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Book of Common Prayer

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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The title of the official service book of the Church of England. One of the most important steps taken at the Reformation was the compilation and provision of a comprehensive service book for general and compulsory use in public worship in all cathedral and parish churches throughout the Church of England.

Apart from alterations in detail, both as to doctrine and ritual, which will be referred to later, the following main advantages were achieved from the very first and apply to all editions of the Prayer Book equally.

1 The substitution of the English language

2 Unification and simplification.

3 The Mozarabic Missal.

4 Eastern Liturgies.

5 Lutheran and other continental Protestant service books.

6 Original compositions of the compilers of the Prayer Book, not traceable to ancient or 16th-century originals.

7 Stages of the Book of Common Prayer

8 The Act of Uniformity

9 Total Suppression

The substitution of the English language

The substitution of the English language for the Latin language, which had hitherto been in universal and almost complete use, and in which all the old service books were written.

Unification and simplification.

The number of books required for the performance of divine service in pre-Reformation days was very large; the most important being the Missal for the service of Holy Communion or the Mass; the Breviary for the daily service or performance of the divine office; the Manual for the minor sacramental offices usually performed by the parish priest; and the Pontifical, containing such services as were exclusively reserved for performance by the bishop. Many of the contents of these larger volumes were published in separate volumes known by a great variety - over one hundred - different names. The Prayer Book represents in a much condensed and abbreviated form the four chief ancient service books, viz.: the Missal, Breviary, Manual and Pontifical.

In addition to a multiplicity of books there was much variety of use. Although the Sarum Use prevailed far the most widely, yet there were separate Uses of York and Hereford, and also to a less degree of Lincoln, Bangor, Exeter, Wells, St Paul's, and probably of other dioceses and cathedral churches as well. Cranmer's preface " Concerning the Service of the Church " expressly mentions the abolition of this variety as one of the things to be achieved by a Book of Common Prayer. It says: " And whereas heretofore there hath been great diversity in saying and singing in Churches within this Realm; some following Salisbury Use, some Hereford Use, and some the Use of Bangor, some of York, some of Lincoln; now from henceforth all the whole Realm shall have but one Use." We will next enumerate the sources from which the Prayer Book was compiled.

The Mozarabic Missal.

Eastern Liturgies.

These were certainly known to Cranmer, but it is remarkable how little he borrowed from them.

Lutheran and other continental Protestant service books.

The most considerable quantity of the new material which was imported into the Prayer Book was drawn from Lutheran and Genevan service books. The Litany, for example, in the Prayer Book is based upon the medieval Latin Litany, but great variation both in substance and language and by way of addition and omission, are made in it. These variations are largely borrowed from and closely follow the language of various Lutheran litanies, especially that given in the consultation of Archbishop Hermann of Cologne issued in 1543. Lutheran influence can likewise be traced in way of variation introduced into the baptismal and other sacramental or occasional offices. So in the Communion service the most striking departures from ancient precedent have a Protestant origin. The introduction of the Ten Commandments in 1553 seems to be derived from the order of service published by Valerandus Pollanus (Pullain) in 1551; and that of the Comfortable Words in 1 549 is borrowed, though all the texts chosen are not identical, from the Consultation of Hermann. It is impossible to pursue this subject here further in detail.

Original compositions of the compilers of the Prayer Book, not traceable to ancient or 16th-century originals.

These are not numerous. They include most of the collects on Saints' Days, for which, though no direct evidence of authorship is as yet forthcoming, Cranmer is probably responsible, and certain other collects, such as that for the Royal Family (Archbishop Whitgift); that for the high court of parliament (Archbishop Laud); that for all conditions of men (Bishop Gunning), &c.

Stages of the Book of Common Prayer

We proceed to describe next the various stages through which the Book of Common Prayer has passed and the leading features of each revision. Of changes preceding the first Prayer Book it will only be necessary to mention here: *(a) The compiling and publishing of the Litany in English by Cranmer in 1544.

The first complete vernacular Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549. It was carried through both houses of parliament by the 21st of January 1549, by an Act of Uniformity which made its use compulsory on and after the following Whit-Sunday. The exact date of the giving of the royal assent, and the question whether this Book received the assent of Convocation, are historical points of difficulty and uncertainty which cannot be treated at length here.

