Monday, 22 April 2013

THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER 1662

Until the late twentieth century, a member of the Church of England could travel anywhere in the world, attend any Church of England church and be guaranteed of knowing that the service they would be attending was word for word the same as that of their own regular place of worship. On every pew of the church in India, Africa or Australia there would be a familiar, well thumbed copy of the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER 1662 (commonly known as the BCP).

I have in my own possession an 1824 Book of Common Prayer belonging to my ancestor "John Hill of Appleby", annotated in a spidery hand with the dates of services attended in other parishes and who preached that day. In a particularly devout stage of my growing up, I used Grandfather John's prayer book in my own church in far flung Melbourne. The words of the "modern" service I attended were exactly the same as those in the 1824 book which in turn would have been totally familiar to a worshipper in 1663. 


John Hill's 1824 BCP with original kid cover
What kept me amused during longer, more tedious sermons were the additional services, dating from 1662, not included in the modern Book of Common Prayer such as a "Comminaton or Denouncing of God's Anger and Judgements against sinners" (to be used on the first day of Lent) and a "Form of Prayer for the 30th day of January" (with fasting) for "King Charles the Martyr", a Form of Prayer with Thanksgiving "For Having put an end to the Great Rebellion" and so on. 



The BCP did not spring from the printing presses in 1662 without a considerable history preceding it. Until the Reformation of the English Church beginning under Henry VIII, the form of service used in worship was the Latin rite, the forms of which were found in the Missal (the Communion), the Breviary, the Manual and the Pontifical, accompanied by prescribed music or chant found in the Gradual (for masses) and the Antiphoner (for chants).


Cranmer's Prayer Book of 1549
In 1549, in the reign of Edward VI, the first English language prayer book was produced (the legacy of Archbishop Cranmer) containing, for the first time, all the services of the Church - Mass, Baptism, Marriage, Confirmation and Funerals. An amended edition appeared in 1552, only to be banned on the ascension of Catholic Queen Mary I in 1553. Elizabeth I reinstated the 1552 version and it was further modified by James I in 1604 following a conference he convened (and presided over) at Hampton Court. 

The puritans, who had been gaining strength in the latter years of Elizabeth's reign sent representatives. They strenuously demanded the discontinuance of the Sign of the cross in Baptism, of bowing at the name of Jesus, of the ring in marriage, and of the rite of confirmation. They sought to have the  words “priest” and “absolution”  expunged from the Prayer Book, and the wearing of the surplice should be made optional. None of these points were conceded.

The ascenscion of Charles I to the throne and the increasing perception of a Romanisation" of the Church of England was one of the causes of the English Civil War.  Charles I was defeated at Naseby and in 1645, Parliament repealed the statutes of Edward VI and of Elizabeth that had enjoined the use of the Book of Common Prayer. It was decreed that only such divine service should be lawful as accorded with what was called the Directory, a manual of suggestions with respect to public worship adopted by the Presbyterian party as a substitute for the ancient liturgy.

In 1660 Charles II returned to the throne of England (one of the Services of Thanksgiving in the 1662 version of the BCP to be held on January 29th) and immediately discussion began on an appropriate form of worship for the restored "Church of England". In his personal life, Charles leaned towards Catholocism (and is rumoured to have converted in his last years).  He was, however, a consummate politician and in order to mend his broken country, divided as it was between the Presbyterians who had held sway in the years of the Interregnum and the traditional churchmen of his father's reign.  He did what all good policitians do, he formed a committee.

