Thursday, 3 May 2012

Happy 350th Birthday BCP!


Today (2nd May, when I wrote this) marks the official 350th anniversary of the historic service book of the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer (1662).

The BCP (first edition 1549, revised in 1552 and again in 1662) bears the imprint of significant Lutheran influence, not only from Myles Coverdale's translation of the Psalter and the Augsburg Confession's influence upon the theology of the 39 Articles appended to most editions, but also in the liturgical language and forms (the inclusion of  Luther's Morning Prayer, for e.g.; one of Thomas Cranmer's liturgical sources was the Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander, whose niece he married), although Calvinist influence was also apparent in the 1552 revision. In turn the BCP influenced Lutheran liturgies in English-speaking lands, including Australia, where at least one Lutheran congregation (St Stephen's, Adelaide) used modified versions of the BCP services after switching to English (c WWI) until the Lutheran Common Service was introduced via American Lutheranism.

The 1662 edition of the BCP remains the official service book of the Church of England and local varations exist wherever Anglicanism has taken root - although modern service orders have increasingly replaced BCP usage, but that's another subject. I have to confess that the BCP is one of my "desert island books"; as a child the Authorised Version of the Bible and the BCP were the only two books we had in the house, my almae matres studiorum, so to speak, as I spent a lot of time pouring over both and trying to determine the date of Easter decades into the future via the tables of Golden Numbers and Dominical Letters in the BCP - very useful if one were actually to be stranded on a desert island ! I still use the BCP for personal devotions, but don't spread that around :0)

An on-line version of the 1662 BCP can be found here.

Here's an article from Ecumenical News International:   
(ENInews). "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." "All the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil." "Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest."

Shakespeare? The King James Bible? Close -- the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the liturgical and literary masterpiece that (next to the previous two sources) has helped shape the English language and marks its 350th anniversary this year.

St. Paul's Cathedral in London celebrates the occasion on 2 May with a special service of evensong, or evening prayer, from the 1662 volume, often shortened to the BCP or Prayer Book. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is to attend, along with members of Prayer Book societies in Australia, Canada and the U.K. that are dedicated to keeping the work alive.

"I hope and pray that people in Britain and around the English-speaking world realize the importance of this great work," Prudence Dailey, Chair of the Prayer Book Society in the U.K., told ENInews.

The service is the flagship of a nationwide series of events that includes an exhibit at Lambeth Palace Library that acknowledges the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, looking at the relationship between the monarchy and the Prayer Book. It includes a copy of the first Prayer Book, published in 1549, and the copy used at Queen Victoria's wedding.

The anniversary actually refers to the revised edition that still stands as the official doctrinal standard of the Church of England and most other churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

After Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer set out to replace the Latin missal with a book of liturgical services and prayers in English that would also incorporate theological changes, such as less prominence for saints.

The Prayer Book now appears in many variants in the 77-million member Anglican Communion and has influence the liturgical texts of other denominations.

It has proved "very adaptable over the centuries and has been used in many contexts. Many people do prefer the less convoluted language of modern services but the influence of the old Prayer Book permeates the new versions, with many prayers incorporated with minimal changes," the Rev. Gordon Jeanes, a former lecturer in church history at the University of Wales, who appeared at a symposium on the BCP last March at the British Academy in London, told ENInews.

The book's language -- another phrase is "till death us do part" from the marriage service -- resonates even today, said Bishop Stephen Platten of Wakefield (Yorkshire), chair of the Church of England's Liturgical Commission. "Even in an apparently secular world, large numbers come to have their children christened or baptized. The cadences of the Prayer Book have become part of a treasury of prayers and reflections that have helped to fashion people's lives," he told ENInews.

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