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Book of Common Prayer 1549

Common Prayer is Broken

Book of Common Prayer 1549

I have two blog posts in mind: this one – in which I write about Common Prayer being broken; and a future one – in which I will show that there is still some common prayer, and that when and where there is, it’s cool!

Let’s not pretend that in the earliest church what happened in Community A was identical to what happened in Community B on the same day. In time, there was evolution and then survival of the fittest – we can say this is how the Holy Spirit works: it is how the canon of the New Testament developed (which “books” are in; which “books” are out); it is how church leadership and governance developed (bishops, priest, deacons). And, as I said, it is how liturgy, common prayer, developed.

There were disagreements, of course. And divisions. And decisions made and imposed (Easter Day will always be on a Sunday,…). Major divisions in common prayer fed into and out of the East-West divide, entrenched from 1054 AD.

The Reformation didn’t help (surprise!) – as fragmentation continues to this day.

However, on the other common prayer hand, England had a number of “uses” at the time of the Reformation. The Book of Common Prayer (as its name indicates) put paid to much of that. In The Preface in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) [this preface became Concerning the Service of the Church in later editions of the Book of Common Prayer]. There we read:

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.

Concerning the Service of the Church

The Council of Trent did similar unifying of rites for Roman Catholics.

But this has been fragmenting. Anglican provinces developed their own Prayer Books. Vatican II introduced Roman Catholics to the vernacular services several centuries after the Reformation had to others. One Eucharistic Prayer became many; there were alternative Gathering rites; and so forth.

Roman Catholics can be assured that Parish A and neighbouring Parish B will have the same readings on the same day, and wear essentially the same vesture – but beyond that, most of the service, verbally at least, can be significantly different. In Anglicanism, the differences may be even greater. A significant proportion of the week may now be spent preparing the details of Sunday services!

It is the contemporary version of the time, prior to the Book of Common Prayer, that it took to find out what to pray – than to pray it once it had been found:

Moreover, 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.

Concerning the Service of the Church

The days of a Cranmer and of obeying a centralised authority have passed.

As I said in my book Celebrating Eucharist:

Services in The Book of Common Prayer have often been likened to “meals on wheels.” They were centrally prepared, and then warmed and dished up locally. One began at the beginning of the service, reading most of it until one reached the end of it. Services in A New Zealand Prayer Book are more like “frozen peas,” or maybe a basket of groceries and a recipe book. A core of essential material is provided with some further resources, other content is added locally. Many will be surprised that the obligatory material from any of the eucharistic liturgies (pages 404-510) takes only about six minutes to recite. Most of the rest of the service is locally chosen. The quality of the meal is now much more dependent on the local “cook”!

Chapter 1 – Liturgy

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2 thoughts on “Common Prayer is Broken”

  1. I think clergy and lay church leaders should really spend time with people in the pews who simply want to worship.

    People in the pews are fine with a bulletin that has all the stuff. Even though it takes the church office, lay professionals, and clergy an inordinate time to choose, check, review, edit, and print all those bulletins.

    People in the pews are fine with a prayer book … that works. A book that isn’t more complicated than a choose-your-own adventure novel with “if you want to do this, turn to page X, and if you want to do this, turn to page y” or “We’re not even going to tell you what could or should or must be inserted here, but you’ll have to figure something out either by intuition, practice, or reading a rubric in another section entirely”!

    Imagine if we saw liturgy as the work of the people in the pews, not just the clergy and the very educated laity, all those people who love all their personal liturgical preferences and love all the choices that can be made, because it means the people in the pews simply have to follow what decisions they make.

    1. Bosco Peters

      Thanks, Joseph,
      I recently wrote about the value of all the service in one simple pamphlet – I think it is especially useful for helping visitors and new people… I’m not as convinced as you appear to be that preparing this be basically a full-time, paid equivalent.
      You and I certainly agree about challenging the practice in many communities that worship is essentially a dictatorship (or oligarchy).
      Easter Season Blessings.

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