Magazine article History Today

The First Book of Common Prayer January 15th, 1549

Magazine article History Today

The First Book of Common Prayer January 15th, 1549

Article excerpt

The Act of Uniformity passed by the House of Lords on January 15th, 1549, abolished the Latin mass in England. Prayers in English had already been included in the Latin services, and complete English services had been introduced at St Paul's and other London churches, but now for the first time the only legal services throughout the country were to be those in English provided in the new Book of Common Prayer, which was issued with the Act. With effect from Whit Sunday they were to supersede the old Sarum Use, the most widely used Latin liturgy in the British Isles, together with the York Use, the Hereford Use and minor variants employed in other dioceses and cathedrals. The new book was approved by a committee of thirteen clerics who had met during the previous September and October. It was drafted by Thomas Cranmer, who had been working privately on a new liturgy for several years and whose prose has been one of the glories of the English language ever since.

Cranmer, who was sixty in 1549, had been Archbishop of Canterbury since 1533, when he was appointed by Henry VIII at the prompting of Anne Boleyn. A quiet, clam, courteous man of scholarly bent, liked by almost everyone who knew him, he was no zealot and he spent less than a quarter of each day on running the Church of England. Three-quarters of his day was given to private work and study, and he kept time also for riding, walking, shooting and playing chess. The gateway to Protestant reform had yawned open when Henry VIII died in 1547, to be replaced by the nine-year-old Edward VI, with government in the hands of the Duke of Somerset as Protector. Under pressure from hawkish Protestants, crucifixes and images of saints were taken from churches, communion was administered to the laity in both kinds - the bread and the wine - masses for the dead were banned and the clergy were allowed to marry (Cranmer himself had married in 1532 while clerical marriage was still illegal). …

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