Early in the spring of 1661 the King issued a royal warrant summoning an equal number of representatives of both parties—21 Churchmen (consisting of 12 Bishops and 9 other clergy) and 21 Presbyterians (12 principal men and their lesser coajutors). The "Savoy Conference" convened in April 1661 at the old Savoy Palace on the Strand. The canny King had secretly treated with both sides of the table and while the Bishops entered the conference, confident in the King's favour, the Presbyterians believed they too had the King's ear. However "possession is 9/10 of the law" and the party holding the upper hand were naturally the Episcopalians (the Bishops). They had only to profess themselves satisfied with the Prayer Book as it stood, in order to throw the 

Presbyterians into the position of assailants, and defense is always easier than attack. The Presbyterians took up the challenge and set to work at formulating their objections (producing their "Exceptions to the Book of Common Prayer"). They appointed Richard Baxter, the most famous of their number, to show what could be done in the way of making a better manual of worship than the proposed Book of Common Prayer. Baxter, may have been a wise man but his attempt to undertake to construct a prayer book within a fortnight was a disaster...the first sentence alone contained 83 words. 

The four months allowed for the conference ran out and the conference disbanded with no resolution having been reached. In the meantime the Convocation, the recognized legislature of the Church of England, had begun to sit, and the bishops undertook a complete revision of the Prayer Book with slight regard to what they had been hearing from their critics at the Savoy. The bulk of their work, which included, it is said, more than six hundred alterations, most of them of a verbal character and of no great importance, was accomplished within the compass of a single month passed by the Convocation and approved by Parliament.  It is that revision that became the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER 1662.

The House of Lords Journal records that "...the Act of Uniformity was given Royal Assent on 19 May 1662. The final clause of the Act of Uniformity stated that: "...XXXII. Provided also, That the Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of this Church of England, together with the Form and Manner of Ordaining and Consecrating Bishops, Priests and Deacons, heretofore in Use, and respectively established by Act of Parliament in the first and eighth Years of Queen Elizabeth, shall be still used and observed in the Church of England, until the Feast of St. Bartholomew, which shall be in the Year of our Lord God one thousand six hundred sixty and two…

On St. Bartholomew's Day (24 August 1662) the new Book of Common Prayer came into use and that  single book stood alone and essentially unaltered for three hundred years until the reform movements of the 1960s and 1970s. I recall the outcry that occurred in my own church when the New Australian Prayer Book was introduced. They had dared to change the Lord's Prayer (!) and I have noticed that, even forty years later, the tendency, in times of stress, is to revert to the 1662 version of the Lord's Prayer ("Our father which art in heaven...") and it is probably that version that most English speakers over the age of 40 can still recite word for word. 
Charles II Warrant of 1661
For three hundred years the citizens of the United Kingdom and its colonies and empire, were born, confirmed, married and died according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer and took comfort in the familiar words of Holy Communion or Matins (a service now long gone). Short of the Bible, there must be few books with such an influence on the world.

It is probably one of the lesser known facts about me that I am a Lay Preacher in the Anglican Church of Australia and the idea for this post came to me while I was leafing through the current prayer book during one of the vicar's sermons! Bring back the service for King Charles the Martyr I say!


*As a young law student I quickly learned that JUDGEMENT (spelt with an "e") was the correct spelling for judgements of God, a JUDGMENT (without an "e") is confined to the secular world.
**I am indebted to the Reverend William Reed, Rector of Grace Church, New York for his 1892 dissertation,  A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER for this article. 

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ms Stuart: You possess a remarkable felicity of expression that makes your postings a joy to read. Thank you.

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

I did not know that about you Alison. I am what is called a cradle Episcoplian. I still feel that I can go to any Anglican church and hear the same service. Tweeted.

Alison Stuart said...

Thank you, anonymous, for such a lovely compliment :-)

Alison Stuart said...

Indeed, Ella, but while the modern services are very similar it is not quite the same as the sure and certain knowledge that you would be picking up a 1662 BCP in a church in Darjeeling or Melbourne or St Vincents!

Julie McNeill said...

