We are celebrating 350 years of the Book of Common Prayer 1662. Many of its principles and rationales are deeply sound. There is much we can learn from it, embodying its principles into our different time and context. Let us pause a moment and pick up Concerning the Service of the Church at the start of the BCP.
This was the Preface, written by Cranmer, of the BCP in 1549. It clearly shows dependency on the preface to the reformed Breviary of Cardinal Quiñones, published by the authority of Pope Clement VII in 1535.
In 1549 the Daily Office was an obligation only of those who “served congregations”. In 1552, the praying of the Daily Office was made more stringent by this addition and clarification to the 1549 text:
And all Priestes and Deacons shalbe bounde to say dayly the Mornynge and Evenyng prayer, either privatly or openly, excepte they be letted by preaching, studeing of divinityie, or by some other urgent cause.
And the Curate that ministreth in every Parish Churche or Chapell, beyng at home, and not beyng otherwise reasonably letted [prevented], shall say the same in the Parishe Churche or Chapell where he ministreth, and shall tolle a belle thereto, a convenient tyme before he begyn, that suche as be disposed maye come to heare Goddes worde, and to praie with hym.
These directions were repeated in the 1662 text and clergy were still more strongly bound to daily prayer. Preaching or studying divinity were now no longer urgent cause enough not to participate in common prayer, only sickness was specified. Fascinatingly, these were the very two paragraphs that General Synod in 1987 removed as having any binding force in NZ.
The principles used in BCP revision are still worth reflecting on today:
- purification according to scriptural standards
- translation into the vernacular
- simplification in length and rules
Under simplification there is strong criticism of the unnecessarily cumbersome and artificiality of the liturgical rules called “the Pie”. Complexity of rules effectively prevented the services from being services of the people.
I will highlight some parts that may continue to be of value:
There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted: As, among other things, it may plainly appear by the Common Prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service. The first original and ground whereof if a man would search out by the ancient Fathers, he shall find, that the same was not ordained but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness. For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over every year; intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers in the congregation, should (by often reading, and meditation in God’s word) be stirred up to godliness themselves and be more able to exhort others by wholesome Doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the Truth; and further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true Religion…
But these many years passed, this godly and decent order of the ancient Fathers hath been so altered, broken, and neglected… the number and hardness of the Rules called the Pie, and the manifold changings of the service, was the cause, that to turn the book only was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out…
Yet, because there is no remedy, but that of necessity there must be some Rules; therefore certain Rules are here set forth; which, as they are few in number, so they are plain and easy to be understood…
And whereas heretofore there hath been great diversity in saying and singing in Churches within this Realm; some following Salisbury Use, some Hereford Use, and some the Use of Bangor, some of York, some of Lincoln; now from henceforth all the whole Realm shall have but one Use…
And all Priests and Deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause.
And the Curate that ministereth in every Parish-church or Chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same in the Parish-church or Chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God’s Word, and to pray with him.