Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How we use the BCP, part 2

From my comments in the previous post, you’ll have seen that there’s not just one prayer book, but at least three. Here’s a quick history.

Some history
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canturbury, wrote the first one in 1549 under Edward VI. It was revised a during the reign of Mary I and again after her death. In 1662, after the Civil War, it received a major revision and this one is still the official prayer book of the Church of England, although since the 1980s most churches have been using officially sanctioned alternative service books. How this is different from an official prayer book I really don’t know.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer would be the one Charlotte Mason was familiar with. I haven’t read much of Charlotte Mason, but I’ve seen words from the Holy Communion service on a couple of occasions that I can think of—once she mentions the Sursum Corda (Priest: “Lift up your hearts.” Answer: “We lift them up unto the Lord.”) and once I remember her using the words “this our bounden duty and service,” when referring to raising children, which comes from the post-communion prayer. I just point that out in case anyone’s interested in reading the book that influenced her.

In America, after the War for Independence, the Prayer Book was revised to take out prayers for the Queen and substitute prayers for the President, and a few other changes of that nature. It received minor revisions in 1892 and in 1928, and a major revision in 1979. The Anglican church we belong to is not part of the mainline denomination, and we use the 1928 BCP, but the 1979 was the first that we used and we’ve continued to use it for prayers at home, although we use the lectionary from the 1928 so we’ll be reading the same Scriptures during the week as other members of our church.

Now some prayers
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has a section called Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families that has four brief prayer services: “In the Morning,” “At Noon,” “In the Early Evening,” and “At the Close of Day.” These are the simplest forms, so I’m starting here. Below is a link to a document you can download and use (all of the American prayer books are in the public domain).

Here are a few tips about the service.

It’s customary for the leader to begin the service by saying, “The Lord be with you.” The proper response is “And also with you,” (1979) or “And with thy spirit,” (1928). Then the leader says, “Let us pray,” and begins with the first line, “Open my lips, O Lord.” You don’t read the headers—“From Psalm 51” and so forth. Just jump into the text.

That opening verse is read responsively, with the leader reading up to the star, then the congregation reading the indented lines.

The directions in small italics are optional. The Lord’s Prayer is not optional and is said by everyone. Since the text is not included in the document below, I’ll include it here:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

If you’re from a non-liturgical tradition, you’ll notice that the language is a little different than what you might be used to. That’s because the first English language Bible authorized for use in the Church of England was Miles Coverdale’s 1538 version which was based on William Tyndale’s earlier translation. Tyndale used “trespasses,” and Cranmer kept that language when he wrote the first Prayer Book. But Presbyterian and Reformed churches preferred to use John Wycliff’s 1382 translation, and so did the translators of the King James version of the Bible.

Edit Click "Read more" below to view the document and the rest of my notes. It was slowing down my page's load time and making the format act wonky, so I took it off the main page.

Daily Morning Prayer for Families

The Collect at the conclusion of the service is read by the leader, but everyone says “Amen,” which is why it’s in italics.

We usually wind up by having the leader say, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” I say that even if we’re getting ready to sit back down again and begin reading our literature selection for the day.

Speaking of sitting down, that reminds me. In a liturgical service, you never sit during prayers. You either stand or kneel, unless you’re physically incapable of it. When the leader says, “The Lord be with you,” everyone should stand and respond, and remain standing until the end (unless you’re going to do Lectionary readings; in that case everyone but the Reader may sit, then everyone stands again when it’s time for the hymn, Creed, and/or Lord’s Prayer). Tiny babies, and elderly people with bad knees and backs are exempt and allowed to sit, but otherwise you should be standing for all of this service

Part of the beauty of using this for family prayers is that it’s so brief that young children can memorize it, but it can easily be expanded. We generally include Lectionary readings after the reading from I Peter. Prayers and Thanksgivings for almost any occasion are found in the book and these can be included where indicated.

Next time I’ll post the full Morning Prayer service that we are planning on using for Thanksgiving. Another time I’ll talk about how those two forms can be combined, giving you even greater flexibility.


  1. You know, after thinking about this, I'm going to make a new document with all the directions included with the prayers. I think that'll be easier for someone new to this to follow.

    We have to leave for church in an hour (it's All Saints' Day!) but I think we'll be home early enough for me to do it tonight.



What are your thoughts? I love to hear from you!