The Book of Common Prayer (1662) is 350 years old. It is the only book other than the Bible which any Anglican should ever need for faith.

Cranmer’s version was, certainly, older (1549, 1552), however, the 1662 version was the revised version which Charles II introduced shortly after the Restoration following the English Civil War. It remains the official prayer book of the Church of England, despite the more frequent use of Common Worship, new this century replacing The Alternative Service Book of the 1980s, which the satirical magazine Private Eye still lampoons.

This book has been revised in the United States, most recently in 1928 and 1979, the latter being a departure too far for some.

Here in England, the BCP is largely disregarded as a relic, even — perhaps especially — because it contains the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion which are the tenets of the Anglican faith. Every faithful Church of England adherent should study them carefully. Too many have departed from them.

The Revd Roger Salter recently wrote a beautiful article on the BCP for Virtue Online. Excerpts from ‘Thomas Cranmer’s Portable Spiritual Director’ follow, emphases mine:

The Book of Common Prayer is largely a compilation of extracts from Holy Scripture arranged for public worship and private fellowship with God, and the material from other sources is derived from meditation upon Scripture and consonant with it. Cranmer has bequeathed us a compendium, not entirely of his own creation but skilful organization, from a multiplicity of sources that is a true and comprehensive guide to godliness in thought and life, and a handbook to holiness. It is not the exclusive possession of Anglicanism but a precious gift from the 16th century English Church to all believers who care to use it. It is a catholic treasure available to all, encapsulating the substance of the true Catholic faith.

An Anglicanism that stays close to the BCP (1662), whatever other developments there may and should be, will not stray from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and will weather the storms of novelty and deviant doctrine. In Cranmer’s liturgy and confessional statements we have a sure guideline for orthodoxy crafted by many minds, both those of his godly predecessors and wise contemporaries.

The role of the BCP is not only public and “denominational”. Frequent personal use and growing familiarity will soon prove its pastoral effectiveness in daily life and discipleship. Perhaps in this dimension its benefit has not been fully appreciated and commended. As a part of one’s daily walk with God the Prayer Book becomes a beloved companion, an aid to understanding and worship, a mentor in prayer and meditation, and, in effect, a cherished spiritual director. Its various liturgies and services span the course of our lives marking all events, normal and extra-special, assisting us to prepare for, experience, and review them. The Litany, Collects, Intercessions, and other prayers touch, so deeply, our personal concerns and expand our concern both for the Church of God and the world he has created and governs. It is impossible to employ the Prayer Book without taking others to heart and holding them before God. It amply nourishes our interior life but it takes us out of ourselves as well – something private devotions do not always achieve.

Praying and pondering the BCP, under God’s good hand, purifies the mind, warms and encourages the heart, and expands the soul. As was the archbishop’s intention, it draws the spirit to God and focuses the inner eye upon him, and then we are enabled to participate in his perspective upon the condition and affairs of men, beseeching him to work powerfully and redemptively in a desperate and declining world. The Prayer Book cultivates our individual communion with God but it counters the dangerous individualism that debilitates the life of the church and which hampers our corporate witness and ministry to the world. What a joy to hold daily in our hands Cranmer’s choice volume that affords constant and inexhaustible spiritual direction for the people of God.

Let us pray that the BCP’s use experiences a revival in the years to come. It is sorely needed in today’s Anglican worship and private devotions.

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