The Book of Common Prayer; its Origin and its almost 500 years of impact on People of and from the British Isles

Milton H. Coleman
May 2019

In this day and age of printed Sunday bulletins with all the requisite prayers together with hymns and service music, the Book of Common Prayer sits rather forlornly in the pew rack, no longer in use. Persons new to the Episcopal church may wonder where the services of the bulletin come from, who writes them and why there are unused books in every pew.

Yet the faith we proclaim is guided and governed by the way we pray from the red book, sometimes referred to as lex orandi, lex credendi, the way we pray determines the way we believe,as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer. In one form or another, in one revision or another, it has been this way, for hundreds of years.

The liturgical scholar Leonel Mitchell has written that, “more than any contemporary religious group, Episcopalians are people of a prayer book; we use the Book of Common Prayer for the conduct of our services, as a guide for our private prayer and the source of most of our theology.” Our theology depends upon our worship.

So despite its quiescent setting in the pew rack, the Book of Common Prayer formulates the very essence of our relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

The Book of Common Prayer arose from many interlocking sources and experiences, and it is best to see this evolution of God prayer not only as a historic document but also as the determined expression of those faithful souls who lived in complicated and challenging times. Its composition began of necessity with the Missal, Breviary, Manual, Pontifical and other books of Latin prayers of the Roman hierarchy which were melded with the Lutheran denial of papal authority and the Protestant arguments of Northern Europe, along with Sarum Use, the Roman Rite, widely distributed in England, and the introduction of the Great Bible in the common language of the English people. All this was possible through the invention of movable type and in 1440, the printing press of Johannes Gutenberg.

The recipient of all this historical development was an accidental archbishop by the name of Thomas Cranmer, a Cambridge academic who was thrust into this role of liturgical leadership and church management by royal political happenings quite beyond his anticipation. The English Book of Common Prayer is sometimes thought to be simply the Roman liturgy in English. This paper will attempt to show that while the shift from years of Roman ways of praying and the abandonment of Latin were significant changes, much of Cranmer’s theology and his resultant two prayer books were extensively based on reform ideas generated on the European continent following the withdrawal from Rome by the Catholic priest, Martin Luther as well as the Latin Sarum books.

Near the end of his earthly life Cranmer was able to distill his wide and varied experiences into the first Book of Common Prayer which would act as an anchor for English Christianity in the years to come.

In this essay I will briefly search the essential sources of Cranmer’s book; why did this quiet teacher produce the text which has guided English speaking people in prayer to Almighty God for now 470 years?

Not much is known of early Christian assemblages of prayers but archaeology and research has over the last two hundred years found such liturgical works as the Apology of Justin Martyr, the Paidogogos of Clement, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, the Didache, the Didascalia Apostolorm, and the Pilgrimage of Egeria. From these works and the long experience of Judaic forms, worship patterns rose. By the end of the Fourth century the Sunday liturgy had been established in repeatable form.

In the West liturgical writing moved from Greek to Latin and the rise of papal control resulted in fixed forms of prayer for the Christian church. In England the agreement at the Synod of Whitby in 663 meant the eclipse of Celtic rites and the establishment of Roman rules of prayer. England was thus brought in line with Western Christendom.

But in 1517 a priest named Martin Luther, greatly disturbed by the corruption of the papacy and its promulgation of non-scriptural practices, began to rally his brothers, and assembled a document of concerns, hoping to change the direction of the hierarchy. He posted his paper on the door of a parish church in Wittenberg for all to see. Angry, the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, fought back and tried to limit Luther’s influence but were unsuccessful. The Germanic Reformation was underway.

The Oxford scholar Diamaid MacCulloch calls the Reformation a “rupture in the fabric of life as deep as any in European history. It made people kill and die for their religion. It also created the conditions for extraordinary kinds of piety, creativity and philosophical originality.” Western Europe in the Middle Ages was culturally and religiously unified. It had a common alignment with the pope and a common language for worship and scholarship, Latin. The individual Cantons of Switzerland, the Papal states of Italy, the German and Spanish fiefdoms formed, for protection, the Holy Roman Empire. It was to last until the 19th century but the forces of the Reformation split it between the German/Gaullist states of the North and the Italian territories including the Papal states of the South.

The Reformation destroyed a powerful, self confident institution. It was not caused by social economic forces or even nationalism, but sprang from a “big idea about death, salvation and the afterlife.” Luther understood that intercessory prayer for the dead as maintained by the church could not change God’s mercy and judgement. It was a power struggle against the church which claimed to help people gain their salvation. Luther wanted to correct the theology of papal practices, not build a new church. The situation in Switzerland was somewhat similar but there sola scriptura required more drastic change from the ritual common prayer of Rome.

