Book of Common Prayer

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Since the middle of the sixteenth century, The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) has served as the title of an entire family of books that contain the authorized canonical rites for each province of the Anglican Communion. The title originated in the Church of England, but was applied to later adaptations of the English BCP as autonomous provinces emerged with the expansion of Anglicanism around the world. For the first four hundred years of its development, the various versions of the BCP depended heavily upon the English sources. However, more recent versions, beginning in the middle of the twentieth century, contain newer liturgical materials reflecting the increased ethnic diversity of the Anglican Communion and an increased ecumenical consensus with regard to common liturgical texts.

The source editions of the BCP were issued in England during the reign of King Edward VI, namely, the books of 1549 and 1552 that were imposed upon the English Church by parliamentary Acts of Uniformity. These two books were primarily the work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533 to 1556. Cranmer took as his primary source the medieval Sarum Use, the Latin Rite as it was celebrated in the majority of English dioceses during the late Middle Ages. Other sources were the Greek liturgies of Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, medieval Gallican rites, and early forms of the Lutheran Church Orders. In his development of the Anglican Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, perhaps his greatest work, Cranmer was influenced by the breviary published in 1535 by Cardinal Francisco de Quinones.

The first Book of Common Prayer (1549) was a conservative adaptation of the old Latin rite, but with pressure from more radical reformers, and in conformity with his own developing theological convictions, Cranmer imparted to the second Book (1552) a more decidedly Protestant emphasis, especially in his reconstruction of the Holy Communion rite and in the elimination of many traditional ceremonies. Queen Mary proscribed the Prayer Book on her accession in 1553, but a new Act of Uniformity in 1559, under Elizabeth I, restored the 1552 Prayer Book, albeit with certain modifications that made it more patient of a Catholic interpretation of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. During the Commonwealth (164560) public use of the Prayer Book was again forbidden, but following the restoration of the monarchy and episcopacy in 1660, the Prayer Book was revised, after unsuccessful attempts in conference to win dissident Puritan and Presbyterian groups to accept it, and issued under a new Act of Uniformity in 1662.

The BCP of 1662 has continued as the officially authorized book until the present time, but just as local provincial adaptations of the book began to take into account the growth of liturgical knowledge, so also in England there was increasing demand for Prayer Book reform. The proposed revision of 192829 was not approved by Parliament, but nevertheless had considerable influence upon worship in the Church of England.

In the latter half of the twentieth-century, significant changes in the texts written by or adapted from Archbishop Cranmer came to be incorporated in Prayer Book revisions in various provinces of the Anglican Communion. Among those revisions, the BCP of the American Church was issued in 1979 and replaced the earlier book of 1928, The Alternative Service Book (ASB) was approved in England for use in tendem with the BCP of 1662, and in Canada The Book of Alternative Services was published in 1985 with the intention that it would not replace the earlier book of 1962. Beginning in Advent 2000, the ASB was superseded by Common Worship, a consolidation and revision of the ASB, together with specially commissioned material. All thhese books continued to embod a respectful priority to the classical texts of Cranmer.

The most innovative departure thus far from the inherited sources is A New Zealand Prayer Book (He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa), authorized for use in the Province of New Zealand in 1989. Not only does this book include a substantial quantity of new ritual material, but it also offers parallel texts in the Maori language in many parts of the book. In spite of the fact that this book is only canonically authorized for use in New Zealand, its experimental character and directness of style have commended it for use in many parts of the Anglican Communion.

The particular genius of the BCP tradition is that each version contains in one volume all the fundamental ritual texts and sacramental rites for the public worship in Anglican communities. Thus, in one volume both laity and clergy have the texts needed for Morning and Evening Prayer, for the Eucharist, for particular ministrations of priests such as rites for baptism and marriage, penance and reconciliation, rites for the sick, and the rites of Christian burial, and for the particular ministrations of bishops, such as ordinations and the Consecration of Churches.

The Prayer Book has served as an important symbol of Anglican unity, and so when local provinces began to move beyond the Cranmerian texts, this was frequently met with anxiety about the erosion of this unity. By the time of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1958, it was generally recognized that liturgical unity did not so much require identical texts as it did a common structure, especially for the eucharistic rite. In the decades since that time, it has become increasingly common

at major Anglican liturgical celebrations to embrace the ethnic and ritual diversity of the Communion as a providential development in its history.

Bibliography: f. e. brightman, The English Rite, 2 v. (London 1915). g. j. cuming, A History of Anglican Liturgy, 2nd. ed. (London 1982). m. j. hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book (New York 1980). p. v. marshall, Prayer Book Parallels, 2 v. (New York 1989). r. a. meyers, A Prayer Book for the 21st. Century (Liturgical Studies Three; New York 1996). c. p. price &l. weil, Liturgy for Living, Revised edition (Harrisburg, PA 2000). m. h. shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (New York 1950).

[m. h. shepherd/

l. weil]

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Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer, understood as a unifying symbol of Anglican tradition and worship, represents a common core of worship services, patterns, and language that draws on the traditions of early Christianity and holds together diverse perspectives within the U.S. Episcopal Church.

The prayer book traces its history to England, following Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church in 1531. The first English-language version, published in 1549, contained the official prayer services, communion, and sacramental rites of the Church of England. Subsequent revisions reflected struggles among Puritan, Reform, and Catholic factions and the influences they sought to exert on the church, as well as political and religious interests of the throne.

