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Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer is the official Church of England prayerbook, and also the name for similar books used in other churches of the Anglican Communion. It has been through many revisions over the last few centuries. It contains the order to be followed in church services.

Table of contents

History of the Prayer Book

Early Prayer Books

The earliest service book of the Church of England was a book of English litanies. Published in 1544, it borrowed greatly from Martin Luther's Litany and Myles Coverdale's New Testament, and was the only Protestant service to be finished within the lifetime of King Henry VIII.

In 1548, Thomas Cranmer has finished work on an English Communion. This was the first service to show the roots of Protestantism which were beginning to sprout in the English Church. For the first time, by an order of Parliament, Communion was to be given in both forms, bread and wine, thus necessitating a new service, or at least giving a reason for the growing Protestant faction in the church to develop such a new service. It existed as an addition to the pre-existing Latin Mass, but much of the language in this service survives till today.

One year later, in 1549, a full prayer book was published, under the leadership of Cranmer and the reign of Edward VI. (This text of the Communion is online here (http://www.eskimo.com/~lhowell/bcp1662/communion/1549/)). It was used until only 1552, when a revised version was released.

In March 21, 1556, Cranmer was burned at the stake by Mary I, who had hopes of leading her nation to a return to Roman Catholicism and punished Cranmer for his part in the reformation of England. Further Prayer Book development would continue without his instruction.

The 1559 Prayer Book

Under Elizabeth I of England, a restoration of the Anglican Church was undertaken in response to Queen Mary's attempts to remove the separated English church. This book was used for over 100 years, thus being the official Prayer Book under the Stuarts as well as well as being the first English Prayer Book in America. Without Cranmer's direction in the 1559 revision, a number of elements leaned toward more Catholic teachings, if not merely for his absence, perhaps as the affect of years of uncertainty within the church. Amongst these included:
  • Saint's holidays to the liturgical calendar;
  • Dropping prayers against the Pope from the litany; and
  • Suggesting the use of more traditional vestments by ministers.

This revision's use was outlawed in 1645 by the Long Parliament as part of the increasingly Puritan ideals then developing in the nation, and, given the religious leanings of Lord Protector Cromwell, it was not subsequently replaced until shortly after the return of the monarchy to England.

The 1662 Prayer Book

The 1662 prayer book was printed but two years after the restoration of the monarchy, and, given the mildly Catholic leanings of these two rulers, the 1662 was surprisingly Protestant for the time. Under the influence of the Puritans, a number of ecclesiastical scholars in England saw some merit in their ideals and worked some into the prayer book. This revision survives today as the Parliament-approved Book of Common Prayer in England, with only minor revisions (mostly due the changes in the monarchy and in the dominion of the Empire).

The language of the 1662 revision was much unchanged from that of Cranmer, with the exception of updates to only the most archaic language from his works. This book was the one which also existed as the official Book of Common Prayer during the greatest amounts of growth of the British empire, and, as a result, has been a great influence on the prayer books of Anglican churches worldwide today, not to mention the development of the English language.

After the 1662 prayer book, development did not cease in England. A subsequent, far more Protestant revision was developed later in the 17th Century, but was mostly scrapped as the various developing denominations pressed for tolerance within England as opposed to inclusion in the liturgy of the Anglican Church. However, the works from this book greatly influenced the Prayer Books in the British colonies.

Anglican Prayer Books in Other Nations A number of other nations have developed Anglican churches and their own Books of Common Prayer. Only a short overview is given here, for brevity, in hopes that at the respective page for the site that a longer description may be made.

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America has had produced numerous prayer books since their inception in 1789. Work on the first book began in 1786, which was subsequently finished and published in 1789. The preface thereto mentions that "this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship...further than local circumstances require." Further revisions to the prayer book in the United States have occurred subsequently in 1892, 1928, and 1979.

The Anglican Church of Canada developed their first Book of Common Prayer separate from the English version in 1918. A revision thereto was published in 1962. Some supplements have been developed over the past several years to the prayer book, and the Book of Alternative Services, published in 1985 is commonly used in many churches.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has had a number of revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, some of which developed simultaneously with the English book until the mid-17th century when the Scottish book began to diverge from the English version. A completely new revision was finished in 1929, and several revisions to the communion service seem to have been prepared since then (however, could someone in Scotland expound upon that?)

Here are also some links to parts of the Book of Common Prayer as used in other Anglican churches throughout the world.
Anglican Church of Australia

The Anglican Church In Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia

Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru (the Church in Wales)

Continued Development of the English Prayer Book While much of the rest of her empire had developed localized and greatly updated versions of the Prayer Book, England had continued using a mostly unchanged book since the 1662 revision. It looked as though this would change in the early days of the 20th century when work was started on a revision slated to be finished in the 1920s.

In 1927, the proposed prayer book was finished. It was decided, during development, that the use of the services therein would be decided on by each given congregation, so as to avoid as much conflict as possible with traditionalists. With these open guidelines the book was granted approval by the Church of England Convocations and Church Assembly. However, due to the fact that the Church of England is a state church, it was required for the proposed revision to go before Parliament, who rejected it in December of that year. The next year was spent revising the book to make it more suitable for Parliament, but, yet again, in 1928 it was rejected.

The Church of England has, since, not produced any revisions to the Prayer Book, other than those required for the monarch, and for other incredibly small revisions. However, a number of books that are not the Book of Common Prayer, per se, have been developed for the order of services, namely the 1980 Alternative Service Book and the 2000 Common Worship series of books, available, respectively, at:
http://www.oremus.org/liturgy/ and

Religious Influence The Book of Common Prayer has had a great influence on a number of other denominations. While some may be theologically different, the language and flow of the service of many other churches owes a great debt to that of the prayer book.

John Wesley, an Anglican minister whose teachings are ascribed as the foundations of the Methodist (and Free Methodist) movement, said, "I believe there is no Liturgy in the world, either ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety than the Common Prayer of the Church of England." Presently, most Methodist services have a very similar service and theology to that of the Anglican church.

In the 1960s, when Roman Catholicism moved towards a vernacular mass, a good deal of the translations of the English prayers followed that form of Cranmer's translation. Ironically enough, a number of theologians have suggested that the later English Alternative Service Book and 1979 American Book of Common Prayer borrowed from the Roman Catholic vernacular Lectionary.

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