The Counter-Reformation of the Papacy, in response to what became the Protestant departure, although harsh in its treatment of the clergy and people of Europe, did lay the foundations in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) for a worldwide Catholic church that might not have come save for the Reformation.

Thomas Cranmer was born in Aslockon in the midlands of England on July 2, 1489. At age 14 he was shipped off to Cambridge to begin serious study. Admitted to Jesus College he gained the BA in 1511 and married Joan, daughter of a local pub keeper in 1515. She died in childbirth less than a year later. Cranmer was ordained in 1520 and earned the doctorate in 1526. A life of research, teaching and study lay ahead.

Henry VII, king of England, died in 1509 and his second son, seventeen year old Henry became king since the first son had perished in 1502. The first son had married Catherine of Aragon, thus strengthening the political link between Spain and England. Henry VIII soon accumulated advisers including Thomas Wolsey, a bright cleric who became Archbishop of York. He was most desirous of Henry marrying his brother’s wife to help maintain the anti-French alliance. For this to occur, a dispensation had to be obtained from the Pope and this was done quite easily in 1503. Henry married Catherine and sat back to await a male heir which was not forthcoming. Catherine had a daughter, Mary. To somehow get out of the marriage, Henry appealed to pope Clement VII that the dispensation of Pope Julius was invalid according to the book of Leviticus and should not have been granted; Henry believed he should be granted an annulment.

But Charles V had sacked Rome and now the Pope was his captive. And in a royal twist, Catherine was Charles’ aunt. An annulment would be most difficult to obtain.

Perhaps in some Cambridge pub Cranmer was heard to observe that academics like himself might well be consulted on the legality of an annulment.His remark reached Henry, searching for any solution to his marriage problem. He called Cranmer to London and shipped him off to Europe as ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire to obtain annulment support from his academic peers. By 1530 Cranmer had secured overwhelming agreement that an annulment was justified. Cranmer attempted to present his findings to the Pope but the door was closed; the annulment was never to arrive.

More significantly for the future of English Christianity, Cranmer had many opportunities to consult with scholars of reform in Luther’s territories and with others privy to the drastic changes underway in European Christendom. For while the annulment was the prime purpose of Cranmer’s travels on the continent, he was learning much about Lutheran theology, Luther’s approach to the Roman Pope and the Protestant developments of Northern Europe. All this interplay and academic discussion was to contribute to his development of a worship direction for England when the Catholic authority and royal control was gone.

Unable to procure an annulment of his marriage, Henry took matters into his own hands and announced that henceforth He was head of the church in England, not the Pope. Catherine of Aragon was dismissed, sent back to Spain and was no longer Queen, replaced by Anne Boleyn; the search for a male heir began again. At this point Cranmer could turn much of his attention to his study of theological direction and the practical effect of separation on the English crown. During 1535 he renewed contacts with the Lutheran prices of Germany and Scandinavia while Henry, much in need of political allies turned his attention to the reformer, Melanchthon.

In his pursuit of the annulment, Cranmer spent a considerable amount of time in Nuremberg. The city was economically active and culturally important to the southern German princes. It was also a bastion of Lutheranism which flooded over the old Catholic centers, their worship and prayer practices. Just a few years after Luther’s proclamation, priests began to marry,the Mass lost some of its ancient ritual, the New Testament was to be read extensively in all parishes and the Lectionary was revamped to stress Lutheran principles. The religious leader of the city was Andreas Osiander, a pastor of one of the larger churches. He collected the Lutheran beliefs of the day and edited a catechism for the city . Some years later Cranmer used that document as a basis for a catechism for the English Church. Another indication of the effects of Lutheran ideas on the rules of the Catholic faith was Cranmer’s marriage to Margaret (albeit secretly done), the niece of Osiander’s wife. As an ordained Catholic, Cranmer had violated his vows in committing to marriage.

England was a Catholic country; it had been since approximately the year 200 CE; bishops from England participated in the Council of Arles in the 4th century. Henry was a Catholic ruler, subject in the organized faith to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Henry remained a Roman Catholic all his life , going to Mass,retaining royal chapels in his residences. But Henry, looking ahead, did not want a female successor;history had not been kind to queens as sole rulers in Europe’s monarchies; a male offspring must happen and that required a new wife.Henry’s father had become king after a “long and bloody” civil war. Henry VIII felt it was very necessary to have a stable, trained heir and that required a son.