Some of the chief points of difference between this and subsequent Prayer Books were the following: Matins and Evensong began with the Lord's Prayer, and ended with the third collect; there were no alternative Psalm-canticles for Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; the Athanasian Creed was introduced after the Benedictus on six festivals only, and in addition to the Apostles' Creed; the Litany was placed after the Communion service, for which an alternative title was given, viz.: " commonly called the Mass." Introits were provided for use on every Sunday and Holy-Day; after the offertory intending communicants were directed to " tarry still in the quire or in some convenient place nigh the quire "; in the prayer " for the whole state of Christ's church," the blessed Virgin Mary was commemorated by name among departed saints; prayer for the departed was explicitly retained; also an invocation of the Holy Spirit before the words of institution, the prayer of oblation immediately following them. The mixed chalice was ordered to be used, and the Agnus Dei to be sung during the Communion of the people. A large selection of short scriptural post-Communions was provided. Unleavened bread was to be used and placed not in the hand but in the mouth of the communicant. The sign of the cross was to be made not only in the eucharistic consecration prayer, but also in Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony and the Visitation of the Sick. Reservation for the sick and unction of the sick were retained; and exorcism, unction, trine immersion and the chrisom were included in the baptismal service. The prayer in the burial service, as in the Communion service, contained distinct intercessions for the departed; and a form of Holy Communion was provided for use at funerals with proper introit, collect, epistle and gospel.

As to vestments, in the choir offices, the surplice only was to be used; the hood being added in cathedrals and colleges; and by all graduates when preaching, everywhere.

At Holy Communion the officiating priest was to wear "a white Albe plain with a vestment or Cope," and the assistant clergy were to wear "Albes with tunicles." Whenever a bishop was celebrant he was to wear, "beside his rochette, a surplice or albe, and a cope or vestment," and also to carry " his pastoral staff in his hand, or else borne or holden by his chaplain." The mitre was not mentioned.

The ordinal was not attached to this Prayer Book at its first appearance, but it was added under another act of parliament in the following year, 1550. It was very similar to the present ordinal except that the words " for the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands " were wanting, and the chalice or cup with the bread were delivered, as well as a Bible, to each newly-ordained priest.

We pass on to 1552 when a new and revised edition of the Prayer Book was introduced by an act of parliament which ordered that it should come into use on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1). The alterations made in it were many and important, and as they represent the furthest point ever reached by the Prayer Book in a Protestant direction, they deserve special mention and attention.

The main objects of these drastic alterations have been thought to have been two-fold.

On the death of Queen Mary and the accession of her sister Elizabeth (Nov. 17, 1558) all was reversed, and the Book of Common Prayer was restored into use again.

The Act of Uniformity

The Act of Univormity, which obtained final parliamentary authority on the 28th of April 1559, ordered that the Prayer Book should come again into use on St John the Baptist's Day (June 2 4, 1559). This was the second Prayer Book of King Edward VI., with the following few but important alterations, which, like all the alterations introduced at subsequent dates into the Prayer Book, were in a Catholic rather than in a Protestant direction.

There were a few more minor alterations, without doctrinal or political significance which need not be described in detail here.

The only further addition or alteration made in Queen Elizabeth's reign was in 1561, when all the present black letter Holy Days were added to the Kalendar except St George (April 23) Lammas (Aug. 1), St Laurence (Aug. 10) and St Clement (Nov. 22), which already existed, and except St Enurchus (Sept. 7), added in 1604, and the Venerable Bede (May 27) and St Alban (June 17) added in 1662.

A smouldering and growing Puritan discontent with the Prayer Book, suppressed with a firm hand under Queen Elizabeth, burst out into a flame on the accession of King James I. in 1603. A petition called the millenary petition, because signed by no less than one thousand ministers, was soon presented to him, asking, among other things, for various alterations in the Prayer Book and specifying the alterations desired. As a result the king summoned a conference of leading Puritan divines, and of bishops and other leading Anglican divines, which met under his presidency at Hampton Court in January 1604. After both sides had been heard, certain alterations were determined upon and were ordered by royal authority, with the general assent of Convocation. These alterations were not very numerous nor of great importance, but such as they were they all went in the direction of catholicizing rather than of puritanizing the Prayer Book; the. one exception being the substitution of some chapters of the canonical scriptures for some chapters of the Apocrypha, especially of the book of Tobit. Other changes were:

There were other slight changes of a verbal kind, involving no doctrinal or political significance and which therefore need not be described here.

