeare interpreted by a master?”
“Yes, indeed,” said the Doctor.
“Did it detract from the experience when you remembered that the actor was uttering pre-composed forms of words, words written several centuries ago? Would it have added to your satisfaction to have the actor extemporize the words?”
“I am afraid not,” conceded the Doctor.
“…So with the great masterpieces of devotion, the Book of Common Prayer. Countless millions have been saturated with its language, its spirit, its truth, and like a great fountain, which has ever the same form, its flowing waters refresh the human soul and renew the human spirit.”
“And that is really what we mean by worship. It is not an exercise, a drill, a rehearsing of words, but a great experience, in which, stimulated by the nobles of written words, the spirit of man comes into intimate communion with God.”
“Do all feel that?” asked the Doctor.
“Possibly many do not feel it constantly,” admitted the Rector. “But it is the purpose of the Church to lead them to feel it. And at times they feel it very keenly. But week by week the Church keeps this ideal before the people and urges them to those devotions and practices by which they may surely upbuild the consciousness of the present of God in worship.”
[The Episcopal Church: Its Message for Men of Today, George Parkin Atwater; New York: Morehourse-Gorham Co., 1950; 42-46.]