With the U.S. Episcopal Church's emergence following the Revolutionary War, severed from its Church of England roots, an Americanized version of the Book of Common Prayer was adopted in 1789, although with a distinct Scottish influence that reflected the strong ties the new denomination had formed with the Episcopal Church of Scotland. The new prayer book also was influenced by Anglican clergyman John Wesley's revised services for American Methodists, and the revised liturgy adopted by the independent King's Chapel in Boston.

The U.S. Book of Common Prayer underwent revision in 1892 and 1928. Yet the mid-twentieth century's growing interest in ecumenism, liturgy, and early church practices, combined with a decreasing tolerance of archaic worship language rather than contemporary usage, resulted in the most radical revision of the Book of Common Prayer to date. A series of Prayer Book Studies was commissioned in 1949, culminating in final approval of a new prayer book thirty years later. The 1979 revision has been recognized for including both traditional and contemporary worship forms as well as a flexible rite for the worship needs of specific occasions or communities, for placing Holy Communion as the central act of worship, for pastoral sensitivity, and for urging laity to participate actively in corporate worship and ministry. It also reflects diverse ecumenical perspectives, including both Catholic and evangelical influences.

A strong dissenting movement against the 1979 Book of Common Prayer came from the Prayer Book Society, claiming about ten thousand members, which decried both the loss of traditional language and the liberalizing theology underlying the revisions. Criticism also has been leveled by feminists for the prayer book's androcentric wording and imagery, with concern about its power to shape both sacred and secular relationships. Work on a new revision was authorized by the Episcopal Church General Convention in 1994, and reinforced in 1997 by the initiation of a process for authorizing additional worship forms that reflect multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual, and multi-generational realities in society.

The Book of Common Prayer has been studied by other religious traditions intrigued by its common liturgical core as well as its flexibility and diversity. Similarities to the United Methodist Book of Worship remain evident. Comparison of the compatibility of the Book of Common Prayer and the Lutheran Book of Worship has been central to the ongoing work of developing intercommunion between those denominations.

See alsoEpiscopal Churches; Journalism, Religious; Liturgy and Worship; Prayer; Publishing, Religious; Religious Studies.


Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on theAmericanPrayerBook. 1981.

Summer, David E. TheEpiscopal Church'sHistory 19451985. 1987.

Paula D. Nesbitt

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Book of Common Prayer. By a proclamation of 23 September 1548, Edward VI set up a commission of twelve bishops and clergy to oversee the preparation of ‘one uniform order [of service] throughout the kingdom’. This ‘Windsor Commission’ (so-called from its meeting-place) seems to have refined and emended a draft prayer book prepared by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, for the bench of bishops approved its work only a month later. The Act of Uniformity (March 1549) ordered the exclusive use of the new Book of Common Prayer from Whitsunday (9 June) that year. The Prayer Book contained morning and evening offices, and forms for the administration of the sacraments (e.g. baptism and the eucharist) as well as the psalter. It was a response to the desire of Cranmer and other reformers for a single, convenient provision for the public worship of the church in the vernacular. It drew heavily upon the work of the continental reformers as well as upon existing Latin service books.

After 1549, reformed ideas, particularly from Germany and Switzerland, rapidly gained ground among English scholars, and these were reflected in the Second Prayer Book, issued in 1552. This book was probably little used, as the accession of Mary I saw a temporary return to the older Latin services.

In 1559 a modified 1552 Prayer Book came into use under Elizabeth I, and this in its turn formed the basis of the 1662 book, which remained the norm of Anglican worship until the 20th cent. Attempts to revise the Prayer Book in 1928 were frustrated by Parliament, but since 1980 there has been an authorized Alternative Service Book in England.

Revd Dr John R. Guy

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BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, short form BCP. The book used for public worship by Anglican Christians for over 400 years, and regarded as authoritative for doctrine. It originated with the First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward VI (1549, 1552), was mainly compiled by Thomas Cranmer, and drew on Latin, Orthodox, German, and Spanish liturgies. It underwent revisions, notably in 1662 when restored to use after being banned during the Commonwealth, but is recognizably Cranmer's original. A further revision in 1928, though not officially authorized, is in use in some places. BCP is the earliest source for many common words and phrases, such as all one's worldly goods, at death's door, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, land of the living, like lost sheep, tender mercy, to lead a new life. Complex sentence structure with long subordinate clauses is a feature widely assimilated into the language: ‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name’ (Collect at commencement of Holy Communion). BCP contains many pairs of synonyms, such as praise and magnify, erred and strayed, prisoners and captives, prepare and make ready, usually one word from Latin, the other Anglo-Saxon, the aim of which was comprehensibility among all levels of society. Because for 400 years a high degree of uniformity in worship was imposed by law, BCP has influenced vocabulary and syntax to an extent comparable to the BIBLE and SHAKESPEARE.

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Common Prayer, Book of Official liturgy of the Church of England. Originally prepared as a reformed version of the old Roman Catholic liturgy for Henry VIII by Thomas Cranmer in 1549. Three years later it underwent revision under the Protestant government of Edward VI. The final version (1559), a combination of the two, was produced by Elizabeth I's Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker. The Prayer Book was further revised in 1662 after the Restoration of Charles II.

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Book of Common Prayer (often BCP). The major prayer book of the Anglican Church, and official service book of the Church of England. Its centrality and continuing use is advocated by the Prayer Book Society.

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Common Prayer, Book of: see Book of Common Prayer.

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Book of Common Prayer See Common Prayer