Total Suppression

The next important stage in the history of the Prayer Book was its total suppression in 1645 for a period of fifteen years. " the Directory for the Public Worship of God in the Three Kingdoms " being established in its place. The restoration of King Charles II. in 1660 brought with it toleration at once, and soon afterwards complete restoration of the Prayer Book, but not exactly in the same form which it had before. Nonconformists pressed upon the king, either that the Prayer Book should not be re-introduced, or that if it were re-introduced, features which they objected to might be removed. The result was that a conference was held in 1661, known from its place of meeting as the Savoy Conference, the church being represented by twelve bishops and the Nonconformists by twelve eminent Presbyterian divines, each side accompanied by nine coadjutors. The objections raised from the Nonconformist point of view were numerous and varied, but they were thoroughly discussed between the first meeting on the 15th of April and the last on the 24th of July 1661; the bishops agreeing to meet the Puritan wishes on a few minor points but on none of fundamental importance. Later in the year, between the 10th of November and the 10th of December, Convocation assembled and undertook the revision of the Prayer Book. In the earlier part of the following year the book so revised came before parliament. No amendment was made in it in either house and it finally received the royal assent on the 19th of May 1662, being annexed to an Act of Uniformity which provided for its coming into general and compulsory use on St Bartholomew's Day (Aug. 24).

The alterations thus introduced were very numerous, amounting to many hundreds, and many of them were more important than any which had been introduced into the Prayer Book since 1552. Their general tendency was distinctly in a Catholic as opposed to a Puritan direction, and the two thousand Puritan incumbents who vacated their benefices on St Bartholomew's Day rather than accept the altered Prayer Book bear eloquent testimony to that fact.

It is impossible to give here an exhaustive list of the alterations: but the following were some of the principal changes made in 1662.

The above are the important alterations, among numerous others of minor significance, introduced into the Prayer Book in 1662. Their general trend is obvious. It is not in the Puritan direction, but intended to emphasize and to make more clear church doctrine and discipline, which in recent years had become obscured or decayed. No substantial alteration has been made in the Prayer Book since 1662, but two alterations must be chronicled as having obtained the sanction of the Convocations of Canterbury and York, and also legal force by act of parliament. In 1871 a new Lectionary was substituted for the previously existing one, into the merits and demerits of which it is not possible to enter here; and in 1872, by the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act, a shortened form of service was provided instead of the present form of Morning and Evening Prayer for optional use in other than cathedral churches on all days exeept Sunday, Christmas Day, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Ascension Day; provision was also statutably made for the separation of services, and for additional services, to be taken, however, except so far as anthems and hymns are concerned, entirely out of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

In the year 1907 letters of business were issued by the Crown to the Convocations inviting and enabling them to make alterations in the Prayer Book (afterwards to be embodied in an act of parliament). These letters were issued in compliance with the second recommendation (1906) of the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline, viz.: that " Letters of business should be issued to the Convocations with instructions: (a) to consider the preparation of a new rubric regulating the ornaments (that is to say, the vesture) of the ministers of the church, at the times of their ministrations, with a view to its enactment by parliament; and (b ) to frame, with a view to their enactment of parliament, such modifications in the existing law relating to the conduct of Divine Service, and to the ornaments and fittings of churches as may tend to secure the greater elasticity which a reasonable recognition of the comprehensiveness of the Church of England and of its present needs seems to demand." A few words are added in conclusion about the state services. Until the year 1859 they were four in number.

The first three of these services were abolished in 1859 by royal warrant - that is to say by the exercise of the same authority which had instituted them. The fourth form of service was retained in its old shape till 1901, when a new form, or rather new forms of service, having been prepared by Convocation, were authorized by royal warrant on the 9th of November. (F. E. W.)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Book of Common Prayer'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​b/book-of-common-prayer.html. 1910.
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