Book of Common Prayer

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Book of Common Prayer

Book of Common Prayer, title given to the service book used in the Church of England and in other churches of the Anglican Communion. The first complete English Book of Common Prayer was produced, mainly by Thomas Cranmer, in 1549 under Edward VI. Essentially it was a selection and translation from the breviary and the missal, with some additions from other sources. It was made compulsory by the Act of Uniformity (1549). Revision, undertaken by Cranmer, resulted in the Prayer Book of 1552, which showed the influence of foreign reformers then resident in England, for it made possible a wide diversity of views regarding the Eucharist, all justified by this official service book. The prayer book was in use only about eight months before Queen Mary's repeal legislation restored Roman Catholicism in England. In 1559, under Elizabeth I, the Prayer Book of 1552 was restored in a slightly altered version. From 1645 to 1660, under the Commonwealth and Protectorate, the prayer book was suppressed. In a new revision after the Restoration, it was again declared the only legal service book for use in England by an Act of Uniformity (1662). Alterations in the 1662 revision were largely those making for liturgical improvement. In 1927 a revised form was submitted to Parliament, whose approval was (and is) still required, and passed by the House of Lords but rejected by the Commons; it was resubmitted (with certain modifications) in 1928 and again rejected. Nonetheless, the revised prayer book was quite widely adopted in the Church of England with episcopal approval. This situation was finally legalized by the Prayer Book Measure, passed by Parliament in 1965. In addition to authorizing revisions already in use, the act approved the experimental use of new forms of worship drawn up by a liturgical commission; the Alternative Service Book (ASB) was adopted in 1980 and authorized for use alongside the Book of Common Prayer until the end of 2000. Revision of ASB is underway and under the general title Common Worship some revisions have already been authorized and published. In 1789, when the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States met, a revised version of the Book of Common Prayer was adopted; it embodied such changes as were required by the new conditions. In the U.S. Episcopal Church, as in other churches of the Anglican Communion over which the British Parliament has no control, there has been greater freedom in liturgical revision; the last U.S. revision of the Book of Common Prayer was in 1979.

See histories of the prayer book by J. H. Blunt (1868) and F. E. Brightman (2d ed. 1921, repr. 1970); J. W. Suter and G. J. Cleaveland, The American Book of Common Prayer (1949); M. H. Shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (1950); G. Cuming, A History of Anglican Liturgy (1969, repr. 1980); B. Cummings, ed., The Book of Common Prayer (2011); D. Swift, Shakespeare's Common Prayers (2012).

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