Book Of Common Prayer

Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the short title of a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion, as well as by other Christian churches historically related to Anglicanism. The original book, published in 1549 in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome. The work of 1549 was the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. It contained Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion and also the occasional services in full: the orders for Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, “prayers to be said with the sick“, and a funeral service. It also set out in full the “propers” (that is the parts of the service which varied week by week or, at times, daily throughout the Church’s Year): the introits, collects, and epistle and gospel readings for the Sunday service of Holy Communion. Old Testament and New Testament readings for daily prayer were specified in tabular format as were the Psalms; and canticles, mostly biblical, that were provided to be said or sung between the readings.

The 1549 book was soon succeeded by a more reformed revision in 1552 under the same editorial hand, that of Thomas CranmerArchbishop of Canterbury. It was used only for a few months, as after Edward VI’s death in 1553, his half-sister Mary I restored Roman Catholic worship. Mary died in 1558 and, in 1559, Elizabeth I reintroduced the 1552 book with modifications to make it acceptable to more traditionally minded worshippers and clergy.

In 1604, James I ordered some further changes, the most significant being the addition to the Catechism of a section on the Sacraments. Following the tumultuous events surrounding the English Civil War, when the Book was again abolished, another modest revision was published in 1662 (Church of England 1662). That edition remains the official prayer book of the Church of England, although through the later twentieth century alternative forms which were technically supplements largely displaced the Book of Common Prayer for the main Sunday worship of most English parish churches.

Book of Common Prayer with local variations is used in churches around, or deriving from, the Anglican Communion in over 50 different countries and in over 150 different languages. In some parts of the world, the 1662 Book remains technically authoritative but other books or patterns have replaced it in regular 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 Shakespeare, many words and phrases from the Book of Common Prayer have entered common parlance.

Book of Common Prayer

Book of Common Prayer

Full name

The full name of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the use of the Church of England, Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be Sung or said in churches: And the Form and Manner of Making, ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.



A 1760 printing of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

A 1760 printing of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

The forms of parish worship in the late medieval church in England, which followed the Latin Roman Rite, varied according to local practice. By far the most common form, or “use”, found in Southern England was that of Sarum (Salisbury). There was no single book; the services that would be provided by the Book of Common Prayer were to be found in the Missal (the Eucharist), the Breviary (daily offices), Manual (the occasional services of baptism, marriage, burial etc.), and Pontifical (services appropriate to a bishop—confirmation, ordination). The chant (plainsong, plainchant) for worship was contained in the Roman Gradual for the Mass, the Antiphonale for the offices, and the Processionale for the litanies. The Book of Common Prayer has never contained prescribed music or chant; however, John Merbecke produced his Booke of Common Praier noted in 1550 which set what would have been the proper of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, etc.) in the new BCP to simple plainchant inspired by Sarum Use.

The work of producing a liturgy in the English language was largely done by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, starting cautiously in the reign of Henry VIII and then more radically under his son Edward VI. In his early days Cranmer was a conservative humanist: he was an admirer of Erasmus. After 1531, Cranmer’s contacts with reformers from continental Europe helped to change his outlook. The Exhortation and Litany, the earliest English-language service of the Church of England, was the first overt manifestation of his changing views. It was no mere translation from the Latin: its Protestant character is made clear by the drastic reduction of the place of saints, compressing what had been the major part into three petitions. Published in 1544, it borrowed greatly from Martin Luther’s Litany and Myles Coverdale’s New Testament and was the only service that might be considered to be Protestant to be finished within the lifetime of King Henry VIII.

1549 Prayer Book

Main article: Book of Common Prayer (1549)

Only after the death of Henry VIII and the accession of Edward VI in 1547 could revision proceed faster. Despite conservative opposition, Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity on 21 January 1549, and the newly authorised Book of Common Prayer was required to be in use by Whitsunday, 9 June. Cranmer is “credited [with] the overall job of editorship and the overarching structure of the book”; though, he borrowed and adapted material from other sources.

The prayer book had provisions for the daily offices, scripture readings for Sundays and holy days, and services for communion, public baptism, confirmation, matrimony, visitation of the sick, burial, purification of women and Ash Wednesday. An ordinal for ordination services was added in 1550. There was also a calendar and lectionary, which meant a Bible and a Psalter were the only other books required by a priest.

It represented a “major theological shift” toward Protestantism. Cranmer’s doctrinal concerns can be seen in the systematic amendment of source material to remove any idea that human merit contributed to an individual’s salvation. The doctrines of justification by faith and predestination are central to Cranmer’s theology. These doctrines are implicit throughout the prayer book and had important implications for his understanding of the sacraments. Cranmer believed that someone who is not one of God’s elect receives only the outward form of the sacrament (washing in baptism or eating bread in Communion) but does not receive actual grace. Only the elect receive the sacramental sign and the grace. This is because faith—which is a gift only the elect are given—unites the outward sign and the inward grace and makes the sacrament effective. This position was in agreement with the Reformed churches but was opposed to the Roman Catholic and Lutheran views.

As a compromise with conservatives, the word Mass was kept, with the service titled “The Supper of the Lord and the Holy Communion, commonly called the Mass.” It also preserved much of the medieval structure of the Mass—stone altars remained, the clergy wore traditional vestments, much of the service was sung, and the priest was instructed to put the communion wafer into a communicant’s mouth instead of in their hand. Nevertheless, the first BCP was a “radical” departure from traditional worship in that it “eliminated almost everything that had till then been central to lay Eucharistic piety”.

A priority for Protestants was to replace the Roman Catholic teaching that the Mass was a sacrifice to God (“the very same sacrifice as that of the cross”) with the Protestant teaching that it was a service of thanksgiving and spiritual communion with Christ. Cranmer’s intention was to suppress notions of sacrifice and transubstantiation in the Mass. To stress this, there was no elevation of the consecrated bread and wine, and eucharistic adoration was prohibited. The elevation had been the central moment of the medieval Mass, attached as it was to the idea of real presence. Cranmer’s eucharistic theology was close to the Calvinist spiritual presence view and can be described as Receptionism and Virtualism: i.e. Christ is really present but by the power of the Holy Spirit. The words of administration in the 1549 rite were deliberately ambiguous; they could be understood as identifying the bread with the body of Christ or (following Cranmer’s theology) as a prayer that the communicant might spiritually receive the body of Christ by faith.

Many of the other services were little changed. Cranmer based his baptism service on Martin Luther’s service, which was a simplification of the long and complex medieval rite. Like communion, the baptism service maintained a traditional form. The confirmation and marriage services followed the Sarum rite. There were also remnants of prayer for the dead and the Requiem Mass, such as the provision for celebrating holy communion at a funeral. Cranmer’s work of simplification and revision was also applied to the Daily Offices, which were reduced to Morning and Evening Prayer. Cranmer hoped these would also serve as a daily form of prayer to be used by the laity, thus replacing both the late medieval lay observation of the Latin Hours of the Virgin and its English equivalent, the Primer.

