The Book of Common Prayer

[The following material has been copied directly from this link: Sermon for Reformation Sunday (31 October 1999, Creggan Church, Ireland). See NOTE below.]

There were several advance preparations before the first Book of Common Prayer was introduced on Pentecost Sunday 1549. The Bible was appointed to be read in English 1538. The Litany was introduced in English in 1544.

With the introduction of this new book in 1549 the number of official forms in use throughout the country was reduced to one-The Book of Common Prayer. (It was never introduced in Ireland. We got the second book of 1552 for a short time).

This 1549 Book represented radical change. The services were in English rather than Latin. Archbishop Cranmer's main achievement was that he took the old order of the Mass and rearranged it to exclude the doctrine of transubstantiation.

In the service he included two new recent prayers - The Collect for Purity and The Prayer of Humble Access. Two main differences in the way that we use the BCP today are that in 1549- The Prayer for the Church forms a continuous part of the Prayer of Consecration, while the Confession and Absolution come after The Prayer of Consecration, with The Prayer of Humble Access following directly before the Priest's communion.

In this book the process of reform is not yet complete. The Priest still faces eastwards, and in place of mass vestments is to wear a plain alb with tunicle or cope. The cup at communion was restored to the laity but they were not the given the bread into their hands until 1552. Wafer bread is still used, but without any form of print. The entire service is said by Priest on behalf of the congregation. So the congregation only join in Gloria, Creed and Confession (along with the appropriate responses.) At the second LordŐs Prayer you say the last line only. The Kyrie is said 3 times. You say the middle one. The Collect for Purity & Prayer of Humble Access are said by Priest alone.

There were no hymnbooks in 1549, but part of the service could be sung to plainsong arranged in the simplified form of one syllable to each note by John Merbecke and published 1550.

The 1549 Book was replaced by the second Book of Common Prayer on 1 November 1552. This second Book had a very short lifespan of only eight months, yet it profoundly changed the face of the English church and formed the basis of the liturgy, which has lasted to the present day.

It was abolished in 1553 under Queen Mary and restored in 1559. Then it was outlawed again under the Commonwealth in 1640 and finally restored in more or less its present form in 1662. At which stage the revisers also promoted the 1611 Authorised Version of the Bible, as the most modern available translation.

It is the second book of 1552 which has survived rather than the first one of 1549. The 1552 book shows the progress of Thomas Cranmer's thinking and of the whole English Reformation from a conservative yet Protestant revision of the Latin mass in 1549 to the more radical revision of 1552 all in the space of three and a half years. It is quite an amazing achievement.

The 1549 service, in the prayers for the church contains one modest reference to the saints and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Things Protestants could live with nowadays!) The real problem was that some bishops continued to advocate the doctrine of transubstantiation from within its pages. So they got the second book, which by rearranging and carefully separating out the content of the first book, removes any possibility of that doctrine along with the doctrine of the real presence. Both are specifically excluded.

The main general changes:

Stone Altars were replaced with moveable wooden tables, and to be placed at the time of communion in the body of the church or the chancel. (A position which is not modern, but is entirely reformed and in keeping with the views of Thomas Cranmer).

The priest is to stand at the north side of the table, rather than in the eastward position.

He is to wear a surplice instead of a plain alb. ¤ The fair white linen cloth on the holy table as you see, was introduced in 1552.

Ordinary bread replaced the unleavened wafer bread and the people are to receive it into their hands instead of into their mouths.

The sacrament is to be received kneeling. (An accompanying instruction specifies this is not to be understood as implying any form of adoration.)

Three people are required to be present before a service can be held.

Please note that intending communicants are required, as they still are, to give their names to the curate the night before.

And there is an interesting instruction that if any bread or wine remain the curate is to have it for his own use.

The main changes in the 1552 service:

The Ten Commandments were introduced after the collect for purity.

The Psalm and Kyrie were omitted.

The prayers of the church were moved to a new position after the Offertory and became prayers for the church "militant here on earth."