In the midst of the Protestant led turmoil in Europe and the annulment controversy, Cranmer was summoned to England. The Archbishop of Canterbury had died and Henry decided this lowly archdeacon and amateur diplomat was to be his archbishop. Margaret was left in Germany for two years until Cranmer could find a way to sneak her into England. The elevation of Cranmer required a bull, legal permission, from the Pope which was obtained as a result of Henry’s payment of the large sums dictated by the Curia. In ceremony, Cranmer swore to be ”loyal and obedient to Pope Clement VII and the Holy Roman Church of the Apostles.” The Pope was still hopeful of a reconciliation.

Henry and Anne Boleyn were married. Catherine with her daughter, Mary, were put out to pasture. Anne had a daughter, Elizabeth, but no son and male heir.

The new Archbishop presided over a split church – Catholic Supporters of Rome and Protestant sympathizers. But Henry made all decisions and Cranmer backed him. Cranmer never varied from his belief in Royal Supremacy. The issue of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation soon arose,the reformers denying its theology. But Henry would not allow such a major deviation and burned its leading advocate, John Frith.

By 1534 Parliament had passed sufficient laws as to sever all bonds between the English Church and the Roman see. By 1535 bishops and clergy were required to renounce their allegiance to the Bishop of Rome. Monasteries had remained strongholds of Roman Catholicism, continuing to promote the doctrine of Purgatory, Masses for the dead, private Masses and clerical celibacy. But monasteries were also invariably wealthy. Henry saw this situation as beneficial to him and promptly closed all of these houses and took over their treasuries. Visitors to England today can see the ruins of many monastic houses throughout England.

Anne was executed for adultery, a cover for her lack of producing an heir; Henry married Jane Seymour.

The English Reformation continued to bumble along with short rebellions and rural uprisings. Some clarity came when the Bishop’s Book was issued in 1537 and Henry licensed the publication of an English Bible.Various bishops and their scholastic friends took the king’s OK and produced English Bibles of varying degrees of translation. The Great Bible of John Rodgers (Thomas Matthew) was approved and sent to all parishes in April, 1539. Reform had made another step forward. Jane Seymour produced a male child, an heir at last; his name was Edward. Jane died shortly thereafter.

Henry never integrated Protestant theology into his life or belief system. He insisted on maintaining the doctrine of Transubstantiation, allowing only bread to the laity in communion, and maintained clerical celibacy and private Masses. Worried by the French-Charles Alliance, Henry married Anne of Cleves sight unseen in 1540, another political linkage of royalty. Anne was the sister of the Prince of Saxony. But one look at the German princess and in a short time the marriage was declared null and void and Cromwell, the instigator of the match, was sacked. Having separated himself from the authority of the Bishop of Rome, Henry needed only the OK from convocation to judge the marriage invalid.

That summer the Catholic Party peaked in its power in Henry’s church. Major bishoprics changed hands and Parliament mandated the death penalty for priests who were married. Henry knew of Cranmer’s German wife, but as long as she was out of sight, he would keep his counsel.

Henry married Catherine Howard, but soon he found her having violated the marriage contract by well- known sexual liaisons and Catherine was executed. In 1543 Henry married Catherine Parr, his final wife who diligently raised Henry’s three children and cared for them after his death.

Cranmer dodged one attack after another from the Catholic Party and used the time to write a Primer of Devotional Litanies and Other Liturgies, a book used primarily by the laity for personal prayer. He was awaiting the time he could release his prayer book; he was biding his time.

Henry went to war from 1544 to 1546, even crossing the Channel to inspire his troops. He died in London in 1547 with Thomas Cranmer, his only friend, at his side. Cranmer alone understood and loved the man with a monstrous ego, who had broken a path for the English Church through the tangled underbrush of the early Reformation years.

At Henry’s death England was very much a Catholic Church, even if no longer under the Roman Pontiff. Priests celebrated the Mass inside a solid rood screen with their backs to the people, using a language that people could not understand. It had been this way since Augustine in 596. You went to church as a good work to get you into heaven.

But now, at the age of 9, Edward II was King of England and Cranmer had seen this day coming and was ready. He had been teaching Edward of the possibilities of the budding reformation on the Continent, diligently preparing liturgy for the day when he felt the church was ready.

“Cranmer had no interest in religious freedom; he was rarely an original thinker.” He was an agent, not an imitator. He was totally committed to the anointed prince, the King and ruler, both Henry VIII and Edward VI.
Cranmer adapted from many sources

  • Medieval liturgy, that is primarily the Roman Latin Missal and Breviary
  • From Sarum use
  • From the German, Swiss and Scandinavian reformers
  • From his experience at Nuremberg.

Early on he wrote and expressed his views on the sacraments and the nature of the Church, but he was not opposed to changing his view as his beliefs evolved.

But Cranmer was not a slave to the liturgies of the Continental reformation; Lutheran theology in the 1540 ‘s became his starting point, the basis for comparison of his thought on how the Church should be organized and how its prayer to God should be composed. But although he could write and discuss his ideas with close friends, the Sunday liturgy stayed the same. Much of the church structure had not moved from the medieval days.