1552 Prayer Book

The 1549 book was, from the outset, intended only as a temporary expedient, as Bucer was assured having met Cranmer for the first time in April 1549: ‘concessions…made both as a respect for antiquity and to the infirmity of the present age’ as he wrote. Both Bucer and Peter Martyr wrote detailed proposals for modification; Bucer’s Censura ran to 28 chapters which influenced Cranmer significantly though he did not follow them slavishly and the new book was duly produced in 1552, making “fully perfect” what was already implicit. The policy of incremental reform was now unveiled: more Roman Catholic practices were now excised, as doctrines had in 1549 been subtly changed. Thus, in the Eucharist, gone were the words Mass and altar; the ‘Lord have mercy’ was interleaved into a recitation of the Ten Commandments and the Gloria was removed to the end of the service. The Eucharistic prayer was split in two so that Eucharistic bread and wine were shared immediately after the words of institution (This is my Body..This is my blood…in remembrance of me.); while its final element, the Prayer of Oblation, (with its reference to an offering of a ‘Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’), was transferred, much changed, to a position after the priest and congregation had received Communion, and was made optional to an alternative prayer of thanksgiving. The Elevation of the Host had been forbidden in 1549; all manual acts were now omitted. The words at the administration of Communion which, in the prayer book of 1549 described the Eucharistic species as ‘The body of our Lorde Jesus Christe…’, ‘The blood of our Lorde Jesus Christe…’ were replaced with the words ‘Take, eat, in remembrance that Christ died for thee..’ etc. The Peace, at which in the early Church the congregation had exchanged a greeting, was removed altogether. Vestments such as the stole, chasuble and cope were no longer to be worn, but only a surplice, removing all elements of sacrificial offering from the Latin Mass; so that it should cease to be seen as a ritual at which the priest, on behalf of the flock gave Christ to God and such as wanted partook of Christ; and might rather be seen as a ritual whereby Christ shared his body and blood, according to a different sacramental theology, with the faithful.

Cranmer recognized that the 1549 rite of Communion was capable of conservative misinterpretation and misuse in that the consecration rite might still be undertaken even when no congregational Communion followed. Consequently, in 1552 he thoroughly integrated Consecration and Communion into a single rite, with congregational preparation preceding the words of institution—such that it would not be possible to mimic the Mass with the priest communicating alone. He appears nevertheless, to have been resigned to being unable for the present to establish in parishes the weekly practice of receiving Communion; so he restructured the service so as to allow ante-Communion as a distinct rite of worship—following the Communion rite through the readings and offertory, as far as the intercessory “Prayer for the Church Militant”.

Cranmer made sure in the Second Prayer Book Rite that no possible ambiguity or association with sacrifice would be made: the Prayer of Consecration ended with the Words of Institution. The rest of the prayer that had followed was completely eliminated. There is an oblation of sorts but it is not the same as in the Roman Rite in which the priest offers the sacrifice of Christ to God (using bread and wine) and by association the congregation during the consecration. The truncated 1549 Rite had referred to making and celebrating the memorial with the holy gifts without an oblation of them to God thus reducing the sacrifice to a memorial, prayers, praises and sentiments. In the 1552 Book the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is found in the optional post-communion Prayer of Oblation whereby the communicants ask that ‘this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving’ be accepted followed by the self-oblation of the communicants as holy and living sacrifices. However such an arrangement raises the question what is the connection between the worshippers and the prayer of consecration other than to effect the Presence of Christ so they can make their communion and self-offering possible? Presumably the recipients can do so as a result of having made their communion rather than by offering themselves in union with Christ during the consecration? The intention was to eliminate the faithful as co-offerors with Christ (by attaching them to his sacrifice he alone had accomplished for them) and reduce them to worthy recipients. In making his changes he overthrew 1400 years of eucharistic liturgical doctrine and practice.

He omitted the Epiclesis.

Diarmaid MacCulloch suggests that Cranmer’s own Eucharistic theology in these years approximated most closely to that of Heinrich Bullinger; but that he intended the Prayer Book to be acceptable to the widest range of Reformed Eucharistic belief, including the high sacramental theology of Bucer and John Calvin. Indeed, he seems to have aligned his views with the latter by 1546. At the same time, however, Cranmer intended that constituent parts of the rites gathered into the Prayer Book should still, so far as possible, be recognizably derived from traditional forms and elements.

In the baptism service, the signing with the cross was moved until after the baptism and the exorcism, the anointing, the putting-on of the chrysom robe and the triple immersion were omitted. Most drastic of all was the removal of the Burial service from church: it was to take place at the graveside. In 1549, there had been provision for a Requiem (not so called) and prayers of commendation and committal, the first addressed to the deceased. All that remained was a single reference to the deceased, giving thanks for their delivery from ‘the myseryes of this sinneful world’. This new Order for the Burial of the Dead was a drastically stripped-down memorial service designed to undermine definitively the whole complex of traditional beliefs about Purgatory and intercessory prayer.

In other respects, however, both the Baptism and Burial services imply a theology of salvation that accords notably less with Reformed teachings than do the counterpart passages in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. In the Burial service, the possibility that a deceased person who has died in the faith may nevertheless not be counted amongst God’s elect, is not entertained. In the Baptism service the priest explicitly pronounces the baptised infant as being now regenerate. In both cases, conformity with strict Reformed Protestant principles would have resulted in a conditional formulation. The continued inconsistency between the Articles of Religion and the Prayer Book remained a point of contention for Puritans; and would in the 19th century come close to tearing the Church of England apart, through the course of the Gorham judgement.

The Orders of Morning and Evening Prayer were extended by the inclusion of a penitential section at the beginning including a corporate confession of sin and a general absolution, although the text was printed only in Morning Prayer with rubrical directions to use it in the evening as well. The general pattern of Bible reading in 1549 was retained (as it was in 1559) except that distinct Old and New Testament readings were now specified for Morning and Evening Prayer on certain feast days. Following the publication of the 1552 Prayer Book, a revised English Primer was published in 1553; adapting the Offices and Morning and Evening Prayer, and other prayers, for lay domestic piety.

English Prayer Book during the reign of Mary I

The 1552 book, however, was used only for a short period, as Edward VI had died in the summer of 1553 and, as soon as she could do so, Mary I, restored union with Rome. The Latin Mass was re-established, altars, roods and statues were reinstated; an attempt was made to restore the English Church to its Roman affiliation. Cranmer was punished for his work in the English Reformation by being burned at the stake on 21 March 1556. Nevertheless, the 1552 book was to survive. After Mary’s death in 1558, it became the primary source for the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer, with subtle if significant changes only.

Hundreds of Protestants fled into exile—establishing an English church in Frankfurt am Main. A bitter and very public dispute ensued between those, such as Edmund Grindal and Richard Cox, who wished to preserve in exile the exact form of worship of the 1552 Prayer Book; and those, such as John Knox the minister of the congregation, who regarded that book as still partially tainted with compromise. Eventually, in 1555, the civil authorities expelled Knox and his supporters to Geneva, where they adopted a new prayer book, The Form of Prayers, which derived principally from Calvin’s French La Forme des Prières. Consequently, when the accession of Elizabeth I re-asserted the dominance of the reformed Church of England, there remained a significant body of more Protestant believers who were nevertheless hostile to the Book of Common Prayer. John Knox took The Form of Prayers with him to Scotland, where it formed the basis of the Scottish Book of Common Order.

1559 Prayer Book

Under Elizabeth I, a more permanent enforcement of the reformed Church of England was undertaken and the 1552 book was republished, scarcely altered, in 1559. The Prayer Book of 1552 “…was a masterpiece of theological engineering,” The doctrines in the Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as set forth in 1559 would set the tone of Anglicanism which would prefer to steer a Middle Way between Lutheranism and Calvinism. The conservative nature of these changes underlines the fact that reformed principles were by no means universally popular – a fact that the Queen recognised: her revived Act of Supremacy, giving her the ambiguous title of Supreme Governor, passed without difficulty but the Act of Uniformity 1559, giving statutory force to the Prayer Book, passed through the House of Lords by only three votes. It made constitutional history in being imposed by the laity alone, as all the bishops, except those imprisoned by the Queen and unable to attend, voted against it. Convocation had made its position clear by affirming the traditional doctrine of the Eucharist, the authority of the Pope, and the reservation by divine law to clergy “of handling and defining concerning the things belonging to faith, sacraments, and discipline ecclesiastical.” After the several innovations and reversals, the new forms of worship took several decades to settle in as acceptable with 70-75% of the population by the end of the reign in 1603.

