2012: 35th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer

This has been a year of celebrations – we celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in true British weather and we cheered on our athletes and sportspeople in the Olympics and Paralympics.  We celebrated finding a new sense of community and fellowship as we welcomed visitors from around the world to London.

One anniversary that will probably pass most people by, though, is the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer – the 1662 Prayerbook as it is often known.  Composed and compiled two years after the restoration of the monarchy, which brought Charles II to the throne, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was a revision of Archbishop Cranmer’s prayer book of 1552.  An earlier version was written by Cranmer in 1549; the 1552 was more radical in its reformation theology but the services still resemble the services from the medieval Latin Sarum rite translated into English.  The 1662 version also retains some of the poetry of Cranmer.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer became the service book of the Church of England after the years of the commonwealth, when the country had been under the rule of puritans – radical protestants remembered now for banning the celebration of Christmas.  The Preface to the Book of Common Prayer comments on the suspension of the liturgy during this period:

By what undue means, and for what mischievous purposes the use of the Liturgy (though enjoined by the Laws of the Land, and those Laws never yet repealed) came, during the late unhappy confusions, to be discontinued, is too well known to the world, and we are not willing here to remember.

While Cranmer’s theology was radical (and he was executed under the Catholic regime of Queen Mary), the Book of Common Prayer seems to reflect the attempts to be conciliatory and tolerant that have come to be the hallmark of the Church of England (there are those who think that this desire to be all things to all people has led to a compromised church that stands for nothing much – but I don’t intend entering that debate).  The Preface to the Book of Common Prayer opens with the claim that it is ‘the wisdom of the Church of England’ that it keeps the mean between two extremes; and concludes:

And having thus endeavoured to discharge our duties in this weighty affair, as in the sight of God, and to approve our sincerity therein (so far as lay in us) to the consciences of all men; although we know it impossible (in such variety of apprehensions, burnouts and interests, as are in the world) to please all; nor can expect that men of factious, peevish, and perverse spirits should be satisfied with any thing that can be done in this kind by any other than themselves: Yet we have good hope, that what is here presented, and hath been by the Convocations of both Provinces with great diligence examined and approved, will be also well accepted and approved by all sober, peaceable, and truly conscientious Sons of the Church of England

So, it may be impossible to please everyone all the time, but there are those who think the Book of Common Prayer – the liturgy used throughout the Church of England from 1662 until the twentieth century – is worth commemorating and remembering.

The 1762 printing of the Book of Common Prayer was by John Baskerville:

‘Baskerville was one of the giants of English typography, making a number of innovations, including the Baskerville typeface still in use today. His typefaces were finely constructed, his designs simple, and spare, and made great use of white space. He also pioneered in developing fine papers for printing.’

 For more on this and other versions of the Book of Common Prayer, see

http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1662/baskerville.htm

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