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 Issues | Book of Common Prayer |Short HIstory

A Short HIstory of the Prayer Book

3. The First Prayer Book of 1549

by Rev T.W. Gilbert

It is impossible in a short compass to give anything but a brief summary of the main features of this first English Prayer Book, but the following will at all events indicate. some of its leading characteristics.

1. Morning and Evening Prayer began with the Lord's Prayer and ended with the third Collect, and there was no Jubilate, Cantate, or Deus Misereatur as in our present Book.

2. The Litany was printed after the Holy Communion, and contained a petition for deliverance from the Pope.

3. Holy Baptism took place partly at the Church door, and various medieval  ceremonies were retained, such as the placing of a Chrisom or white robe upon the infant, and the Exorcism of the supposed evil spirit from the child.

4. In the Confirmation Office the Catechism was printed as part of the service and ended at the explanation of the Lord's Prayer, whilst the sign of the Cross was used as in Baptism.

5. In the Visitation of the Sick, Absolution was to be used “in all private confessions,” and Extreme Unction was provided and Reservation authorised.

6. Reservation was authorised, but only for use on the day of an “open Communion.”

7. The Burial Service contained Prayers for the Dead, the soul was commended to God, and a celebration of the Holy Communion was provided.

8. In the Holy Communion Office:

i. There were no Ten Commandments and Responses.

ii. The Gloria in Excelsis stood at the beginning of the service.

iii. In the preface immediately before the Prayer of Consecration occurs the Benedictus qui venit or “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord . . . “

iv. The Canon or Prayer of Consecration comprised the portion of our present service commencing “Lift up your hearts” to “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and was followed by the Prayer for the Church, the Consecration Prayer of our present book and the first Prayer of Thanksgiving after Communion of our present book, and ended with the Lord's Prayer.

v. In the Canon, moreover, are to be noted a Prayer for the Dead, a Prayer for the Holy Spirit to sanctify the elements of bread and wine, and a reference to “making the memorial” by means of the bread and wine.

vi. Only the first sentence of our present words of Administration was used.

vii. The Agnus Dei was to be sung “at Communion time.”

viii.  Special Eucharistic Vestments were ordered, i.e., “a white Albe plain with a vestment or cope.”

Like all great innovations, the 1549 Prayer Book met with a mingled reception, but there were many things to be said in its favour. First of all was the fact that the book was in English and, therefore, could be used by everybody, and also its comparatively small bulk made it far more usable than the ponderous volumes of the Sarum Use. Then again the simplicity of its arrangement commended it because of its contrast to the complexity of the former service books, whilst the more continuous arrangement for the reading of Holy Scripture caused it to be welcomed by a people for whom the Bible had now become for the first time an open book. The large amount of Scripture found in the Lessons, Epistles, Gospels, Canticles and Psalms was in strong contrast to the old service books, and showed how the religious feelings of the Reformers found their natural support in the Word of God. The omission of some of the old superstitious customs and also the leaving out of such doctrines as the Invocation of Saints showed something of the influence which the Reformation was having upon the compilers of the book.

Its distinctly English character, moreover, commended it on the one side because it was mainly a revision of the old service books of the English church, whilst it gained approbation from others because the compilers retained the older forms of prayer. In the days also when Church and State were identical terms men welcomed a book which created a uniform type of service for the English people, which did away with the varying diocesan Uses, and thus tended to develop the corporate national feeling.

On the other hand there was inevitably a good deal of opposition to its use. The simple peasants of Cornwall and Devon who opposed the book were typical of the many people who disliked any change in religious custon~s or teaching; but the book was attacked in other ways. Some of the Reformers objected, and with a certain amount of truth, to the appearance of Lutheranism in the Holy Communion Office, whilst others, such as Hooper, disliked it as very little different from the Mass. A fair examination of the book leads to the conclusion that the structure of the Holy Communion Office in it can be interpreted in two completely opposite ways. It may be interpreted in a way that any upholder of the Reformation will agree with, and it can be interpreted in a manner agreeable to those who are entirely opposed to the Reformation.

How readily the book lent itself to such treatment can be understood by noticing some of the alternatives in it. The title of the Office of Holy Communion, for instance, refers to the service both as the “Holy Communion” and as the “Mass.”  The clergy could use a “vestment,” i.e., the Chasuble, which symbolised the old doctrine of the Mass, or “a cope,” which had no doctrinal significance. The Holy Table was described as the “Altar” and also as “God's board.”  Hence it was not surprising that the book received such different interpretations. Cranmer and those responsible for its issue naturally interpreted it in a Protestant manner; Bishop Gardiner and others used the service with the old ceremonies and interpreted it in the old way. The Prayer Book of 1549, therefore, assumed the character of a compromise satisfactory to nobody, and it is significant that it was not reprinted after the year it was issued.


>> The Second Prayer Book of 1552

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BulletFirst Prayer Book - 1549
BulletSecond Prayer Book - 1552
BulletThe Prayer Book of 1559
BulletThe Revision of 1604
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