The alterations, though minor, were however to cast a long shadow in the development of the Church of England. It would be a long road back for the Church of England with no clear indication that it would retreat from the 1559 Settlement except for minor official changes. In one of the first moves to undo Cranmer the Queen insisted that the Words of Administration from the 1549 Book be placed before the words of administration in the 1552 Book thereby leaving re-opening the issue of the Real Presence. At the administration of the Holy Communion, the words from the 1549 book, “the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ” etc. were combined with the words of Edward’s second book of 1552, “Take eat in remembrance” “suggesting on the one hand a real presence to those who wished to find it and on the other, the communion as memorial only” i.e. an objective presence and subjective reception. The 1559 Book, however, retained the truncated Prayer of Consecration which omitted any notion of objective sacrifice. It was preceded by the Proper Preface and Prayer of Humble (placed there to remove any possibility that the Communion was a sacrifice to God). The Prayer of Consecration was followed by Communion, the Lord’s Prayer and a Prayer of Thanksgiving or an optional Prayer of Oblation whose first line included a petition that God would “…accepte this our Sacrifice of prayse and thankes geuing…” The latter prayer was removed (a longer version followed the Words of the Institution in the 1549 Rite) to “to avoid any suggestion of the sacrifice of the Mass.” The Marian Bishop Scot opposed the 1552 Book “on the grounds it never makes any connection between the bread and the Body of Christ. Untue thought is was, the restoration of the 1549 words of distribution emphasized its falsity” – of the accusation.

However, from the 17th century some prominent Anglican theologians tried to cast a more traditional interpretation onto the text of the Rite as a Commemorative Sacrifice and Heavenly Offering even though the words of the Rite did not support such interpretations. Cranmer a good liturgist knew that the eucharist from the mid-second century had been regarded as the Church’s offering but he removed sacrificial anyway, perhaps, under pressure or conviction. It was not until the Oxford Movement of the mid-19th century and 20th century revisions that the Church of England would attempt to deal with the Eucharistic doctrines of Cranmer by bringing the Church back to “pre-Reformation doctrine,” In the meantime the Scottish and American Prayer Books not only reverted to 1549 but even to the Roman/Orthodox pattern by adding the Oblation and an Epiclesis – the congregation offers itself in union with Christ at the Consecration and receives Him in Communion – while retaining the Calvinist notions of “may be for us” rather than “become” and the emphasis on “bless and sanctify us” (the tension between the Catholic stress on objective Presence and Protestant subjective worthiness of the communicant).

Another move, the “Ornaments Rubric”, related to what clergy were to wear while conducting services. Instead of the banning of all vestments except the rochet for bishops and the surplice for parish clergy, it permitted “such ornaments…as were in use…in the second year of King Edward VI”. This allowed substantial leeway for more traditionalist clergy to retain the vestments which they felt were appropriate to liturgical celebration namely Mass vestments such as albs, chasubles, dalmatics, copes, stoles, maniples et cetera (at least until the Queen gave further instructions per the text the Act of Uniformity of 1559). The Rubric also stated that the communion service should be conducted in the ‘accustomed place’ namely facing a Table against the wall with the priest facing it. The Rubric was placed at the section regarding Morning and Evening Prayer in this book and in the 1604 and 1662 Books. It was to be the basis of claims in the 19th century that vestments such as chasubles, albs and stoles were legal.

The instruction to the congregation to kneel when receiving communion was retained; but the Black Rubric (#29 in the Forty-Two Articles of Faith which were reduced to 39) which denied any “real and essential presence” of Christ’s flesh and blood, was removed to “conciliate traditionalists” and aligned with Queen’s sensibilities. The removal of the Black Rubric complements the double set of Words of Administration at the time of communion and permits an action, kneeling to receive, which people were used to doing. Therefore, nothing at all was stated in the Prayer Book about a theory of the Presence or forbidding reverence or adoration of Christ in the Sacrament. On this issue, however, the Prayer was at odds with the repudiation of Transubstantiation and carrying about the Blessed Sacrament in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. As long as one did not subscribe publicly to or assert the latter one was left to hold whatever opinion one wanted on the former. The Queen herself was famous for saying she was not interested in “looking in the windows of men’s souls.”

The Queen who detested married clergy could not get her way for celibates only in Holy Orders.

Among Cranmer’s innovations, retained in the new book was the requirement of weekly Holy Communion services. In practice, as before the English Reformation, many received communion rarely, as little as once a year in some cases; George Herbert estimated it as no more than six times. Practice, however, varied from place to place: very high attendance at festivals was the order of the day in many parishes and in some regular communion was very popular, in other places families stayed away or sent “a servant to be the liturgical representative of their household.”  Few parish clergy were initially licensed by the bishops to preach; in the absence of a licensed preacher, Sunday services were required to be accompanied by reading one of the homilies written by Cranmer. George Herbert was, however, not alone in his enthusiasm for preaching, which he regarded as one of the prime functions of a parish priest. Music was much simplified and a radical distinction developed between, on the one hand, parish worship where only the metrical psalms of Sternhold and Hopkins might be sung and, on the other hand, worship in churches with organs and surviving choral foundations, where the music of John Marbeck and others was developed into a rich choral tradition The whole act of parish worship might take well over two hours; and accordingly, churches were equipped with pews in which households could sit together (whereas in the medieval church, men and women had worshipped separately). Diarmaid MacCulloch describes the new act of worship as, “a morning marathon of prayer, scripture reading, and praise, consisting of mattins, litany, and ante-communion, preferably as the matrix for a sermon to proclaim the message of scripture anew week by week.”

Many ordinary churchgoers—that is those who could afford a copy as it was expensive—would own a copy of the prayer book. Judith Maltby cites a story of parishioners at Flixton in Suffolk who brought their own prayer books to church in order to shame their vicar into conforming with it: they eventually ousted him. Between 1549 and 1642, roughly 290 editions of the prayer book were produced. Before the end of the English Civil War (1642-1651) and the introduction of the 1662 prayer book, something like a half a million prayer books are estimated to have been in circulation.

A (re)translation into Latin of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer was made in the form of Walter Haddon’s Liber Precum Publicarum of 1560. Its use was destined for the universities.

The Welsh edition of the Book of Common Prayer was published in 1567. It was translated by William Salesbury assisted by Richard Davies.

However, from the 17th century some prominent Anglican theologians tried to cast a more traditional interpretation onto it as a Commemorative Sacrifice and Heavenly Offering even though the words of the Rite did not support the Prayer Book to interpret itself. It was not until the Oxford Movement of the mid-19th century and 20th century revisions that the Church of England would attempt to deal with the Eucharistic doctrines of Cranmer by bringing the Church back to “pre-Reformation doctrine,” In the meantime the Scottish and American Prayer Books not only reverted to 1549 but even to the Roman/Orthodox pattern by adding the Oblation and an Epiclesis – the congregation offers itself in union with Christ at the Consecration and receives Him in Communion – while retaining the Calvinist notions of “may be for us” rather than “become” and the emphasis on “bless and sanctify us” (the tension between the Catholic stress on objective Presence and Protestant subjective worthiness of the communicant). However, these Rites asserted a kind of Virtualism in regard to the Real Presence while making the Eucharist a material sacrifice because of the oblation, and the retention of “…may be for us the Body and Blood of thy Savior…” rather than “become” thus eschewing any suggestion of a change in the natural substance of bread and wine.

