Ladies and Gentlemen, I know that I’m really here to open this exhibition, but I’m also slightly hesitant, because the last thing I’m going to do is compete with the Archbishop in terms of his brilliance at making speeches. Having witnessed when we went to the special celebrations around the Charles Dickens anniversary at Poets Corner recently in Westminster Abbey, the Archbishop went so brilliantly off-piste as to be quite remarkable. I don’t know how he does it. It was the most wonderful lesson in Dickens’ relationship to religion, morality and everything else. How your staff kept up with you I don’t know! But it was a remarkable tour de force and I can only congratulate you.
When it comes to the Prayer Book, I’m so pleased to have this opportunity of joining you here today and seeing a little bit of the exhibition. Inevitably, I never have enough time to get round all those fascinating exhibits. Having been educated - a little bit - at Cambridge, I could tell at once that the exhibition had been organised by a former undergraduate at Trinity College Cambridge and Professor Brian Cummings has done a remarkable job, I think.
Having looked a little bit at his book about the Book of Common Prayer, I was also fascinated to discover a little bit more on the history behind all this because what so many of us, who are rather ignorant, never seem to understand is how much argument and conflict went on ceaselessly about how to devise a prayer book which suited most people. The devising of the 1662 version was a remarkable exercise in compromise and, as Professor Cummings put it, there are a few enthusiasts and “die-hards” left who actually do rather appreciate that Book of Common Prayer.
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 and everything, those words do sink into your soul in some extraordinary way. One of the things I’ve never understood is why there was such an anxiety about accessibility when in fact, if we think about it, we all get older. We’re not eighteen or sixteen forever. Even though you may not understand those words at that age, it’s only when you get a bit older and you’ve been through life and all sorts of experiences and you’ve suffered and survived perhaps, that you then realise just how valuable those forms of words are and 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 and overcome - whether it’s being in war or facing some appalling difficulty or even facing death – then those words, those wonderful words, come back to you if you’ve been lucky enough to absorb them over a lifetime.
So I do think that sense of the beauty of holiness is something of enormous importance and I hope that the celebration of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee gives us the opportunity to celebrate all these things. That’s the marvellous thing about Jubilees: so many people can do so many wonderful things, whether it’s planting a wood or organising a pageant on the Thames or special services throughout this country in our great cathedrals and our parish churches, it is a remarkable opportunity to celebrate the things that actually we hold sacred. So nothing would give me greater pleasure than to open this exhibition.