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 Issues | Liturgy | 1552 Prayer Book

The Reformed Worship of 1552 - Second Prayer Book of Edward VI (1552)

 

A Brief History 

By God's grace the accession of Edward VI in 1547 permitted the acceleration of the reformation of the Church of England.   Some changes were made almost immediately but it was not until March 1548 that the first new services were issued in the form of an English supplement to the latin mass.   Ten months later in January 1549 the First Prayer Book of Edward VI was introduced accompanied by an Act of Uniformity.   This book took a momentous step away from the errors of the medieval liturgies and did away with most of the unscriptural practices.   However, it left several corners unswept and, more importantly, whilst representing a purge of the past it was not a liturgy that had been shaped by reformed principles.

 

There followed three significant steps leading up to a truly reformed liturgy.   First, the order was made to destroy stone altars and replace them with wooden tables. Secondly, Cranmer issued his Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament in which he set out his understanding of the nature of the sacrament and refuted the errors that had grown up contrary to scripture.   Thirdly, work progressed on the new Articles of Religion which were finally published in 1553.

 

So it was that the Second Prayer Book was published and authorised for use from All Saints Day 1552.   It was not well received by many and with the death of Edward the following year and the accession of Mary the book itself was in use for only a very short time.   With three specific alterations, reportedly at the request of Queen Elizabeth herself, the book was re-instated and authorised for use from May 8 1559.   Over the next century the book underwent a number of changes, mostly in the rubrics, and was banned for a while during the commonwealth.   Finally the texts of 1552 formed the substance of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.   Undoubtedly there were many who had a hand in the production of the 1552 book but the lions share of the credit has always gone to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.   He sought to build his liturgy on sound scriptural principles whilst borrowing from what was good in tradition and contemporary practice.

 

The importance of good liturgy

Good liturgy requires both sound doctrine and the eloquent use of language.   More recent attempts at liturgy have failed to combine these too successfully.   Whilst some modern liturgy does make effective use of language and some of the texts produced in recent decades have proved memorable, often they have been defective in doctrine.   In contrast many evangelical attempts at liturgy, whilst admirable in doctrinal content often seem flat and unmemorable as a piece of liturgy.   In the goodness of God the two elements were combined in Cranmer's liturgy.   It is intriguing that there are many today who love the language of the Book of Common Prayer whilst rejecting its primary doctrinal foundations, whilst others rejoice in its doctrine but would prefer something less archaic in word and phrase.   Cranmer's liturgy has been remarkable in the way that it has shaped the doctrine of the Church of England whilst also influencing the English language.

 

This article is based on a Cross†Way article (no. 86 2002) which is available for download.

See also under the Doctrine Pages

 

Church Society articles on liturgy

Cranmer and the Lord's Supper. Cross†Way article describing how Cranmer sought to base the 1552 Communion Service on clear biblical principles.

 

1552 And All That (or how twentieth century revisions have eroded the insights of the Reformers in the Communion Services of the Church of England) Churchman article by David Wheaton

 

'For the More Explanation' and 'For the More Perfection': Cranmer's Second Prayer Book. Churchman article by Roger Beckwith describing the improvements of the 1552 Prayer Book compared to the 1549 Prayer Book.

 

Cranmer-Psychologist as well as Theologian.

The services of 1552, which were principally the work of Thomas Cranmer, show not only sound theology but also shrewd psychology. Cross†Way article by David Wheaton.

 

Small Steps - Big Leaps.

There were many apparently small changes between the first and second prayer books of the reign of Edward VI (1549 and 1552) which actually represent major steps in the reformation of the Church of England. Cross†Way article by David Phillips.

 

Click here for link to 1552 Communion Service

Click here to go to 'useful links' page where towards the end of the page there is a link to a website with the full text of the 1552 Prayer Book.

 

 

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