Changes in 1604

On Elizabeth’s death in 1603, the 1559 book, substantially that of 1552 which had been regarded as offensive by some, such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner, as being a break with the tradition of the Western Church, had come to be regarded in some quarters as unduly Catholic. On his accession and following the so-called “Millenary Petition”, James I called the Hampton Court Conference in 1604—the same meeting of bishops and Puritan divines that initiated the Authorized King James Version of the Bible. This was in effect a series of two conferences: (i) between James and the bishops; (ii) between James and the Puritans on the following day. The Puritans raised four areas of concern: purity of doctrine; the means of maintaining it; church government; and the Book of Common Prayer. Confirmation, the cross in baptism, private baptism, the use of the surplice, kneeling for communion, reading the Apocrypha; and subscription to the BCP and Articles were all touched on. On the third day, after James had received a report back from the bishops and made final modifications, he announced his decisions to the Puritans and bishops.

The business of making the changes was then entrusted to a small committee of bishops and the Privy Council and, apart from tidying up details, this committee introduced into Morning and Evening Prayer a prayer for the Royal Family; added several thanksgivings to the Occasional Prayers at the end of the Litany; altered the rubrics of Private Baptism limiting it to the minister of the parish, or some other lawful minister, but still allowing it in private houses (the Puritans had wanted it only in the church); and added to the Catechism the section on the sacraments. The changes were put into effect by means of an explanation issued by James in the exercise of his prerogative under the terms of the 1559 Act of Uniformity and Act of Supremacy.

The accession of Charles I (1625–1649) brought about a complete change in the religious scene in that the new king used his supremacy over the established church “to promote his own idiosyncratic style of sacramental Kingship” which was “a very weird aberration from the first hundred years of the early reformed Church of England”. He questioned “the populist and parliamentary basis of the Reformation Church” and unsettled to a great extent “the consensual accommodation of Anglicanism”.

With the defeat of Charles I (1625–1649) in the Civil War, the Puritan pressure, exercised through a much-changed Parliament, had increased. Puritan-inspired petitions for the removal of the prayer book and episcopacy “root and branch” resulted in local disquiet in many places and, eventually, the production of locally organized counter petitions. The parliamentary government had its way but it became clear that the division was not between Catholics and Protestants, but between Puritans and those who valued the Elizabethan settlement. The 1604 book was finally outlawed by Parliament in 1645 to be replaced by the Directory of Public Worship, which was more a set of instructions than a prayer book. How widely the Directory was used is not certain; there is some evidence of its having been purchased, in churchwardens’ accounts, but not widely. The Prayer Book certainly was used clandestinely in some places, not least because the Directory made no provision at all for burial services. Following the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the establishment of the Commonwealth under Lord Protector Cromwell, it would not be reinstated until shortly after the restoration of the monarchy to England.

John Evelyn records, in Diary, receiving communion according to the 1604 Prayer Book rite:

Christmas Day 1657. I went to London with my wife to celebrate Christmas Day… Sermon ended, as [the minister] was giving us the holy sacrament, the chapel was surrounded with soldiers, and all the communicants and assembly surprised and kept prisoners by them, some in the house, others carried away… These wretched miscreants held their muskets against us as we came up to receive the sacred elements, as if they would have shot us at the altar.

Changes made in Scotland

In 1557, the Scots Protestant lords had adopted the English Prayer Book of 1552, for reformed worship in Scotland. However, when John Knox returned to Scotland in 1559, he continued to use the Form of Prayer he had created for the English exiles in Geneva and, in 1564, this supplanted the Book of Common Prayer under the title of the Book of Common Order.

Following the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the throne of England his son, King Charles I, with the assistance of Archbishop Laud, sought to impose the prayer book on Scotland. The book concerned was not, however, the 1559 book but very much that of 1549, the first book of Edward VI. First used in 1637, it was never accepted, having been violently rejected by the Scots. During one reading of the book at the Holy Communion in St Giles’ Cathedral, the Bishop of Brechin was forced to protect himself while reading from the book by pointing loaded pistols at the congregation. Following the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (including the English Civil War), the Church of Scotland was re-established on a presbyterian basis but by the Act of Comprehension 1690, the rump of Episcopalians were allowed to hold onto their benefices. For liturgy they looked to Laud’s book and in 1724 the first of the “wee bookies” was published, containing, for the sake of economy, the central part of the Communion liturgy beginning with the offertory.

Between then and 1764, when a more formal revised version was published, a number of things happened which were to separate the Scottish Episcopal liturgy more firmly from either the English books of 1549 or 1559. First, informal changes were made to the order of the various parts of the service and inserting words indicating a sacrificial intent to the Eucharist clearly evident in the words, “we thy humble servants do celebrate and make before thy Divine Majesty with these thy holy gifts which we now OFFER unto thee, the memorial thy Son has commandeth us to make;” secondly, as a result of Bishop Rattray’s researches into the liturgies of St James and St Clement, published in 1744, the form of the invocation was changed. These changes were incorporated into the 1764 book which was to be the liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church (until 1911 when it was revised) but it was to influence the liturgy of the Episcopal Church in the United States. A completely new revision was finished in 1929 and several alternative orders of the Communion service and other services have been prepared since then.


The 1662 Prayer Book was printed two years after the restoration of the monarchy, following the Savoy Conference between representative Presbyterians and twelve bishops which was convened by Royal Warrant to “advise upon and review the Book of Common Prayer” (Procter & Frere 1965, p. 169,170). Attempts by the Presbyterians, led by Richard Baxter, to gain approval for an alternative service book failed. Their major objections (exceptions) were: firstly, that it was improper for lay people to take any vocal part in prayer (as in the Litany or Lord’s Prayer), other than to say “amen”; secondly, that no set prayer should exclude the option of an extempore alternative from the minister; thirdly, that the minister should have the option to omit part of the set liturgy at his discretion; fourthly, that short collects should be replaced by longer prayers and exhortations; and fifthly, that all surviving “Catholic” ceremonial should be removed. (Harrison & Sansom 1982, p. 53). The intent behind these suggested changes was to achieve a greater correspondence between liturgy and Scripture. The bishops gave a frosty reply. They declared that liturgy could not be circumscribed by Scripture, but rightfully included those matters which were “generally received in the Catholic church.” They rejected extempore prayer as apt to be filled with “idle, impertinent, ridiculous, sometimes seditious, impious and blasphemous expressions.” The notion that the Prayer Book was defective because it dealt in generalizations brought the crisp response that such expressions were “the perfection of the liturgy”. (Thompson 1961, p. 378)

Title page of the 1662 Prayer Book

Title page of the 1662 Prayer Book

The Savoy Conference ended in disagreement late in July 1661, but the initiative in prayer book revision had already passed to the Convocations and from there to Parliament. (Procter & Frere 1965, p. 192f) The Convocations made some 600 changes, mostly of details, which were “far from partisan or extreme”. (Spurr 1991, p. 40) However, Edwards states that more of the changes suggested by high Anglicans were implemented (though by no means all (Edwards 1983, p. 312)) and Spurr comments that (except in the case of the Ordinal) the suggestions of the “Laudians” (Cosin and Matthew Wren) were not taken up possibly due to the influence of moderates such as Sanderson and Reynolds. For example, the inclusion in the intercessions of the Communion rite of prayer for the dead was proposed and rejected. The introduction of “Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here in earth” remained unaltered and only a thanksgiving for those “departed this life in thy faith and fear” was inserted to introduce the petition that the congregation might be “given grace so to follow their good examples that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom”. Griffith Thomas commented that the retention of the words “militant here in earth” defines the scope of this petition: we pray for ourselves, we thank God for them, and adduces collateral evidence to this end. (Griffith Thomas 1963, pp. 508–521) Secondly, an attempt was made to restore the Offertory. This was achieved by the insertion of the words “and oblations” into the prayer for the Church and the revision of the rubric so as to require the monetary offerings to be brought to the table (instead of being put in the poor box) and the bread and wine placed upon the table. Previously it had not been clear when and how bread and wine got onto the altar. The so-called “manual acts”, whereby the priest took the bread and the cup during the prayer of consecration, which had been deleted in 1552, were restored; and an “amen” was inserted after the words of institution and before communion, hence separating the connections between consecration and communion which Cranmer had tried to make. After communion, the unused but consecrated bread and wine were to be reverently consumed in church rather than being taken away for the priest’s own use. By such subtle means were Cranmer’s purposes further confused, leaving it for generations to argue over the precise theology of the rite. One change made that constituted a concession to the Presbyterian Exceptions, was the updating and re-insertion of the so-called “Black Rubric”, which had been removed in 1559. This now declared that kneeling in order to receive communion did not imply adoration of the species of the Eucharist nor “to any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood”—which, according to the rubric, were in heaven, not here.

