Perfect Words for the Contrite Heart
For the following part of his Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer drew on a number of medieval sources and yet composed something greater than their sum. The introduction was said by the priest, the prayer by the “whole congregation . . . kneeling.”
Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father, but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart—to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same by his infinite goodness and mercy.
And although we ought at all times humbly to knowledge our sins before God, yet ought we most chiefly so to do when we assemble and meet together, to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which be requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.
Wherefore I pray and beseech you, as many as be here present, to accompany me with a pure heart and humble voice unto the throne of the heavenly grace, saying after me:
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 them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that be 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.
By Thomas Cranmer
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #48 in 1995]
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