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Over the past few weeks I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

In Chapter 5 of his book, Dearmer outlines the importance of the Reformation and royalty on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (BCP), which Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was instrumental in writing.

He tells us that the BCP developed over a century, from 1544 in the time of Henry VIII and concluding with Charles II in 1662. The 1662 BCP is still in use today, although, sadly, much less so than in previous decades.

The introduction of the printing press led to availability of a Bible in English. If you visit an Anglican or Episcopal church, you will see that a Bible is always open on a lectern outside of times of public worship. Dearmer explains:

The Bible was in 1536 ordered to be set up in every church, so that it might be read aloud out of service time … Thus the Lectern may remind us of the first stage in reform.

Several years later, another new item at the altar was installed, a litany-desk, equipped with a kneeler:

The Litany-desk tells of the second stage; for, though the Litany was not sung kneeling till three years after, that beautiful service itself was produced by the genius of Cranmer, and ordered to be used in 1544.

Dearmer lists the main events in the development of the BCP. Below are the major highlights (emphases and explanatory notes mine below):

1534 (Henry VIII). Convocation petitions the King for an authorized English Version of the Bible.

1535. Coverdale’s Bible.

1536. The Bible ordered to be set up in every church. New edition of the Sarum Breviary, in Latin, but with the name of the Roman Pontiff and other things omitted.

1543. The Lessons in English. A chapter of the Bible to be read after Te Deum and Magnificat.

1544. The English Litany.

1544-7. Experiments. The Rationale, or explanation of the Ceremonies to be used in the Church of England. First and Second Drafts of reformed services in Latin. Cranmer attempts a translation of the Processional.

1547 (Edward VI). August. Beginning of more radical changes by means of the Injunctions (without the authority of Convocation or Parliament) :— Book of Homilies to be read; At High Mass, Epistle and Gospel to be read in English; New form of Bidding Prayer ; and some changes in Breviary services.

November. Convocation meets (at the opening Mass, Gloria in Excelsis, Creed, and Agnus sung in English), and approves Communion in both kinds.

1548 March. The Order of the Communion, drawn up by sundry “grave and well-learned prelates,” provides for Communion in both kinds, and is to come into use at Easter by Royal proclamation. This Order consists of the following, inserted before the Communion in the Latin Service :— First Exhortation, Second Exhortation, “Ye that do truly,” the Confession, the Absolution and Comfortable Words, “We do not presume,” [which is the Prayer of Humble Access,] the Words of Administration in both kinds (first part), “The Peace of God ” (without the Blessing) [at the end], a Note that the bread is to be as heretofore (round wafers) and each wafer is to be broken for Communion, and a Note that if the Chalice is exhausted the priest is to consecrate afresh, beginning Simili modo postquam coenatum est, “Likewise after Supper,” “without any elevation or lifting up.”

Dearmer notes that congregants were so upset about these changes that preaching was forbidden in April and September 1548.

Also in that year:

May. St. Paul’s and other churches “sung all the service in English, both Mattins, Mass, and Evensong”: it therefore appears that these services of the First Prayer Book were already drafted, at least in some experimental form, the choir services being reduced to two, Mattins and Evensong.

Those who do not know much about English history will be surprised to know that Edward VI ascended to the throne in 1547, at the age of nine. He died when he was only 15.

This was a tumultuous period, given his tender age. Dearmer explains:

At the accession of the boy-King, it is clear that the whole atmosphere was changed: the power passed into the hands of the knot of men — and history shows them to have been despotic and evil menwho ruled in King Edward’s name. From this gang of robbers — who were five years later to ransack the property of the people in the guilds and parish churches, robbing the poor for the sake of the rich — Archbishop Cranmer stands apart, trying to steer his own uncertain course.

Although Cranmer did not work in isolation and had pious Anglican clergymen known as ‘divines’ helping him with the Prayer Book, he spearheaded its creation. He was also Edward VI’s foremost spiritual adviser.

In 1549, the first Prayer Book was passed into law and published for church use:

1549. January 21st. First Act of Uniformity. The First Prayer Book becomes law.

March 7. First Prayer Book printed and published.

June 9th. Date fixed by the Act for the Book to be everywhere used.

June 10th. Armed rebellions against the Act begin, especially in the West of England. The insurgents demand the old ceremonies— Holy water, Images, Ashes, Palms, etc., and the service in Latin. They are suppressed by foreign mercenaries.

Yes, people were that upset!

The following year, the liturgy was set to music — ‘noted’:

1550. The Book of Common Prayer Noted, by John Merbecke, published. This is Merbecke’s famous musical setting, which is still so largely sung.

March. The English Ordinal issued, containing the Ordering of Deacons, the Ordering of Priests, and the Consecration of Bishops. The essential parts of the Latin rite were carefully retained, but the ceremonial rather ruthlessly cut down.

1549 – 1551. The Foreign Reformers (Bucer, Peter Martyr, etc.) criticize the First Prayer Book.

1551. Third Edition of Old Version of metrical psalms, seven psalms by Hopkins being added to Sternhold’s.

Dearmer does not say why the Reformers on the Continent disliked the First Prayer Book. However, one thing can be said: the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is like no other in its beauty and biblical faithfulness. It is an enduring pleasure from which to pray in church and to read privately at home.

Next time: the unique character of the first Prayer Book

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