Unable to accept the new book, 936 ministers were deprived. (Spurr 1991, p. 43) In effect, the 1662 Prayer Book marked the end of a period of just over 100 years, when a common form of liturgy served for almost all reformed public worship in England and the start of the continuing division between Anglicans and Nonconformists. (Edwards 1983, p. 313) The actual language of the 1662 revision was little changed from that of Cranmer. With two exceptions, some words and phrases which had become archaic were modernised; secondly, the readings for the epistle and gospel at Holy Communion, which had been set out in full since 1549, were now set to the text of the 1611 Authorized King James Version of the Bible. The Psalter, which had not been printed in the 1549, 1552 or 1559 books—was in 1662 provided in Miles Coverdale’s translation from the Great Bible of 1538.

It was this edition which was to be the official Book of Common Prayer during the growth of the British Empire and, as a result, has been a great influence on the prayer books of Anglican churches worldwide, liturgies of other denominations in English, and of the English people and language as a whole.

Further attempts at revision


Between 1662 and the 19th century, further attempts to revise the Book in England stalled. On the death of Charles II, his brother James, a Roman Catholic, became James II. James wished to achieve toleration for those of his own Roman Catholic faith, whose practices were still banned. This, however, drew the Presbyterians closer to the Church of England in their common desire to resist ‘popery’; talk of reconciliation and liturgical compromise was thus in the air. But with the flight of James in 1688 and the arrival of the Calvinist William of Orange the position of the parties changed. The Presbyterians could achieve toleration of their practices without such a right being given to Roman Catholics and without, therefore, their having to submit to the Church of England, even with a liturgy more acceptable to them. They were now in a much stronger position to demand changes that were ever more radical. John Tillotson, Dean of Canterbury pressed the king to set up a commission to produce such a revision (Fawcett 1973, p. 26). The so-called Liturgy of Comprehension of 1689, which was the result, conceded two thirds of the Presbyterian demands of 1661; but, when it came to convocation the members, now more fearful of William’s perceived agenda, did not even discuss it and its contents were, for a long time, not even accessible (Fawcett 1973, p. 45). This work, however, did go on to influence the prayer books of many British colonies.


By the 19th century, pressures to revise the 1662 book were increasing. Adherents of the Oxford Movement, begun in 1833, raised questions about the relationship of the Church of England to the apostolic church and thus about its forms of worship. Known as Tractarians after their production of Tracts for the Times on theological issues, they advanced the case for the Church of England being essentially a part of the “Western Church”, of which the Roman Catholic Church was the chief representative. The illegal use of elements of the Roman rite, the use of candles, vestments and incense – practices collectively known as Ritualism – had become widespread and led to the establishment of a new system of discipline, intending to bring the “Romanisers” into conformity, through the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 (Carpenter 1933, p. 234). The Act had no effect on illegal practices: five clergy were imprisoned for contempt of court and after the trial of the much loved Bishop Edward King of Lincoln, it became clear that some revision of the liturgy had to be embarked upon (Carpenter 1933, p. 246).

One branch of the Ritualism movement argued that both “Romanisers” and their Evangelical opponents, by imitating, respectively, the Church of Rome and Reformed churches, transgressed the Ornaments Rubric of 1559 (“…that such Ornaments of the Church, and of the Ministers thereof, at all Times of their Ministration, shall be retained, and be in use, as were in this Church of England, by the Authority of Parliament, in the Second Year of the Reign of King Edward the Sixth”). These adherents of ritualism, among whom were Percy Dearmer and others, claimed that the Ornaments Rubric prescribed the ritual usages of the Sarum Rite with the exception of a few minor things already abolished by the early reformation.

Following a Royal Commission report in 1906, work began on a new prayer book. It took twenty years to complete, prolonged partly due to the demands of the First World War and partly in the light of the 1920 constitution of the Church Assembly, which “perhaps not unnaturally wished to do the work all over again for itself” (Neill 1960, p. 395).


Further information: Book of Common Prayer (1928)

In 1927, the work on a new version of the prayer book reached its final form. In order to reduce conflict with traditionalists, it was decided that the form of service to be used would be determined by each congregation. With these open guidelines, the book was granted approval by the Church of England Convocations and Church Assembly in July 1927. However, it was defeated by the House of Commons in 1928.

The effect of the failure of the 1928 book was salutary: no further attempts were made to revise the Book of Common Prayer. Instead a different process, that of producing an alternative book, led to the publication of Series 1, 2 and 3 in the 1960s, the 1980 Alternative Service Book and subsequently to the 2000 Common Worship series of books. Both differ substantially from the Book of Common Prayer, though the latter includes in the Order Two form of the Holy Communion a very slight revision of the prayer book service, largely along the lines proposed for the 1928 Prayer Book. Order One follows the pattern of the modern Liturgical Movement.

In the Anglican Communion

With British colonial expansion from the 17th century onwards, Anglicanism spread across the globe. The new Anglican churches used and revised the use of the Book of Common Prayer, until they, like the English church, produced prayer books which took into account the developments in liturgical study and practice in the 19th and 20th centuries which come under the general heading of the Liturgical Movement.


In South Africa a Book of Common Prayer was “Set Forth by Authority for Use in the Church of the Province of South Africa” in 1954. This prayer book is still in use in some churches in southern Africa, however it has been largely replaced by An Anglican Prayerbook -1989 and its translations to the other languages in use in southern Africa.



The diglotic English–Chinese Book of Common Prayer used by the Filipino–Chinese community of St Stephen's Pro-Cathedral in Manila, Philippines.

The diglotic English–Chinese Book of Common Prayer used by the Filipino–Chinese community of St Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral in Manila, Philippines.

The Book of Common Prayer is translated literally as 公禱書 in Chinese (Mandarin: Gōng dǎo shū; Cantonese: Gūng tóu syū). The former dioceses in the now defunct Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui had their own Book of Common Prayer. The General Synod and the College of Bishops of Chung Hwa Sheng Kung Hui planned to publish a unified version for the use of all Anglican churches in China in 1949, which was the 400th anniversary of the first publishing of the Book of Common Prayer. After the communists took over mainland China, the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao became independent of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui, and continued to use the edition issued in Shanghai in 1938 with a revision in 1959. This edition, also called the “Black-Cover Book of Common Prayer” 黑皮公禱書 because of its black cover, still remains in use after the establishment of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui (Anglican province in Hong Kong). The language style of “Black-Cover Book of Common Prayer” is closer to Classical Chinese than contemporary Chinese.


The Church of South India was the first modern Episcopal uniting church, consisting as it did, from its foundation in 1947, at the time of Indian independence, of Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Reformed Christians. Its liturgy, from the first, combined the free use of Cranmer’s language with an adherence to the principles of congregational participation and the centrality of the Eucharist, much in line with the Liturgical Movement. Because it was a minority church of widely differing traditions in a non-Christian culture (except in Kerala, where Christianity has a long history), practice varied wildly.


