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 Issues | Book of Common Prayer |Short HIstory

A Short HIstory of the Prayer Book

Appendix : Prayer Book History Since 1662.

by Rev T.W. Gilbert

Since 1662 no essential changes have been made in the English Prayer Book.

An attempt in 1689 to produce a further revision acceptable to the Puritan interest fell through. In 1859 three forms of service to commemorate national occasions were removed by Royal warrant. These were concerned with the Gunpowder Plot (November 5th), the death of Charles I (January 30th)) and the Restoration of Charles I1 (May 29th); and while they had been printed in the Prayer Book, they never formed part of its true contents. In 1871 the Revised Lectionary (or Table of Lessons) was adopted. In 1872 the Act of Uniformity was amended, in order to permit shortened forms of service on weekdays, and additional services on Sundays. In 1922 a Revised Alternative Table of Lessons received statutory approval.

In 1927, and again in 1928, a serious attempt was made to revise the whole of the Prayer Book by Act of Parliament, after the proposals had passed the Church Assembly; but in both cases the attempt proved unsuccessful. This was due, undoubtedly, to certain doctrinal changes which were introduced) particularly in the Communion Service. E .g. “reservation” of the Sacrament and Mass Vestments were
permitted, and a new alternative “Canon” or Consecration Prayer was inserted. This Revised Prayer Book, as it is known) though now sanctioned by the bishops for general use in the Church) has no legal standing, since it lacks the assent of Parliament.


The Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church in Scotland dates back to 1637) the last revision being in 1912. It differs in many details from the English Prayer Book, but its most significant feature is the Scottish Communion Office, which is given precedence over the English Order of Holy Communion (allowed as an alternative). This was issued in its present form in 1764 and was based largely on that of the Prayer Book of 1549. Thus the Prayer of Consecration consists of four parts) viz., the Institution, the Oblation, the Invocation of the Holy Spirit) and the Prayer of Sacrifice (the first prayer after Con~munion in our English book). This is followed in turn by the Prayer for the Church, the Lord's Prayer, the Invitation (“Ye that do truly”) the Confession, Absolution) Comfortable Words, Prayer of Humble Access, and the Administration. The words of Administration are the same as in the 1549 Book - i.e., only the first half of the sentences. At the end of the Communion Office there are two short rubrics, permitting the mixed chalice, and reservation of the Sacrament for the sick. It is noteworthy that in this Office the title “presbyter” is used throughout.

The first American Prayer Book was issued in 1789. Various revisions appeared in subsequent years, the last being in 1928.  Since the American Church received its
Episcopal Orders in the first instance from Scotland, it is not surprising that the Communion Office is very similar to that of the Scottish Church. As in the case of the latter the Prayer of Consecration is fourfold (see above); but in other respects the
American Liturgy follows the order of the English, for the Prayer for the Church Militant, the Confession, Absolution, Comfortable Words and Prayer of Humble Access are placed before the Consecration, and both parts of the words of Administration are used. In general, the American Prayer Book is simply the English Prayer Book Americanized, with numerous minor variations and additions.


The Irish Prayer Book was issued in 1878, following the disestablishment of the Irish Church in 1871, and was revised in 1926. It is merely a non-doctrinal revision of the English Prayer Book on distinctly Protestant lines. Among the things definitely forbidden in the Canons appended to the Prayer Book are: Mass vestments; Eastward position; bowing to the Holy Table; the placing of lamps, candles or crosses on the Communion Table; the Mixed Chalice; elevation of the elements; the use of incense; etc. A number of additional services are provided at the end of the book, for Institutions, Harvest Festivals, Consecration of Churches and Churchyards and the Visitation of Prisoners.


Perhaps the most successful of all modem revisions is represented by the Canadian Prayer Book, issued in 1922 as the result of many years of most painstaking labour. It was clearly laid down that the book should not '”make or indicate any change in doctrines or principles of the Church of England in Canada.”  This injunction was faithfully obeyed. The effect was not merely to adapt the English Prayer Book to Canadian needs but to enrich it by the addition of many new prayers and forms of service. These latter include special services for Dominion Day, Children, Missions, Harvest etc. as well as Forms of Prayer to be used in Families. There is a practicaly new Lectionary and the Calendar has been revised. Eleven new sentences have been added at the beginning of Morning and Evening Piayer, while a note is appended to the Creed to explain that the words “He descended into hell” bear the meaning “He went into the place of departed spirits.”  The Litany contains half a dozen or so new petitions) and the Occasional Services are enriched in a number of ways. On the whole as it has been said, the Prayer Book of the Canadian Church represents a revision “that is at once democratic and conservative.... It maintains the essentials of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England,  while at the same time it is more adapted to the present-day life and larger outlook of the Anglican Church in the twentieth century” (Dyson Hague).

Note - The Church of the Province of South Africa which has separated itself from
the Church of England, has made its own variations of the liturgy.

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Short History (Gilbert) Pages
BulletPre Reformation Period
BulletFirst Prayer Book - 1549
BulletSecond Prayer Book - 1552
BulletThe Prayer Book of 1559
BulletThe Revision of 1604
BulletThe Revision of 1662
BulletRevision since 1662

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