Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography

Article excerpt

The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography. By Alan Jacobs. Lives of Great Religious Books. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2013. ix + 236 pp. $24.95 (cloth).

This book is about the history of the Book of Common Prayer, from the beginning of the English Reformation to the present. It leads readers through the changes, and resistance to change, that have been a part of the history of the prayer book since it was first published. Alan Jacobs asserts that the prayer book has dramatically influenced not only Christianity but also social and political issues across the worldwide Anglican Communion.

This book engagingly leads readers through both the British and global history of the Book of Common Prayer. According to Jacobs, the Book of Common Prayer was initially written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to unite Britain through common prayer, and to strengthen peoples biblical knowledge by implementing standardized liturgies weaving scriptural sentences with traditional English liturgical prayers and phrases. However, as history progresses, the idea of what constitutes "common" prayer of necessity evolved.

The Book of Common Prayer is well known for the beauty of its English language. Nevertheless, as Anglicanism spread to other countries, rites were eventually translated into different languages. Jacobs shows that the beauty and integrity of the Book of Common Prayer does not depend on the language alone, but also on its life-enriching pastoral perspective. From Cranmer's earliest edition of the Book of Common Prayer, Anglican prayer book rites have offered a lifelong language of faith and prayer accompanying the faithful from birth to marriage (for those called to life in marriage), through sickness to the end of life, when even in the midst of death the burial rite brings hope and comfort to those who mourn.

Jacobs gives a thorough history on the controversies of the changes back and forth between traditionalist movements and reform movements. He asserts that during the time of the evangelicals' and the Latitudinarians' rejection of the book, the Anglo-Catholic movements of the church aided in both the preservation and the further development of Anglican spirituality and prayer.

This description of resistance to change resonates even in our own day in current tensions between using the traditional form of the Book of Common Prayer and more contemporary forms of liturgies. …

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