The invitation and confession follow on before Sursum corda. (Lift up your hearts).

The Benedictus is dropped.

The Lord's Prayer is moved to after communion.

The third part of the eucharistic canon becomes the first post communion prayer and is used as an optional alternative to the thanksgiving prayer.

New words of administration were introduced.

The Gloria is moved to an entirely new position before the final prayers and the Blessing. (There were some other minor changes as well.)

Cranmer's vision once he had made the transition to Reformation thinking was that the Church of England should be Apostolic, Catholic, and Reformed, yet retaining the best of its past. Following the early death of Edward VI, Queen Mary assumed the throne, the new reformed services were abolished and the old Catholic ones restored. Cranmer's day was over.

On September 7, 1555 he was served with a notice that he was to appear on a charge of heresy before the Pope's Commission. Shortly after he was imprisoned. On January 28, 1556 Cranmer recanted his Protestantism, but the powers that be didn't believe him and thought it was merely a way to save his life. So on February 26 another recantation was signed. Four more followed over the next three weeks. During this time he was also made to watch the burning of his friends Bishops Latimer and Ridley and given the impression that his own life would be spared. On March 21, 1556, Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake at Oxford as a heretic, having finally rejected his six recantations.

["Further revisions were made in 1559 and 1604 before the final revision of 1662 produced the prayer book which was in universal anglican use until the revision of 1928." -- Erik Routley, The Music of Christian Hymns, p. 35]

Modern Liturgical Services.

Modern Prayer Book revision in England dates from the 1890s to the 1920s when inspired by the Oxford movement the Anglo Catholic party sought to reintroduce the medieval past. Many bitter disputes ensued. The failure of the proposed book of 1928 led to a vigorous debate which became much more inclusive and far reaching across all denominations. The Parish and People movement, the development of ecumenism and interest in liturgical renewal all combined to contribute to a new common understanding of what happens in worship and how that can be expressed in modern terms, moving beyond the religious controversies of the 16th century.

It was Dom Gregory Dix who gave the lead in presenting the focus on the fourfold eucharistic actions of Jesus- HE TOOK, HE BLESSED, HE BROKE, HE GAVE., which form the basis of all modern Holy Communion services. The NEB (New English Bible) 1961 was a turning point as the first fully modern translation of the New Testament. In Ireland most parishes acquired an RSV lectern Bible c.1965. The first generation of new services appeared in 1967-1972 leading to the Alternative Prayer Book of 1984 and the Occasional Services of 1993.

These new services offer a wider choice of material, more congregational involvement and greater scope for lay ministry. The resources which support the range of new services, offer more flexible supplementary material, making worship more user friendly and reaching across all denominational boundaries.

Towards a new Book of Common Prayer

The second generation of new services represented by The Service of the Word 1994 and Holy Baptism 1998 reflects the ongoing pace of change. The Revised Common Lectionary was introduced 1997. The new hymnbook arrives September 2000, replacing the 1960 book, and in three years time the 1926 BCP will be included in one new combined Book of Common Prayer, along with all the modern forms of worship, in inclusive language. I hope the Liturgical Advisory Committee will also learn from the Methodist Worship Book 1999, just published, which includes all that is best in terms of the modern services.

Such changes in worship forms as we have seen over the last 25, 50 or 75 years have not just happened in isolation or by accident. They are informed by a wider framework of debate throughout the English speaking world, and reflect theological convergence, agreement and cooperation between the churches as, like some of the churches overseas, we move into a post-denominational Christianity. This continues to call for radical ecumenical experiment. In Ireland we still have much to learn from each other.


[The above material was copied directly from this link: Sermon for Reformation Sunday (31 October 1999, Creggan Church.) The material was copied to avoid having to endure the liturgical MUSAK which is embedded into the linked page. Please visit the link if you would like.]

[New note, February, 2004: The above link is now nowhere to be found, yet another reason for copying some material verbatum.]

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