At least there's only metaphorical drawing of the swords now in the battles of ideas and tastes.
With the news New Zealand has changed the Marriage Act to include same sex couples it's the first time I've seen the pressure on Australian traditionalist MPs - another first for New Zealand in civil progress! (plus marriage tourism boom).
It's not worth getting militant about in any age - though it suited my arty disposition to learn the arts and thy's and hallowed names, and even though I left behind the patriarchal pulpit I appreciate the cultural values - including this blog...

frances burke said...

Most interesting, Alison. I'm no longer a church-goer, but I still feel there is a comfort in the old wording of the BCP

Alison Stuart said...

Julie...thanks for stopping by. I loved the lyrical flow of the old prayer book...but realised when we had a visitor to the church that it's time had passed. It may as well have been written in Hindustani. As for a church sanctioned same sex marriage service...not sure I can see the Anglican church leaping at that. They are still reeling from women priests!

Alison Stuart said...

Hi Frances...I agree and it is a phenomena I have noticed that in times of stress not only do the churches fill but it is the old version of the Lord's Prayer that everyone knows and recites for comfort. I just get muddled these days!

Christy K Robinson said...

Very interesting article, Allison. Thank you for sharing! I'm a Christian of another denomination, but when I was in the UK and Australia, I made a point of visiting Anglican services. I like the liturgy, and particularly the composed prayers, because of the progression of intercessory prayer for countries, missionaries, national, local, and those present. The listeners and participants feel drawn in to a worldwide body.

I wrote about the BCP on my history blog, but from the colonial-American perspective. (Spoiler alert: the American puritans really, really, really didn't like the BCP!) Here's my article:

http://marybarrettdyer.blogspot.com/2012/08/how-rodents-carried-out-will-of-god.html

Marie Miller said...

Hi Alison,
There is something to be said for traditional churches when they can trace their services back in time. That is what is so special about the C of E and Catholic churches - you can go any where in the world and the service will follow the same format. I really enjoyed reading about your Book of Common Prayer

Alison Stuart said...

Thanks for referring me to your article, Christy. It makes an interesting, complimentery read to mine.

The Revd Reed's 1892 book which I used as a reference for this article was written in response to the first major change to the BCP with a move to an American prayer book. It was an interesting little monograph.

Alison Stuart said...

Hi Marie - the great joy for me in a set church liturgy is that it becomes the one hour in a busy week where you can be truly still. The familiar words act like a meditative chant, allowing the troubles of the world to slip away and a sense of calm to descend. When I travel I try to find at least one church service to attend (its also a good way of slipping into English cathedrals without having to pay!).
I get quite stressed attending my in-laws Uniting Church where there seems to be no order or structure to the conduct of the worship. But maybe that's just me!

Richard Lee said...

Very interesting post Alison, thank you. I've always meant to spend some time trying to unpick the changes that were made to Cranmer's text, and think about why they were made. For those interested there is a Prayer Book Society in the UK (http://www.pbs.org.uk/) and I believe a similar organisation in the US - a great resource for finding out more on this.

Alison Stuart said...

Thank you for dropping in, Richard. There were over 600 changes to the text I believe and I am sure committees are much the same as they are today. Each change would have represented opposing views and to some extent, compromise! I found the Prayer Book Society website (after I wrote this article!) and also a fascinating exhibition on royalty and the prayer book. Oh to be in England...

Maryde said...

As usual you post was interesting and abundant in historical knowledge. Always a pleasure Alison.
I envy you Grandfather John's Prayer book. It looks immaculate.

J.G. Harlond said...

Thank you Alison, not least because your interesting article explains one of the small but relevant elements I miss about Britain. For the past thirty years I have lived mostly in Latin countries and not been able to attend a 'Church of England'. As I child I went to an Anglican church with my grandfather, then as a young adult went less regularly, but kept going until I moved abroad. It was the comfort of knowing the service and the quiet reassurance this offered that must have attracted me because now I realise how much I miss it. As I get older (and older) it is this 'comfort of knowing' - or its absence - that feeds my nostalgia for home.
And how wonderful to have that special little book that links you back to another epoch. JGH