The BCP is called “Kitōsho” (Japanese: 祈祷書) in Japanese. The initial effort to compile such a book in Japanese goes back to 1859, when the missionary societies of the Church of England and of the Episcopal Church of the United States started their work in Japan, later joined by the Anglican Church of Canada in 1888. In 1879, the Seikōkai Tō Bun (Japanese: 聖公会祷文), Anglican Prayer Texts) were prepared in Japanese  As the Anglican Church in Japan was established in 1887, the Romanized Nippon Seikōkwai Kitō Bun (Japanese: 日本聖公会祈祷文) were compiled in 1879. There was a major revision of these texts and the first Kitōsho was born in 1895, which had the Eucharistic part in both English and American traditions. There were further revisions, and the Kitōsho published in 1939 was the last revision that was done before the World War II, still using the Historical kana orthography.

After the end of the War, the Kitōsho of 1959 became available, using post-war Japanese orthography, but still in traditional classical Japanese language and vertical writing. In the fifty years after World War II, there were several efforts to translate the Bible into modern colloquial Japanese, the most recent of which was the publication in 1990 of the Japanese New Interconfessional Translation Bible. The Kitōsho using the colloquial Japanese language and horizontal writing was published in the same year. It also used the Revised Common Lectionary. This latest Kitōsho since went through several minor revisions, such as employing the Lord’s Prayer in Japanese common with the Catholic Church (共通口語訳「主の祈り」) in 2000.


In 1965, the Anglican Church of Korea first published a translation of the 1662 BCP into Korean and called it gong-dong-gi-do-mun (공동기도문) meaning “common prayers”. In 1994, the prayers announced “allowed” by the 1982 Bishops Council of the Anglican Church of Korea was published in a second version of the Book of Common Prayers In 2004, the National Anglican Council published the third and the current Book of Common Prayers known as “seong-gong-hwe gi-do-seo (성공회 기도서)” or the “Anglican Prayers”, including the Calendar of the Church Year, Daily Offices, Collects, Proper Liturgies for Special Days, Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Pastoral Offices, Episcopal Services, Lectionary, Psalms and all of the other events the Anglican Church of Korea celebrates.

The Diction of the books has changed from the 1965 version to the 2004 version. For example, the word “God” has changed from classical Chinese term “Cheon-ju (천주)” to native Korean word “ha-neu-nim (하느님),” in accordance with to the Public Christian translation, and as used in 1977 Common Translation Bible (gong-dong beon-yeok-seong-seo, 공동번역성서) that the Anglican Church of Korea currently uses.


As the Philippines is connected to the worldwide Anglican Communion through the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the main edition of the Book of Common Prayer in use throughout the islands is the same as that of the United States.

Aside from the American version and the newly published Philippine Book of Common Prayer, Filipino-Chinese congregants of Saint Stephen’s Pro-Cathedral in the Diocese of the Central Philippines uses the English-Chinese Diglot Book of Common Prayer, published by the Episcopal Church of Southeast Asia.

The ECP has since published its own Book of Common Prayer upon gaining full autonomy on 1 May 1990. This version is notable for the inclusion of the Misa de Gallo, a popular Christmastide devotion amongst Filipinos that is of Catholic origin.



The first printed book in Ireland was in English, the Book of Common Prayer.

William Bedell had undertaken an Irish translation of the Book of Common Prayer in 1606. An Irish translation of the revised prayer book of 1662 was effected by John Richardson (1664–1747) and published in 1712 as Leabhar na nornaightheadh ccomhchoitchionn. “Until the 1960s, the Book of Common Prayer, derived from 1662 with only mild tinkering, was quite simply the worship of the church of Ireland.” The 1712 edition had parallel columns in English and Irish languages. It has been revised several times, and the present edition has been used since 2004.

Isle of Man

The first Manx translation of the Book of Common Prayer was made by John Phillips (Bishop of Sodor and Man) in 1610. A more successful “New Version” by his successor Mark Hiddesley was in use until 1824 when English liturgy became universal on the island.(Muss-Arnolt 1914, Ch VII)


The Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church formed in 1880. A Portuguese language Prayer Book is the basis of the Church’s liturgy. In the early days of the church, a translation into Portuguese from 1849 of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer was used. In 1884 the church published its own prayer book based on the Anglican, Roman and Mozarabic liturgies. The intent was to emulate the customs of the primitive apostolic church. Newer editions of their prayer book are available in Portuguese and with an English translation.


The Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church or IERE (Spanish: Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal) is the church of the Anglican Communion in Spain. It was founded in 1880 and since 1980 has been an extra-provincial church under the metropolitan authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Previous to its organization, there were several translations of the Book of Common Prayer into Spanish in 1623 and in 1707.

In 1881 the church combined a Spanish translation of the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer with the Mozarabic Rite liturgy, which had recently been translated. This is apparently the first time the Spanish speaking Anglicans inserted their own “historic, national tradition of liturgical worship within an Anglican prayer book.” A second edition was released in 1889, and a revision in 1975. This attempt combined the Anglican structure of worship with indigenous prayer traditions.


An Act of Parliament passed in 1563, entitled “An Act for the Translating of the Bible and the Divine Service into the Welsh Tongue”, ordered that both the Old and New Testament be translated into Welsh, alongside the Book of Common Prayer. This translation – completed by the then bishop of St David’s, Richard Davies, and the scholar William Salesbury – was published in 1567 (Procter & Frere 1902, p. 125) as Y Llyfr Gweddi Gyffredin. A further revision, based on the 1662 English revision, was published in 1664. (Muss-Arnolt 1914, Ch VII)

The Church in Wales began a revision of the book of Common Prayer in the 1950s. Various sections of authorised material were published throughout the 1950s and 1960s; however, common usage of these revised versions only began with the introduction of a revised order for the Holy Eucharist. Revision continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with definitive orders being confirmed throughout the 70s for most orders. A finished, fully revised Book of Common Prayer for use in the Church in Wales was authorised in 1984, written in traditional English, after a suggestion for a modern language Eucharist received a lukewarm reception.

In the 1990s, new initiation services were authorised, followed by alternative orders for morning and evening prayer in 1994, alongside an alternative order for the Holy Eucharist, also in 1994. Revisions of various orders in the Book of Common Prayer continued throughout the 2000s and into the 2010s.


Aotearoa, New Zealand, Polynesia

As for other parts of the British Empire, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was initially the standard of worship for Anglicans in New Zealand. The 1662 Book was first translated into Maori in 1830, and has gone through several translations and a number of different editions since then. The translated 1662 BCP has commonly been called Te Rawiri (“the David”), reflecting the prominence of the Psalter in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, as the Maori often looked for words to be attributed to a person of authority. The Maori translation of the 1662 BCP is still used in New Zealand, particularly among older Maori living in rural areas.

After earlier trial services in the mid-twentieth century, in 1988 the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia authorised through its general synod A New Zealand Prayer Book, He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa intended to serve the needs of New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Island Anglicans. This book is unusual for its cultural diversity; it includes passages in the Maori, Fijian, Tongan and English languages. In other respects it reflects the same ecumenical influence of the Liturgical Movement as in other new Anglican books of the period, and borrows freely from a variety of international sources. The book is not presented as a definitive or final liturgical authority, such as use of the definite article in the title might have implied. While the preface is ambiguous regarding the status of older forms and books, the implication however is that this book is now the norm of worship for Anglicans in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The book has also been revised in a number of minor ways since the initial publication, such as by the inclusion of the Revised Common Lectionary and an online edition is offered freely as the standard for reference.