Cranmer maintained a “remarkable forbearance toward intransigent Catholics”, and, as long as he could, did not condemn their age-old practices. When Edward was king no Catholic was executed for his or her belief. He was also most gentle in his treatment of Lady Mary, allowing her to have Catholic Mass in her quarters throughout the reigns of Henry and Edward, a blessing that would bite him not many years later.

To put Cranmer’s basic ideas of worship, the major points would be as follows:

  • The essential basis of faith would be Holy Scripture – in this case, the Great Bible in English.
  • Salvation is by faith, not works; one is saved by the cross, justified by grace and sanctified by works.
  • He rejected the papal practice of cash for forgiveness – the indulgence.
  • He saw no purpose in veiling crosses, lighting candles to images of the saints.
  • He rejected forms of adoration of the Sacrament. (Service of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament)
  • Over time he changed his mind on the understanding of Eucharistic action, rejecting the Aquinas doctrine of Transubstantiation and later the doctrine of the Real Presence (which Luther accepted), understanding the Eucharistic sacrament as not a renewable sacrifice, but as a memorial of Christ’s passion and the Last Supper.
  • Cranmer renounced the Roman doctrine of Purgatory together with Masses for the dead.
  • He believed in offering the laity communion in both kinds, bread and wine.
  • Rites of the Church should be uniform throughout England; the integrity of the nation depended on it.

Sarum was basic to Cranmer’s liturgical work. Sarum was a community a few miles north of present-day Salisbury. It arose after the Norman Conquest in 1060 and gradually evolved from a fort, a manor house, a castle and finally a cathedral in 1091. The liturgy that rose from this expansive house of worship is referred to as Sarum Use. Over time Sarum Liturgy came to dominate other centers of Roman worship. By the 13th century a new cathedral was desired and the present-day Church of Salisbury was completed by 1258.

Sarum Use continued to influence the worship of Southern England and as late as 1543, was adopted by Canterbury as standard practice. Cranmer translated the Sarum litany into English, later adding the bidding prayers and in 1549, produced an order for communion, basically a translation of the Sarum Missal. Now with Henry gone Cranmer could move on to his life work.

The story of Henry VIII and his marriage follies in search of a male heir makes for entertaining reading, but without his story there would not also be the story of the Book of Common Prayer and its demonstrable influence on the English people and later on the Anglican peoples of the world.
Henry is known in history as the man who defied the church, set up his own church and kept marrying whoever might accomplish his goals. But like Luther, his expectation was not to destroy the Catholic religion but to eliminate its archaic rules.

Cranmer was now ready; He released his long-awaited prayer book to the King’s printer.

On Whitsunday of June 9, 1549 the first Book of Common Prayer was ordered to be placed in every parish church in England. For the first time the official source of prayer was in the English language, no longer in Latin. Accompanying the book was an Act of Uniformity from Parliament to insure there would be one rite for the church. But there were years of preparation for that day with a progression of texts. A revised Sarum Breviary was produced in 1541, dropping any mention of the Pope; a revised Psalter followed that year. Cranmer put together a new set of Psalms and lessons with collects for each season in 1543 which became the basis for Morning and Evensong in the BCP. A new litany came in 1544 and the “Kings Primer” in 1545, with the Te Deum and Canticles in English. By 1547 there were injunctions against the ringing of bells, the paschal candle, masses on some holy days and the making of wooden crosses for Palm Sunday.

The Hours of Prayer, the Divine Office, the daily eight monastic offices were reduced to Morning and Evening Prayer in the 1549 book. The cult of the saints, the extensive calendar governing prayer to specified figures to whom intercession was made was severely reduced. Most of the feasts to the Virgin were eliminated.

Of particular note was the inclusion of collects for the regular Sundays of the year, some translated from the Latin collects of Sarum, some composed by Cranmer. It is these collects that Cranmer is best known today because many remain in current English, Anglican and American prayer books.The origin of these prayers now used to open the readings from scripture appears to be the oblations from the Roman rite. Depending on the researcher, these collects date from the third century at the time of the change from Greek to Latin or perhaps from the liturgical work of the fifth century. Contemporary versions are still being written today by such bodies as the ICEL and the RCL.

