The Book of Common Prayer is used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by the Continuing Anglican movement, Anglican realignment and other Anglican churches. The original book, published in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, is a product of the English Reformation following the break with the Roman Catholic Church. Prayer books, unlike books of prayers, contain the words of structured, or liturgical, services of worship.
The work of 1549 is the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. It contains Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion and also the occasional services in full such as the orders for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, anointing of the sick and a Funeral service. It also sets out in full the “propers,” that is the parts of the service which vary week by week or, at times, daily throughout the Church’s Year. Old Testament and New Testament readings for daily prayer are specified in tabular format as are the Psalms.
The 1549 book is soon succeeded by a more reformed revision in 1552 under the same editorial hand, that of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. It is used only for a few months, as after Edward VI’s death in 1553, his half-sister Mary I restores Roman Catholic worship. Mary dies in 1558 and, in 1559, Elizabeth I reintroduces the 1552 book with a few modifications to make it acceptable to more traditionally minded worshippers, notably the inclusion of the words of administration from the 1549 Communion Service alongside those of 1552.
In 1604, James I orders some further changes, the most significant of these being the addition to the Catechism of a section on the Sacraments. William Bedell undertakes an Irish translation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1606. Following the tumultuous events leading to and including the English Civil War, another major revision is published in 1662. This edition has remained the official prayer book of the Church of England, although in the 21st century, alternative provision under the title Common Worship has largely displaced the Book of Common Prayer at the main Sunday worship service of most English parish churches. An Irish translation of the revised prayer book of 1662 is effected by John Richardson and published in 1712.
A Book of Common Prayer with local variations is used in churches inside and outside the Anglican Communion in over 50 different countries and in over 150 different languages. In many parts of the world, other books have replaced it in regular weekly worship.
Traditional English Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian prayer books have borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into the English language. Like the King James Version of the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare, many words and phrases from the Book of Common Prayer have entered common parlance.
(Pictured: A 1760 printing of the 1662 “Book of Common Prayer”)