BCPThis year is the 350th anniversary year of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon, preaching earlier this month in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, on this topic, made some good points:

“Central to these reforms [the Church seeking to preserve much of its ancient order, while also adopting many of the new religious ideas and concepts from continental Europe] would be a common prayer book for all the people, expressed in the vernacular. While a noble ideal, the task proved to be far more difficult. Many versions and editions were put forward with varying degrees of success—most notably the prayer books of 1549 and 1552—but it was not until 1662 that a Book of Common Prayer emerged which met the needs and caught the imagination of those who sought to express the new reformed faith in a widely acceptable form of worship.”

“The Book of Common Prayer didn’t seek compromise between opposing positions; instead, it sought to include very diverse positions into one liturgical rite. The Book is profoundly inclusive,”

“In its theology, it outlines a method which is profoundly inclusive; as liturgy, it gives substance to the integration of worship and teaching lex orandi, lex credendi (‘the language of worship is the language of belief’); and the way it uses words leads the worshipper into realms of religious imagination which are ultimately inexpressible.”

Interestingly, as Secretary-General of the Communion, he claimed that nowhere in the Communion do Anglican Churches regard liturgical revisions as formularies. That is, of course, quite incorrect. In the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia our prayer book A New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearo is certainly enshrined in our Constitution as a formulary of our Church.

In this post I also want to highlight some comments of Steve Benjamin, a regular here:

During a period of ecclesial abandonment, the BCP 1662 became a portable church for me and sustained me in the faith in a period of exile.

The Daily Offices kept me nourished by the Word of God. I learnt that the BCP pattern was more important than the full content and discovered the various time-hallowed ways of abbreviating, shortening and combining the services without violating basic rules of liturgical order.

On Red Letter Days and Sundays I kept in sync with the liturgical year by celebrating the Service of Ante-communion (aka a ‘Dry Mass’ or the Lord’s Supper up to when a priest is absolutely necessary, ie the end of the Prayer for the Church Militant).

I learnt that Mattins, Litany and Ante-communion had been the staple of C of E worship on Sunday morning for centuries and could be a worthwhile way of keeping the Lord’s Day if one was prepared to put in the time and effort.

I even celebrated the Service of Commination on Ash Wednesday and enjoyed its fire and brimstone Exhortation with the added frisson of knowing, that like most robust expressions of faith, it had been banned from public celebration, at least in the Anglican Church of Or.

I started to welcome second-hand BCP’s into my liturgical retirement village and would carry a pocket BCP around with me like a talisman. Whenever I was in a waiting-room or queue I’d turn to the Psalms (how good is Coverdale’s translation? – 477 years old and still gracious in rhythm and cadence) or read the Sunday Collect, Epistle and Gospel. No other book has been printed in such portable versions with such legible print and good binding.

Anglicans do well to remember that, other than our Saviour, we have no founding personality who looms large over our tradition, nor a charismatic figure leaving his or her mark on our ecclesial community. We have a public prayer book: a comprehensive liturgical text which has shaped and structured our hearing of God’s Word and celebration of the Sacraments for over 400 years.

In its short compass we go from Advent Sunday to All Saints’ Day, from birth to death, from the apostolic ministry to the principles of reformed theology, from curious almanacs to work out the most pivotal date of the Christian year to a lectionary of readings conveniently linked to the calendar month. All in a book which is 75% derived from Scripture and retains Cranmer’s matchless translations of those liturgical haikus of the Western church: the collects.

In this commemorative year I hope to participate in a full BCP Mattins as I have yet to experience this service. I wonder if I might also hear the BCP Litany as this would also be a first. I’m resigned to being born 100 years too late to experience the full force of the Commination Service in a congregational setting – liturgy at its most hard-core!

With regard to the flexible use of the BCP, I have no sites as references as I was thinking of the various approaches towards simplifying the BCP (especially the Daily Offices), found chiefly in books for popular devotion such as the pre-Puritan English Primers and Bishop Cosin’s Book of Hours of Prayer.

Proctor and Frere in A New History of the BCP (1929 edition, pg 223) refers to the custom of ‘Short Morning Prayers’ in the 17th century being celebrated in churches at an early hour. Popular twentieth century office books (often for church school use) provided Shortened Mattins and Evensong orders which after the opening versicles and responses, provide a simple structure of a single psalm or psalm portion, one Lesson, a single canticle, Apostles’ Creed, Lesser Litany, Lord’s Prayer, Preces and collect(s). This is very similar to how the Church of England restructured its Daily Office in its Alternative Service Book 1980.

The extremely popular green Shorter Prayer Book incorporated many features of the 1928 BCP but also gave outlines of how to combine Mattins with Holy Communion (conclude Mattins after the second canticle and begin the Communion Office, pg 12); how to simplify the Litany (omit some of the suffrages ad libitum and omit the entire Supplication, pg 29); and how to use a form of the Litany as a preparation for Holy Communion, pg 29.

These approaches and the desire for flexibility eventually resulted in the so-called Shortened Services Act of 1872 (or The Act of Uniformity Amendment Act). The way the legislation envisaged the simplification of the BCP violated many liturgical norms but it gave legal authority to reshape the BCP orders when pastorally appropriate and has had long lasting effects despite some of its dubious directions (eg the omission of the integral second Lord’s Prayer at Mattins or Evensong).

In this 350th anniversary year of the BCP, it’s worth noting how the Shortened Services Act in 1872 unbound the strictures of BCP worship and gave room for a form of liturgical innovation. New non-eucharistic services could be compiled for the first time as long as their contents derived from the Bible and the BCP. The Act of Uniformity was giving way to the freedom of the Spirit – in an Anglican sort of a way.

Thank you Steve, and the many others in our community here who continue to enrich and challenge certainly me, at least, and I am sure many, many others.

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