Aside from the change to the vernacular, the Sunday Eucharist was much the same as before, the order unchanged. Cranmer thought the 1549 Book to be a compromise between Catholics and Evangelicals. But it turned out to be unacceptable by both sides. It was either too Catholic or too Protestant. Indeed, the demand that the book be used caused violent riots and protests;in Devonshire some 4000 were killed by the king’s troops and in East Anglia, more lost their lives. Cranmer set to work immediately on a new book, more “Protestant” than the first. He arranged to obtain a theological chair at Oxford for Peter Martyr, an Italian scholar and Martin Bucer from Strasburg went to Cambridge along with other professors from Europe. Very soon a new ordinal was produced, reducing the ordained offices to three, bishop, priest, deacon. Gone were sub-deacons, lectors, acolytes, exorcists and ostiaries, from the ordained ranks. And a new prayer book emerged in 1552.

The 1552 book, its text reacting to the protests of much of the country, was much more Protestant, in that the ritual of the Mass was cut substantially (but the consecration at communion remained. No longer would the priest bow to the host, bless the water in the font or pray for the dead. The Gloria was moved to the end of the service. Stone altars were out, replaced by simple tables. Each Eucharist began with the Prayer for Christ’s Church. The prayer of Humble Access was also added. A penitential introduction was written for Morning and Evening Prayer. “The book combined both an aversion to the sacramental and ritual elements of old and a positive emphasis on repentance and thanksgiving, more verbal, less visual.”

The 1552 book would last less than a year; Edward VI, some 15 years of age, died on July 6, 1553. Mary I came to the throne, a committed Catholic. She reversed the prayer book process, established the Roman Missal as the liturgy of the church and returned altars, roods and statues to parish churches. She then began to chop heads and burn those who had opposed Roman authority and the Pope. On March 21, 1556 Mary burned Archbishop Thomas Cranmer at the stake when he refused to recant his profound opposition to the authority of the Bishop of Rome. The complicated life of the originator of our prayer book was over.

Mary lived three more years and died a miserable and defeated death. Her half-sister, Elizabeth came to power in 1559, again reversing papal authority and re-establishing Cranmer’s 1552 book.

When Elizabeth became queen, England was still very divided in its liturgical practice. Some parts of the country were committed to the ritual of the Latin mass, while others were ready to move on with a simpler, spiritually-based liturgy. Elizabeth probably favored the 1549 book, but with the help of her council, decided that he 1552 book was the best political direction. A few changes were quietly made including the return of stone altars, Eucharistic vestments and candles. Thus, the new book was issued in 1559 with proper prayers for the new sovereign.

The service of baptism was rewritten and with minor changes the church produced the 1604 book. A much more settled monarchy, a wise queen and solid church leaders meant stability of the prayer book for the first time. Even when Elizabeth died and James became king, the prayer book remained unchanged, but such quiet was to depart; civil war broke out in 1642. For fifteen years the prayer book disappeared from view and Puritanism reigned; Charles II then returned from the continent in 1660 to resume the throne; a royal commission went to work and, with much horse trading, produced a new book for Parliament’s approval. The readings were to be from the King James Version of the Bible recently published. Despite a large number of changes from the 1604 book, the result was quite close to the 1552 text. Thus the 1662 Book of Common prayer became the liturgy of the English church.

Given the rocky road of the Prayer Book of the first one hundred thirty years, the most remarkable exhibit of the 1662 book is that it has been and remains in force for over 300 years. It remains today the standard Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. There were, of course, small additions and revisions during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries but the core of the book stayed the same.
By 1833 The Oxford Movement led by the Tractarians pushed to move the Church more in line with Roman Catholic practice. In 1874 the Public Worship Regulation Act attempted to regularize ritual practice and produce conformity after the leading Oxford scholar, John Henry Newman, swam the Tiber. After one more attempt to bring back the 1549 book, the 1662 stood firm. A full-scale revision appeared in 1928, but was shut down by Parliament,but because the book was widely published, it was used by many parishes.

With the continuing foment of those desiring a Eucharist in contemporary language, the Church issued the Alternative Service Book in 1980. The book contained a Rite A with three Eucharistic prayers with the epiclesis preceding the words of institution and with the Gloria following the opening collects. It also provided the service of 1662 with the Gloria in Excelsis at the close of the rite, thus enabling parishes to require just one book.

The final change (to date) is Common Worship, a source book, not a traditional prayer book. One part contains services for Morning and Evening Prayer together with Compline, two orders for communion, one with contemporary language and eight Eucharistic prayers, the other, the 1662 rite in modern English. Then there is Baptism, the Psalter, collects and post communion prayers for every day of the calendar together with much supplemental material, including exhortations, forms for intercession, litanies and blessings, all unfortunately produced in a sans serif typeface. Confirmation, Episcopal services, the Burial Office and the Ordinal are published elsewhere, both in printed form and in electronic mode.

