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The Book of Common Prayer

*Printed in Sunday’s Welcome Message

Roskam (1)The service leaflet you have in your hand contains the text of the service you are about to experience. All the text is taken from the Book of Common Prayer. If you are curious about the book, you will find one in the pew rack right there by your knee. 

The very first prayer book of our Anglican tradition was written and compiled by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1549. It has undergone a number of revisions over the centuries, but each revision has kept the values of the original in mind—linguistic excellence, poetic utterance, true piety, fidelity to ancient rite, and scriptural foundation. It is estimated that about 70% of our prayer book is from scripture. Many of the prayers we retain, although updated from Elizabethan English, are Thomas Cranmer’s own.

The latest revision, the 1979 Prayer Book, offers four options for Eucharistic prayers and six options for the Prayers of the People, making the service a bit hard to follow using the book, especially for newcomers, so many churches began printing leaflets containing the service as it was being done on that particular Sunday Leaflets are an asset in that their user friendliness facilitates the participation of the congregation. The downside has been the erosion of understanding of the centrality of the Book of Common Prayer to our identity as Episcopalians and Anglicans. Common prayer has defined us for the last 500 years. Our character as a church was given not by Henry the VIII but by Elizabeth I, who as part of the Elizabethan Settlement, decreed regular attendance at Sunday worship using the Book of Common Prayer as mandatory (or be fined 12 pence!).

Elizabeth had seen the damage religious conflict had done to the country in her half-sister “Bloody Mary”’s reign and wanted to bring peace and tolerance to England again by creating a middle of the road religious settlement that would enable Catholics and Protestants to live together in peace. Elizabeth famously declared that she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls”. She believed that “there is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith, all else is a dispute over trifles”. 

And thus was born our ethos of inclusion and broadmindedness, observed better during some time periods than others, but still recognized as Anglican to this day.