The Anglican Church of Australia, known officially until 1981 as the Church of England in Australia and Tasmania, became self-governing in 1961. Its general synod agreed that the Book of Common Prayer was to “be regarded as the authorised standard of worship and doctrine in this Church”. After a series of experimental services offered in many dioceses during the 1960s and 70s, in 1978 An Australian Prayer Book was produced, formally as a supplement to the book of 1662, although in fact it was widely taken up in place of the old book. The AAPB sought to adhere to the principle that, where the liturgical committee could not agree on a formulation, the words or expressions of the Book of Common Prayer were to be used (The Church of England in Australia Trust Corporation 1978), if in a modern idiom. The result was a conservative revision, including two forms of eucharistic rite: a First Order that was essentially the 1662 rite in more contemporary language, and a Second Order that reflected the Liturgical Movement norms, but without elements such as a eucharistic epiclesis or other features that would have represented a departure from the doctrine of the old Book.

A Prayer Book for Australia, produced in 1995 and again not technically a substitute for 1662, nevertheless departed from both the structure and wording of the Book of Common Prayer, prompting conservative reaction. Numerous objections were made and the notably conservative evangelical Diocese of Sydney drew attention both to the loss of BCP wording and of an explicit “biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement”. Sydney delegates to the general synod sought and obtained various concessions but that diocese never adopted the book. The Diocese of Sydney has instead developed its own prayer book, called Sunday Services, to “supplement” the 1662 prayer book (which, as elsewhere in Australia, is rarely used), and preserve the original theology which the Sydney diocese asserts has been changed.

North and Central America


The Anglican Church of Canada, which until 1955 was known as the Church of England in the Dominion of Canada, or simply the Church of England in Canada, developed its first Book of Common Prayer separately from the English version in 1918, which received final authorization from General Synod on April 16, 1922.(Armitage 1922) The revision of 1959 was much more substantial, bearing a family relationship to that of the abortive 1928 book in England. The language was conservatively modernized, and additional seasonal material was added. As in England, while many prayers were retained though the structure of the Communion service was altered: a prayer of oblation was added to the eucharistic prayer after the “words of institution”, thus reflecting the rejection of Cranmer’s theology in liturgical developments across the Anglican Communion. More controversially, the Psalter omitted certain sections, including the entirety of Psalm 58. General Synod gave final authorization to the revision in 1962, to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. A French translation, Le Recueil des Prières de la Communauté Chrétienne, was published in 1967.

After a period of experimentation with the publication of various supplements, the Book of Alternative Services was published in 1985. This book (which owes much to Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and other sources) has widely supplanted the 1959 book, though the latter remains authorized. As in other places, there has been a reaction and the Canadian version of the Book of Common Prayer has found supporters.

Indigenous languages

The Book of Common Prayer has also been translated into these North American indigenous languages: Cowitchan, Cree, Haida, Ntlakyapamuk, Slavey, Eskimo-Aleut, Dakota, Delaware, Mohawk, Ojibwe.


Joseph Gilfillan was the chief editor of the 1911 Ojibwa edition of the Book of Common Prayer entitled Iu Wejibuewisi Mamawi Anamiawini Mazinaigun (Iw Wejibwewizi Maamawi-anami’aawini Mazina’igan) (Wohlers 2007, Chapter 68).

United States

Main article: Book of Common Prayer (1979)

The Episcopal Church separated itself from the Church of England in 1789, the first church in the American colonies having been founded in 1607 (Cross & Livingstone 1975). The first Book of Common Prayer of the new body, approved in 1789, had as its main source the 1662 English book, with significant influence also from the 1764 Scottish Liturgy which Bishop Seabury of Connecticut brought to the USA following his consecration in Aberdeen in 1784.

The preface to the 1789 Book of Common Prayer says, “this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship…further than local circumstances require.” There were some notable differences. For example, in the Communion service the prayer of consecration follows mainly the Scottish orders derived from 1549 (Shepherd 1965, 82) and found in the 1764 Book of Common Prayer. The compilers also used other materials derived from ancient liturgies especially Eastern Orthodox ones such as the Liturgy of St. James.(Shepherd 1965, 82) An epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic prayer was included, as in the Scottish book, though modified to meet reformist objections. Overall however, the book was modelled on the English Prayer Book, the Convention having resisted attempts at more radical deletion and revision.(McGarvey & Gibson 1907) The 1789 American BCP reintroduced explicit sacrificial language in the Prayer of Consecration by adding the words “which we now offer unto Thee”, after “with these thy holy gifts” from the 1549 BCP. The insertion undid Cranmer’s rejection of the Eucharist as a material sacrifice by which the Church offers itself to God by means of the very same sacrifice of Christ but in an unbloody, liturgical representation of it. This reworking thereby aligned the church’s eucharistic theology more closely to that of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Further revisions occurred in 1892 and 1928, in which minor changes were made, removing, for instance, some of Cranmer’s Exhortations and introducing such innovations as prayers for the dead.

In 1979, a more substantial revision was made under the influence of the Liturgical Movement. Its most distinctive feature may be the presentation of two rites for the Holy Eucharist and for Morning and Evening Prayer. The Rite I services keep most of the language of the 1928 and older books, while Rite II uses contemporary language and offers a mixture of newly composed texts, some adapted from the older forms, and some borrowed from other sources, notably Byzantine rites. The Book also offers changed rubrics and the shapes of the services, which were generally made for both the traditional and contemporary language versions.

Article X of the Canons of the Episcopal Church provides that “[t]he Book of Common Prayer, as now established or hereafter amended by the authority of this Church, shall be in use in all the Dioceses of this Church,” which, of course, is a reference to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Many traditionalists, both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals, felt alienated by the theological and ritual changes made in the 1979 BCP, and resisted or looked elsewhere for models of liturgy. In 1991 the Anglo-Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania) published a book entitled, the Anglican Service Book which is “a traditional language adaptation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer together with the Psalter or Psalms of David and Additional Devotions.” In 2000, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church issued an apology to those “offended or alienated during the time of liturgical transition to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.”

The Prayer Book Cross was erected in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in 1894 as a gift from the Church of England. Created by Ernest Coxhead, it stands on one of the higher points in Golden Gate Park. It is located between John F. Kennedy Drive and Park Presidio Drive, near Cross Over Drive. This 57 ft (17 m) sandstone cross commemorates the first use of the Book of Common Prayer in California by Sir Francis Drake’s chaplain on June 24, 1579.

In 2019, the Anglican Church in North America released its own revised edition of the BCP, which included a modernized rendering of the Coverdale Psalter.

Roman Catholic adaptations

Under Pope John Paul II’s Pastoral Provision of the early 1980s, former Anglicans began to be admitted into new Anglican Use parishes in the US. The Book of Divine Worship was published in the United States in 2003 as a liturgical book for their use, composed of material drawn from the proposed 1928 BCP, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Roman Missal. Mandated for use in all personal ordinariates for former Anglicans in the US from Advent 2013, with the adoption of the ordinariates’ Divine Worship: The Missal in Advent 2015, the Book of Divine Worship was suppressed. In 2019, a new resource for all ordinariate laity, St. Gregory’s Prayer Book, was published by Ignatius Press combining selections from the Divine Worship missal with devotions drawn from various Anglican prayer books and other Anglican sources approved for Catholic use in a format that closely mirrors the form and content of the Book of Common Prayer.

Religious influence

The Book of Common Prayer has had a great influence on a number of other denominations. While theologically different, the language and flow of the service of many other churches owe a great debt to the prayer book. In particular, many Christian prayer books have drawn on the Collects for the Sundays of the Church Year—mostly freely translated or even “rethought” (Neill 1960, p. 69) by Cranmer from a wide range of Christian traditions, but including a number of original compositions—which are widely recognized as masterpieces of compressed liturgical construction.

John Wesley, an Anglican priest whose revivalist preaching led to the creation of Methodism wrote in his preface to The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America (1784), “I believe there is no Liturgy in the world, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational piety than the Common Prayer of the Church of England.” cited in Westerfield Tucker (2006, p. 209) Many Methodist churches in England and the United States continued to use a slightly revised version of the book for communion services well into the 20th century. In the United Methodist Church, the liturgy for Eucharistic celebrations is almost identical to what is found in the Book of Common Prayer, as are some of the other liturgies and services.