Material has been drawn from several Anglican prayer books including Ireland, Scotland, India, Canada, Southern Africa and the liturgical groups of ELLC, SPCK, ICEL, Alcuin and Grove Press as well as individuals, Oxford & Cambridge Universities and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. Common Worship draws together the rich inheritance of the past and the very best of our contemporary forms of worship.

As Britain expanded throughout the world colonizing lands such as India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America, the 1662 Book of Common prayer naturally followed. After the Revolutionary War in this country, when many priests returned to England or to Canada, the remaining American churches were widely separated and there was little organization in 1782. William White, rector of Christ and St. Peter’s in Philadelphia, being concerned by the state of affairs, published The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States.It was the start of the organized Episcopal Church in this country. But Anglican clergy were bound by their ordination vows to pray for the King of England at each of regular services. Individual states had begun to remove collects of the King, but numerous state groups agreed that they should “adhere to the liturgy of the Church of England,” even without the prayers for the sovereign. One significant difference in America lay in the fact that churches south of Maryland were established by law, whereas the northern church,Pennsylvania to New England, were not so established.

Several groups of clergy in various states, concerned for the future of liturgy in any country wide church, issued in 1784 this statement: “The Doctrine of the Gospel be maintained as now professed by the Church of England and uniformity of worship be continued as near as may be to the liturgy of said Church.” New England clergy much favored the high church ritual, a product of the Oxford movement. They were almost universally opposed to the revolution and surely desired the English book.

Maintaining the English prayer Book was the basic argument of the clergy in Connecticut, supported by Boston. Somewhat the opposite approach occurred in the South, especially in Virginia. Ion a convention of 1785, the deputies called for “Alterations in the liturgy consistent with the American Revolution.” Hatchett quotes letter after letter that flew between representatives of the former colonies. The significant leaders were William White of Philadelphia, William Smith of Maryland, and Samuel Seabury of Connecticut. After a full year of work, separated by much distance, a proposed prayer book was ready for consideration. Some thirteen changes from the 1662 book were recommended including more use of the psalter, a different lectionary, and changes in the catechism and the Articles of Religion.

Reaction to the proposal was swift; Connecticut wanted no part of the book. Seabury proposed his own book, calling on England for support. It should be noted that Samuel Seabury was a loyalist; he was run out of Westchester and threatened with death. Organizing to send loyalist clergy to Nova Scotia, he intended to go himself when he was elected bishop by the Connecticut clergy. White was most concerned that the new country agree. In 1789, the deputies met in Philadelphia with New England present. Seabury insisted on a separate order for bishops and thus the first House of Bishops was formed albeit with only White and Seabury. Seabury was committed to the prayer of consecration of the 1764 Scottish Communion Office, where he had been consecrated. With some alterations the Scottish prayer was adopted, clearing the way for approval of the first American Prayer Book . Paul Marshal believes it was a miracle that White was able to get the two sides together and obtain an American Book.

The Sunday worship was now stabilized with the morning service of Morning Prayer, Litany and Ante-communion sermon and Evening Prayer with sermon. Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year; music was restricted to metrical psalms. The 17 89 book “wore well” for nearly one hundred years, its end coming in 1892 with a new revision. The lengthof the service had become an issue and the English “Catholic Revival” influenced liturgical thought at the time. But the resulting book turned out to be quite conservative with the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis restored to Evening Prayer along with a few additions to Morning Prayer. The full introduction to Morning Prayer was eliminated when Holy Communion was to follow.

Some thirty-six years later the 1928 Revision came into use. Prayers for the dead and a revised burial office were added after hundreds of years of elimination in English prayer books. The carnage of World War I seemed to force this revision. The communion service was rearranged, moving the prayer of humble access to after the Lord’s Prayer and before the distribution.

In the period after World War I, the European continent slowly was able to return to their historic Protestant and Catholic liturgies but quietly, in the midst of despair, a change began we call The Liturgical Movement. At Solestimes in France, at Maria Laach in Germany and at Taize in France monks and researchers delved into ancient texts that showed the progress of worship in the first four centuries of Christianity, how early Christians remembered Jesus in the sacramental meal. In this country work was centered at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota and with A.G. Hebert and William Palmer Ladd at Yale. The Benedictine monk Gregory Dix produced his major work, The Shapeof the Liturgy in 1945 and finally, in the mid sixty’s came the Second Vatican Council in Rome. It is from this progression of understanding that the 1979 book arose after a long process of debate and trial books.

All the work of the scholars in Europe, in England and in this country, the American and English techniques of trial use and the tremendous effort of Vatican II expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium have laid the basis for our current liturgical practice.

