Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The 1662 English Book of Common Prayer

The English Prayer Book: Our Heritage and Mandate for Mission

On Saturday 19th May 2012, the Anglican world celebrates a dramatically important but not particularly well-known anniversary, at least in our corner of the Lord’s vineyard. That date marks the 350th anniversary of the promulgation of the Book of Common Prayer in the English edition of 1662. Why is this issuing of the English Prayer Book significant, one may rightly ask! The English 1662 Prayer Book is the mother Book of the Anglican Communion, the liturgy upon which every subsequent orthodox revision of the Common Prayer Book throughout the world is based, including that of the 1928 American revision. It was the Prayer Book used in the American Colonies until the Revolution. It was the Book borne by Anglican missionaries and evangelists who covered the globe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries bringing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to many nations, kindreds, people and tongues. It was and is the historical foundation of Anglican unity, ecclesiological, theological, liturgical and sacramental.

After the nightmare of the English Civil War and the interregnum, with Cromwell’s violent persecution of the Anglican Church and puritanical prohibition of the Prayer Book liturgy, the restoration of the Monarchy allowed the restoration of the Church of England and the Common Prayer Book. Saint Charles the First (1649) and Blessed William Laud (1645) had already been martyred for the orthodoxy of the English Church and its liturgy, and many faithful Anglicans had gone into hiding, devoutly using the Prayer Book in secret or abroad during the brutal Commonwealth period. With the Savoy Conference of 1661 overriding puritan objections to the Anglican Rite, the Act of Uniformity restored the Prayer Book in 1662. Loyalty to Prayer Book doctrine birthed the Non-Juring ‘British Orthodox Church’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the face of Erastianism and protestant comprehension. The BCP of King Charles II animated with profound intensity the faith, witness and labours of the eminent priests John and Charles Wesley, and motivated the Evangelical revival of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The 1662 Book produced the astonishing Anglican musical, artistic, architectural and aesthetic advances of the Victorian age. It was the 1662 English Prayer Book that inspired the great nineteenth century Church Revival which recovered the vitality and catholicity of Anglicanism, the Oxford Movement, the principal leaders of which were persistently committed to the use and supremacy of that Book. ‘We are especially anxious to lay before you our deep-rooted attachment to that venerable liturgy, in which the Church has embodied, in the language of ancient piety, the orthodox and primitive faith,’ wrote William Palmer, an early Tractarian.

With a common Faith located in the universal Creeds and a common Apostolic Order preserved in the Ordinal, a Common Prayer Book liturgy based on the 1662 English Book has been the ‘glue’ that has, over centuries, bound and united Anglicans the world over in a faithful and organic communion and fellowship, a communion that has been impaired only recently by unilateral innovations on the part of a minority within world Anglicanism.  When other church traditions were in time past rent asunder by internal conflict and theological division, the Ecclesia Anglicana, for most of its post-reformation history until the modern era, remained steadfastly united in one consentient body because of the unifying influence and magisterial doctrinal and moral teaching of the Prayer Book.  We have a goodly heritage, and the English Prayer Book lies at the heart of our precious incomparable patrimony. The Book of Common Prayer, of which the English 1662 edition is emblematic, is essential to Anglican identity and worship, Anglican evangelisation, Anglican mission.

Lastly, what is the belief articulated in the Prayer Book tradition as a whole, so nobly represented by the English 1662 Book? Because Anglicanism has never had a doctrinal system or order of its own, only that shared by all Christians from the time of the first millennium, we can assert with confidence and humility that Prayer Book doctrine is that of the Great Church, the Undivided Church as it was when believers were one: 'The doctrine of the Great Church, as it stood on the eve of 1054, includes, first of all, the main fabric of Trinitarian and Christological dogma, including, of course, the beliefs in our Lord's virginal Birth, bodily Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven; the presuppositions of Christian soteriology known as the doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin; belief in Christ's Atoning Death as objectively bringing within our reach that salvation which we could never have earned for ourselves; the doctrines of the Sacraments as the means of grace, of the Real Presence and the Eucharistic Sacrifice; of the grace of Orders and the necessity of the episcopal succession from the Apostles; of the Church's absolving power in Penance; of Confirmation and Unction; of the Communion of Saints; and of the last things, Heaven and Hell, and the intermediate state, and the Last Judgement.' This is the ancient and Apostolic Faith, and the teaching of the Prayer Book.

Please join us for a special Eucharist at Noon on Saturday 19th May as we commemorate our own history, our own identity, our inheritance, on the anniversary of the English Prayer Book, from which we have received our unparalleled expression of Christian worship and living.

God bless you!


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