A unique variant was developed in 1785 in Boston, Massachusetts when the historic King’s Chapel (founded 1686) left the Episcopal Church and became an independent Unitarian church. To this day, King’s Chapel uniquely uses The Book of Common Prayer According to the Use in King’s Chapel in its worship; the book eliminates trinitarian references and statements.

Literary influence

Together with the King James Version of the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, the Book of Common Prayer has been one of the three fundamental underpinnings of modern English. As it has been in regular use for centuries, many phrases from its services have passed into everyday English, either as deliberate quotations or as unconscious borrowings. They have often been used metaphorically in non-religious contexts, and authors have used phrases from the prayer book as titles for their books.

Some examples of well-known phrases from the Book of Common Prayer are:

  • “Speak now or forever hold your peace” from the marriage liturgy.
  • “Till death us do part”, from the marriage liturgy.
  • “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” from the funeral service.
  • “In the midst of life, we are in death.” from the committal in the service for the burial of the dead (first rite).
  • “From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil” from the litany.
  • “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” from the collect for the second Sunday of Advent.
  • “Evil liver” from the rubrics for Holy Communion.
  • “All sorts and conditions of men” from the Order for Morning Prayer.
  • “Peace in our time” from Morning Prayer, Versicles.


The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony
… Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace …
The Second Sunday in Advent – The Collect
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

References and allusions to Prayer Book services in the works of Shakespeare were tracked down and identified by Richmond Noble (Noble 1935, p. 82). Derision of the Prayer Book or its contents “in any interludes, plays, songs, rhymes, or by other open words” was a criminal offence under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, and consequently Shakespeare avoids too direct reference; but Noble particularly identifies the reading of the Psalter according to the Great Bible version specified in the Prayer Book, as the biblical book generating the largest number of Biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays. Noble found a total of 157 allusions to the Psalms in the plays of the First Folio, relating to 62 separate Psalms—all, save one, of which he linked to the version in the Psalter, rather than those in the Geneva Bible or Bishops’ Bible. In addition, there are a small number of direct allusions to liturgical texts in the Prayer Book; e.g. Henry VIII 3:2 where Wolsey states “Vain Pomp and Glory of this World, I hate ye!”, a clear reference to the rite of Public Baptism; where the Godparents are asked “Doest thou forsake the vaine pompe and glory of the worlde..?”

As novelist P. D. James observed, “We can recognize the Prayer Book’s cadences in the works of Isaac Walton and John Bunyan, in the majestic phrases of John Milton, Sir Thomas Browne and Edward Gibbon. We can see its echo in the works of such very different writers as Daniel Defoe, Thackeray, the Brontës, Coleridge, T. S. Eliot and even Dorothy L. Sayers.” (James 2011, p. 48) James herself used phrases from the Book of Common Prayer and made them into bestselling titles – Devices and Desires and The Children of Men – while Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men placed the phrase onto cinema marquees worldwide.

Copyright status

In England there are only three bodies entitled to print the Book of Common Prayer: the two privileged presses (Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press), and The Queen’s Printer. Cambridge University Press holds letters patent as The Queen’s Printer and so two of these three bodies are the same. The Latin term cum privilegio (“with privilege”) is printed on the title pages of Cambridge editions of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (and the King James Version of the Bible) to denote the charter authority or privilege under which they are published.

The primary function for Cambridge University Press in its role as Queen’s Printer is preserving the integrity of the text, continuing a long-standing tradition and reputation for textual scholarship and accuracy of printing. Cambridge University Press has stated that as a university press, a charitable enterprise devoted to the advancement of learning, it has no desire to restrict artificially that advancement, and that commercial restrictiveness through a partial monopoly is not part of its purpose. It therefore grants permission to use the text, and license printing or the importation for sale within the UK, as long as it is assured of acceptable quality and accuracy.

The Church of England, supported by the Prayer Book Society, publishes an online edition of the Book of Common Prayer with permission of Cambridge University Press.

In accordance with Canon II.3.6(b)(2) of the Episcopal Church (United States), the church relinquishes any copyright for the version of the Book of Common Prayer currently adopted by the Convention of the church (although the text of proposed revisions remains copyrighted).

See also


  • Anglican Church of Canada (1962), The Book Of Common Prayer, Toronto: Anglican Book Centre Publishing, p. 736, ISBN 0-921846-71-1
  • Anglican Church of Canada (1964). The Canadian Book of Occasional Offices: Services for Certain Occasions not Provided in the Book of Common Prayer, compiled by the Most Rev. Harold E. Sexton, Abp. of British Columbia, published at the request of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada. Toronto: Anglican Church of Canada, Dept. of Religious Education. x, 162 p.
  • Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (198-?). When Ye Pray: Praying with the Church, [by] Roland F. Palmer [an editor of the 1959/1962 Canadian B.C.P.]. Ottawa: Anglican Catholic Convent Society. N.B.: “This book is a companion to the Prayer Book to help … to use the Prayer Book better.”—Pg. 1. Without ISBN
  • Reformed Episcopal Church in Canada and Newfoundland (1892). The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, According to the Use of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the Dominion of Canada, Otherwise Known as the Protestant Church of England…. Toronto, Ont.: Printed … by the Ryerson Press … for the Synod of Canada, 1951, t.p. verso 1892. N.B.: This is the liturgy as it had been authorized in 1891.
  • Church of England (1977) 549 & 155, The First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward VI, London: Everyman’s Library, ISBN 0-460-00448-4
  • Church of England (1999) 66, The Book of Common Prayer, London: Everyman’s Library, ISBN 1-85715-241-7
  • Church in Wales (1984). The Book of Common Prayer, for the Use in the Church in Wales. Penarth, Wales: Church in Wales Publications. 2 vol. N.B.: Title also in Welsh on vol. 2: Y Llfr Gweddi Giffredin i’w arfer yn Yr Eglwys yng Nghymru; vol. 1 is entirely in English; vol. 2 is in Welsh and English on facing pages. Without ISBN
  • Reformed Episcopal Church (U.S.A.)(1932). The Book of Common Prayer, According to the Use of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Rev. fifth ed. Philadelphia, Penn.: Reformed Episcopal Publication Society, 1963, t.p. 1932. xxx, 578 p. N.B.: On p. iii: “[T]he revisions made … in the Fifth Edition [of 193 are those authorized by the [Reformed Episcopal] General Councils from 1943 through 1963.”
  • The Episcopal Church (1979), The Book of Common Prayer (1979), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-528713-4
  • The Episcopal Church (2003). The Book of Common Prayer: Selected Liturgies … According to the Use of the Episcopal Church = Le Livre de la prière commune: Liturgies sélectionnées … selon l’usage de l’Eglise Épiscopale. Paris: Convocation of American Churches in Europe. 373, [ p. N.B.: Texts in English and as translated into French, from the 1979 B.C.P. of the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.), on facing pages. ISBN 0-89869-448-5
  • The Episcopal Church (2007). The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with The Psalter or Psalms of David According to the use of The Episcopal Church”. New York, Church Publishing Incorporated. N.B.: “…amended by action of the 2006 General Convention to include the Revised Common Lectionary.” (Gregory Michael Howe, February 2007) ISBN 0-89869-060-9
  • The Church of England in Australia Trust Corporation (1978), An Australian Prayer Book, St.Andrew’s House, Sydney Square, Sydney: Anglican Information Office Press, pp. 636 p, ISBN 0-909827-79-6
  • A Book of Common Prayer: … Set Forth by Authority for Use in the Church of the Province of South Africa. Oxford. 1965.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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