Gregory Dix thought that the universal “shape” of the Eucharist or mass that the primitive church adapted from the seven actions reported of Jesus at the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels should refine the Eucharistic rite. The Eucharistic prayers of the 1979 book, the Anaphora, generally follow that dictum with Rite two in contemporary language and Rite One in traditional prose. Rite One has been carried over from the 1928 book. The rector of a parish in Rochester, N.Y. uses Rite One during Lent, noting in her bulletin that “Rite One derives much of its language from the First Book of Common Prayer of 1549” with some exceptions and some of the collects. The 1979 book marks the end of Thomas Cranmer’s theology as expressed in the Prayer Book.

The significant changes of the twentieth century expressed in the prayer book were:

  • Seeing the Eucharist, the supper of the Lord, as the core experience and gift of our Lord for the Sunday meeting; it is to be the regular rite of the Church.
  • Seeing the Eucharist as an action of all members of the worshiping assembly rather than a clerical performance for an audience
  • Far more scripture is read today with portions of the Old and New testaments,together with the Gospel read each week
  • The same or almost the same readings are now standard across much of the churches of the world
  • The music of the Eucharist is now sung largely by the assembly, led often by the choir
  • Preaching the Gospel has become a major portion of the service
  • The intense study and trials of the liturgy have significantly improved the ecumenical life of Christians and their understanding of Jewish people and their history.

The liturgical movement has been a lengthy process of study, discovery and trial; liturgy has had to adapt to the understandings of contemporary worshipers and the work of gaining the best liturgy for all the Church and its people is certainly not over yet.

Despite the low ebb of interest and support for liturgical work now present in this country, a new prayer book or its electronic equivalent must sooner or later respond to certain problems:

  • the domination of masculine language,
  • the need for inculcation of text, music, and action in the liturgy to respond to the massive rise of Hispanic and immigration cultures in the country,
  • resolving the distinct problem of confirmation,
  • adapting the Prayer Book to Cyberspace,
  • finding ways to fully incorporate the participation of the assembly in the meal as Eucharist,
  • open communion,
  • the marriage rites,
  • the rites of the burial of the dead.

The world does not stand still. Reaction to how to worship God changes over time. Culture changes in how people are treated. Their physical situations, the meaning of words and the techniques of communication directly affect the liturgy of worship. Liturgy must always be under evaluation, must always be changed when it will improve our worship.

The American book is forty years old, and while the cost and work necessary for a revision are not currently on the horizon, a supplemental book containing the EOW prayers together with Eucharistic prayers that provide for the cultural makeup of the Church is possible at far less time and effort.

“The Book of Common Prayer is one of the most extraordinary books in history. It has been said that it has reached more listeners than the works of Shakespeare. Human life in the English imagination is mediated through it idiom. Prayer Book prose has seeped into the collective consciousness more profoundly than any other book.”

“It is a way of coming to terms with pain, pleasure, and sorrow, forming one of the richest sources of social memory in the English language.”

“There is not now, and there never has been, a distinctive Anglican theology. We have no Thomas, no Luther or Calvin, no Zwingli. Nor is there any authority in Anglicanism that corresponds to the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. What is definitive for Anglicanism from its inception until the present day, is the Book of Common Prayer.”

Dues qui modierna die per
unigenitum tuum aeternitatis
nobis aditon devicta morte
reservasti; vota nostr quae
praeveniendo aspiras etiam
adjuvando prosequere


Very briefly that is the story of the Book of Common Prayer as I have known it, as drawn from my relatively small liturgy library and from how its use has affected my life.

A number of persons have taught me of the Prayer Book and the liturgy of the Church or who have supported my reading; the most significant have been the following:

Gertrude Benson was my godmother at my baptism at All Saints, Ashmont and provided me with my first small Prayer Book, the 1892 version;

Harold and Dorothy Coleman, my parents, exposed me to Anglo-Catholic liturgy at All Saints and later at the Church of Our Saviour, Milton, where I began my acolyte service at 6:30 on Thursday mornings;

Bonnel Spencer, a monk of Holy Cross, an author of the history of the church and a liturgical leader of the Church, led a mission on the Prayer Book at the Saviour when I had moved to serving at the 8 o’clock Sunday Mass;

George Crocker Gibbs, Rector of Saviour and later monk of SSJE, who introduced me to monasticism and provided a leather BCP that I carried through my army service ion this country and Europe;
Greg Tabor, Rector of St. Mary the Virgin in New York and previously Rector of All Saints, Ashmont, who was my host and teacher during my time in the Big Apple;

Hobart Jude Gary, priest of St. James, Old Town and Episcopal chaplain at the University of Maine where I became Master of Ceremonies and a Lay Reader at two remote missions north of Orono. Fr .Garytaught of the faith and the liturgy many nights in his apartment in Orono;

