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Book of Common Prayer 1662

BCP Concerning the Service of the Church

Book of Common Prayer 1662We 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
  • uniformity

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.

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9 thoughts on “BCP Concerning the Service of the Church”

  1. Jonathan Streeter

    It blows my mind that my ancestors in England emigrated to America the year this edition was published, based on their belief that Anglican church practices were corrupt and oppressive and had to be avoided at any cost — leaving behind everything they knew and moving to a very dangerous and scary new world. Personally, I look at the BCP as a very useful instrument of personal and corporate practice. (I suppose my forebears are rolling in their cold, stony New England graves).

    1. >>BCP as a very useful instrument of personal and corporate practice.<< You forget that it was a CIVIL crime with imprisonment as its consequence to gather your Christian friends in a home and read the Bible and talk it over. Bunyan was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel more than once and 11 years at one time, simply because he did not have a license from the Church of England. No one needs a license to read, share and worship but the call and liberty God gives us. When the instrument becomes a club it is wrong, even corrupt.

  2. This appears in the American 1979 BCP in the “historical documents” at p. 866.

    Some years ago, our parish was served by an interim priest who took his vows in the Church of England. He took seriously the part about daily Morning and Evening Prayer in the parish church, and it made a considerable difference in the parish’s spiritual life, even though only a handful of parishioners ever came. It likewise made a difference when he departed, leaving the Daily Offices to a handful of lay people, leading me to see how important it is for the parish priest to be visibly involved in this.

  3. Brian Poidevin

    Reading Jonathan’s remarks I have noted Diarmond McCulloch’s statement in, I think, the TLS that 2000 clergy left their parishes when the 1662 BCP was enforced. They included, I presume, the remarkable Richard Baxter.
    i have for years contented myself with the fine Everyman edition of the BCP. But i have bought the recent OUP edition with its fine introduction.
    Here in Australia the Communion Service seems little used, including, oddly, a few places in Sydney at early morning services.
    It survives mainly in Evensong in cathedrals but our parish here in rural Victoria celebrates sung Evensong on 1st Sunday of each month except January with a themed homily. The themes this year have included Vatican Council11, Patrick White and, this month the Queen’s 60th celebration. It was preached very sensitively by a republican cleric and followed by a bonfire and sparkling wine. The congregation was over 100. Most congregations, which include many non-regulars, are in 60+ range
    the comments on daily prayer are very relevant. As i have previously noted Evening prayer is conducted each evening in our main church- layl leaders on 5 days, clerical on two. Morning prayer is said from time to time when Holy Communion is not possible. We are looked on as a somewhat liberal catholic parish.
    Peace, Brian

  4. Well said. Thanks for publishing this portion of the BCP. I wish all ordained clergymen in the Church would follow the instruction of the Prayer Book and offer theses services. In British North America & US few do.

    1. Thanks for your visit and comment, “Christian Freedom”. Please, on this site, we tend to use our normal name rather than a pseudonym. It helps to keep our community here respectful even when there is disagreement. Blessings.

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