I have in my own possession an 1824 Book of Common Prayer belonging to my ancestor "John Hill of Appleby", annotated in a spidery hand with the dates of services attended in other parishes and who preached that day. In a particularly devout stage of my growing up, I used Grandfather John's prayer book in my own church in far flung Melbourne. The words of the "modern" service I attended were exactly the same as those in the 1824 book which in turn would have been totally familiar to a worshipper in 1663.
|John Hill's 1824 BCP with original kid cover|
The BCP did not spring from the printing presses in 1662 without a considerable history preceding it. Until the Reformation of the English Church beginning under Henry VIII, the form of service used in worship was the Latin rite, the forms of which were found in the Missal (the Communion), the Breviary, the Manual and the Pontifical, accompanied by prescribed music or chant found in the Gradual (for masses) and the Antiphoner (for chants).
|Cranmer's Prayer Book of 1549|
The puritans, who had been gaining strength in the latter years of Elizabeth's reign sent representatives. They strenuously demanded the discontinuance of the Sign of the cross in Baptism, of bowing at the name of Jesus, of the ring in marriage, and of the rite of confirmation. They sought to have the words “priest” and “absolution” expunged from the Prayer Book, and the wearing of the surplice should be made optional. None of these points were conceded.
The ascenscion of Charles I to the throne and the increasing perception of a Romanisation" of the Church of England was one of the causes of the English Civil War. Charles I was defeated at Naseby and in 1645, Parliament repealed the statutes of Edward VI and of Elizabeth that had enjoined the use of the Book of Common Prayer. It was decreed that only such divine service should be lawful as accorded with what was called the Directory, a manual of suggestions with respect to public worship adopted by the Presbyterian party as a substitute for the ancient liturgy.
In 1660 Charles II returned to the throne of England (one of the Services of Thanksgiving in the 1662 version of the BCP to be held on January 29th) and immediately discussion began on an appropriate form of worship for the restored "Church of England". In his personal life, Charles leaned towards Catholocism (and is rumoured to have converted in his last years). He was, however, a consummate politician and in order to mend his broken country, divided as it was between the Presbyterians who had held sway in the years of the Interregnum and the traditional churchmen of his father's reign. He did what all good policitians do, he formed a committee.
Early in the spring of 1661 the King issued a royal warrant summoning an equal number of representatives of both parties—21 Churchmen (consisting of 12 Bishops and 9 other clergy) and 21 Presbyterians (12 principal men and their lesser coajutors). The "Savoy Conference" convened in April 1661 at the old Savoy Palace on the Strand. The canny King had secretly treated with both sides of the table and while the Bishops entered the conference, confident in the King's favour, the Presbyterians believed they too had the King's ear. However "possession is 9/10 of the law" and the party holding the upper hand were naturally the Episcopalians (the Bishops). They had only to profess themselves satisfied with the Prayer Book as it stood, in order to throw the
Presbyterians into the position of assailants, and defense is always easier than attack. The Presbyterians took up the challenge and set to work at formulating their objections (producing their "Exceptions to the Book of Common Prayer"). They appointed Richard Baxter, the most famous of their number, to show what could be done in the way of making a better manual of worship than the proposed Book of Common Prayer. Baxter, may have been a wise man but his attempt to undertake to construct a prayer book within a fortnight was a disaster...the first sentence alone contained 83 words.
The four months allowed for the conference ran out and the conference disbanded with no resolution having been reached. In the meantime the Convocation, the recognized legislature of the Church of England, had begun to sit, and the bishops undertook a complete revision of the Prayer Book with slight regard to what they had been hearing from their critics at the Savoy. The bulk of their work, which included, it is said, more than six hundred alterations, most of them of a verbal character and of no great importance, was accomplished within the compass of a single month passed by the Convocation and approved by Parliament. It is that revision that became the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER 1662.
The House of Lords Journal records that "...the Act of Uniformity was given Royal Assent on 19 May 1662. The final clause of the Act of Uniformity stated that: "...XXXII. Provided also, That the Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of this Church of England, together with the Form and Manner of Ordaining and Consecrating Bishops, Priests and Deacons, heretofore in Use, and respectively established by Act of Parliament in the first and eighth Years of Queen Elizabeth, shall be still used and observed in the Church of England, until the Feast of St. Bartholomew, which shall be in the Year of our Lord God one thousand six hundred sixty and two…"
On St. Bartholomew's Day (24 August 1662) the new Book of Common Prayer came into use and that single book stood alone and essentially unaltered for three hundred years until the reform movements of the 1960s and 1970s. I recall the outcry that occurred in my own church when the New Australian Prayer Book was introduced. They had dared to change the Lord's Prayer (!) and I have noticed that, even forty years later, the tendency, in times of stress, is to revert to the 1662 version of the Lord's Prayer ("Our father which art in heaven...") and it is probably that version that most English speakers over the age of 40 can still recite word for word.
|Charles II Warrant of 1661|
It is probably one of the lesser known facts about me that I am a Lay Preacher in the Anglican Church of Australia and the idea for this post came to me while I was leafing through the current prayer book during one of the vicar's sermons! Bring back the service for King Charles the Martyr I say!
*As a young law student I quickly learned that JUDGEMENT (spelt with an "e") was the correct spelling for judgements of God, a JUDGMENT (without an "e") is confined to the secular world.
**I am indebted to the Reverend William Reed, Rector of Grace Church, New York for his 1892 dissertation, A SHORT HISTORY OF THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER for this article.