William H. Cole, Rector of All Saints , Syracuse, and President of the Standing Committee, who appointed me Acolyte Master and Master of Ceremonies and who guided my liturgical and Biblical education;

Margaret and Linda Coleman, my wife and daughter, who gave me my 1928 Prayer Book in 1955, a fine leather bound copy I have today and who encouraged my study and practice of the worship of the Church;

William West, Canon Precentor of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, In New York who came to Syracuse to outline what could be done to renovate the parish of All Saints, and its liturgical practice
David Gillespie, Rector of St. James, Skaneateles, and architect and later Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, who designed the new interior of All Saints and instructed me in liturgical practice;

Albert Anderson, Rector of all Saints during the Prayer Book Studies era leading to the 1979 Book, who enthusiastically encouraged our liturgics study;

Harry Ruth, the National Chair of the Order of St. Vincent for Acolytes and who invited me to serve on the organization’s Board of Governors;

Wallace Arthur Frey, Rector of St. David’s, Dewitt, Dean of Syracuse, who appointed me master of Ceremonies, instructed me in the faith through Education for Mission, who encouraged my participation in the General Convention where I served on the Prayer Book and Liturgy Committee and arranged my multiple positions as a Reader of the General Ordination Exam.

Robert L. Grant, organist and architect, who redesigned St. David’s parish and worked with me to construct special services and Bishop Consecrations;

David Talbot, Rector of St. John’s, Ithaca, St. Mark’s, Syracuse, Director of the Finger Lakes Conference and long-term friend who led our house church some years.

Byron Stuhlman, Rector of Grace, Waterville, President of Associated Parishes, author of five books of liturgy and several academic papers on historic liturgy. A liturgical scholar, Byron directed Liturgical Commissions in Connecticut and Central New York and assisted in the preparation of the national GOE.

Craig Swan, Rector of St. Luke’s, Camillus, and now Rector in Narraganset, R.I., director of the Liturgics Commission and author of Liturgics Education in Central New York;

My family, Miggs, vestry person, Eucharistic Minister, reredos, frontal and banner designer and craftsman, St. David’s Church who has supported my liturgical wanderings for many years; Mark, Vestryman, Eucharistic Minister, Lector at St. Luke the Physician, Saranac Lake; David, occasional member at St. James, Somerville, All Saints, Belmont and supplier of Alter’s exhaustive Old Testament; Linda, staff member at St. Mary the Virgin, Eugene, OR, the Advent project and church school leader at St.Thomas’ Rochester; Harry, Warden, Lector, Bass of the choir, St. Thomas’, Rochester;

Virginia Frey, long a friend and supplier of a number of historic liturgical books, including The First and Second Prayer Books of Edward VI and the Eucharist according to Sarum Use

And most especially, Miggs, who typed and corrected this work for which I am most grateful.


Books of Anglican Worship

The First and Second Prayer Books of Edward VI

The Alternative Service Book, 1980

The Book of Alternative Services, 1985

Common Worship, 2000

The People’s Anglican Missal, 1946

The 1928 Prayer Book of Common Prayer

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer


Texts by Authors

Philip Baxter, Sarum Use, 1994

Peter Newman Brooks, Cranmer in Context, 1989

Bryan Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer, 1549,1559,1662,2011

Martin Dudley, The Collect in Anglican Liturgy, 1994

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altar, 1992

W.H. Frere, The Anaphora, 1938

Marion Hatchett,Commentary on the American Prayer Book, 1982

Marion Hatchett,The Making of the First American Book of Common Prayer, 1982

Charles Hefling & Cynthia Shattuck, The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer

Stephen A. Hurlbut, The Liturgy of the Church of England, 1950

Jeffrey Lee, Opening the Prayer Book, 1999

Diamaid MacCulloch,  Thomas Cranmer, 1996

Diamaid MacCulloch, All Things Made New, 2016

Diamaid MacCulloch,¸Christianity the First 3000 Years, 2009

Leonel L. Mitchell and Ruth A. Meyers, Praying Shapes Believing

JRH Moorman, A History of the Church of England, 1958

Michael Moriarty, The Liturgical Revolution, 1996

Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Last Divine Office, 2008

E.L. Parsons & B.H. Jones, The American Prayer Book, its Origin and Principles, 1937

Charles Price and Louis Weil, Liturgy for Living, 1979

Massey Shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, 1950

Bryan Spinks, The Rise and Fall of the Incomparable Liturgy, 2017

Goldwin Smith, A Constitutional and Legal History of England, 1996

Kenneth Stevenson  and Bryan Spinks, The Identity  of Anglican Worship, 1991

Stephen Sykes and John Booty, The Study of Anglicanism, 1988

Leslie Williams, Emblem of Faith Untouched, a short life of Thomas Cranmer, 2016