On the first Sunday in Lent at Saint Paul’s (March 5), we participate in a masterpiece, The Great Litany, crafted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). The litany is traditionally read or sung in Episcopal congregations on the first Sunday of Lent, and is only service that remains in its original form from the First Book of Common Prayer (1549).
The pleas in the litany were more than just words for Thomas Cranmer. A brilliant editor, scholar, and theologian, he was a man caught in the crossfires of his time, as Reforma on ideals clashed with the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church.
Cranmer believed in the king’s sovereignty in all matters, both civil and religious. That belief led to his appointment by King Henry VIII as Archbishop of Canterbury, where he was instrumental in reforming the worship and doctrine of the Church of England. The architect of The Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer worked diligently to integrate reform into the life and worship of the English people.
Tried for treason and imprisoned during the reign on Roman Catholic Queen Mary (aka Bloody Mary), he recanted many of his religious beliefs in the infamous Tower of London. Led to the pulpit of St. Mary’s Church in Oxford on March 21, 1556, Cranmer stood before the congregation, poised to recant publicly. But he would not sink to that task. Instead, he renounced his earlier recantations and proclaimed his love for Christ.
Yanked from the pulpit and ed to the stake, he thrust his right hand into the Thames, saying, “This hand hath offended” — for with it, he had penned the denial of his beliefs.
Out of the ashes was born a saint.
Despite differences in me and place, Cranmer’s deep sense of human frailty and holy grace speaks to the underlying cares, concerns, and aspira ons of our hearts, and to the sources of wisdom, guidance and strength for our steps along our pilgrim path.
May we remember his great witness for Christ as we say together the words of the Great Litany.
NOTE: The Great Litany can be found on page 148 of the Book of Common Prayer