Contact Us

  • Phone: (111) 222-3333
  • Email:
  • Mailing Address: 2707 Congress Street Ste. #2G San Diego, CA 92110



Back to the Books

09.15.19 | Adult Education | by Rob Donehue

Back to the Books

Our Adult Education Series exploring the Book of Common Prayer began on September 8th and will run every Sunday until the beginning of Advent.

Session 2

The Reformation in the West up through to Present Day

The situation by the turn of the 16th century is as follows: 

All across western Europe, the liturgy is essentially uniform. Clergy perform sacramental rites, and the laity are mere spectators. The language for the liturgy is exclusively Latin. Monasteries pray the daily office (Note the Distinction between “choir monks” and “lay brothers”). And a system of “stipends” develops in order to pay for the performance of certain services (I.e., masses for the dead). 

 So in a very real way, worship has become something that only a select few highly trained individuals can perform. Generally speaking, Eucharistic and Baptismal theology reflect this shift from the earliest days of Christian worship. 

Architectural reflection: 

Orthodox churches of the East - immanence of God, being surrounded by the communion of saints, etc. (see printout of typical Orthodox worship space)

Latin west - transcendence of God, lifting one’s eyes to heaven to discover the unutterable mystery of God. (typical Gothic church) 

Then the Reformation begins. 

Luther - keep what is good, minor reforms where necessary. Conservative by comparison with other European reformers. 

Calvin - overhaul the whole system.  

Cranmer - moderate overhaul but incorporate what’s good. 

A brief history of Henry VIII.
- Catholic “Defender of the Faith,” opposes reform, wants a divorce, agrees to reform, wants a divorce, resists reform, realizes the ship has sailed, tries to limit how far the reform should go. 

Dies. His son, Edward, succeeds, and there is a regency helping Edward to govern. 

First Book of Common Prayer is 1549, then 1552.

Salient Points of 1549 Book of Common Prayer: 

  • Liturgy is in the vernacular.
  • Daily Office is made accessible.
  • Assumes Eucharistic participation by the laity.
  • Even though only in a limited way, laity are given an active role in worship.

1552 Book of Common Prayer

  • rubrics are made more specific
  • alters some of the language that could be interpreted to bear a “Catholic” interpretation
  • restores the obligation of all clergy to pray the daily office
  • introduces some more overtly Calvinist elements 

Anti-Catholic bias is apparent in both 1549 and 1552: (from the Litany) "From all sedicion and privye conspiracie, from the tyrannye of the bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities, from al false doctrine and herisy, from hardnes of heart, and contempte of thy word and commaundemente:”

Edward dies, and Mary comes to the throne and reinstates Catholic worship. Mary dies, and Elizabeth comes to the throne, reinstates the Book of Common Prayer 1559; the “Elizabethan Settlement.” By the time of Queen Elizabeth, divisions have become entrenched. 

“Catholic” vs. “Protestant” or “Anglicans” vs “Puritans.” All of these controversies and debates wind up being reflected in the various iterations of the Book of Common Prayer. 

1637 Book of Common Prayer introduced in Scotland. It does not go over well. 

Civil War, Protectorate, Restoration, and on to 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which is still the official Book of Common Prayer for the Church of England. 

The Church of England in the colonies. American Revolution leads to a problem. 

A brief description of how the Episcopal Church survived the Revolution. For all you Hamilton fans out there, the name Samuel Seabury might ring a bell. 1789 is first American Book of Common Prayer. It’s a slight revision of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, adapted to suit new national life. 

Minor revisions only up to 1928; then comes a major revision. Cultural and political shifts that are reflected in the 1928 Prayer Book. 

1979 is an even more thorough revision. 

Current discussion about revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer


Session 1

Why do we Use a Prayer Book in the First Place? 

Introductory questions: 

 - What has your experience been of church worship?

 - When you hear the word, “liturgy,” what immediately comes to mind?

 - Is “liturgy” an experience in which you participate, or do you see it as just following along 
   in a book? 

Lex orandi, lex credendi - the way we pray determines the way we believe; or more colloquially, “Praying shapes believing.” 

“Even when your prayer is most spontaneous and from the heart, the belief according to which you pray, the general type of prayer most of the actual phrasing are still largely drawn from what you have learned from others. Ultimately, it comes to you from the tradition of prayer as it evolved in the church. As with individuals, so with congregations. Behind each church stands the classic tradition of christendom, and that tradition’s influence is at play as much in attempts to more closely imitate it as in attempts to react against it. 

The tradition of the church establishing orders for worship is well-attested: 

Jewish roots of Christian worship

  • Leviticus and other prescriptions for ritual practice in the OT. 
  • Centers of Jewish worship (temple, synagogue, home).
  • Early Christians communities briefly followed patterns of Jewish worship. 

As Christians became more distinct from the Jewish communities, they needed to develop their own way of conducting worship. There was still a need to ensure decorum in the assembly (see 1 Corinthians 14: 40). 

S. Ignatius (later first century) : “…as the Lord did nothing without the Father, so neither do you anything without the bishop and presbyters. And attempt not to think anything to be right for yourselves apart from the others.  But at the general meeting let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and joy unblameable.” 

Key thing to remember about early Christian worship is that it’s private. House church is normative. 

Persecution prior to the 4th Century means that Christian worship carries with it some risk. So it’s not public in the way that we now think of it as public. 

The Eucharist is the intimate gathering of the Christian faithful, and the only way that you can be admitted to Eucharist is if you are baptized (I.e., have made a commitment). So baptism is the sacrament for initiation in the church, and there is a whole body of work dedicated to helping the newly baptized understand what it means for them to be baptized. 

Words for Baptism and Eucharist are basically at the discretion of the local bishop until around the 4th century. 

The more public Christianity gets, the more the need is felt to regulate what happens in worship. 

By the end of the first century, we begin to see evidence of Christian communities setting down standards of order for the conduct of worship. 

  • The Didache (late first/early second century) - very short, but contains directives for baptism, eucharist, and ministry.
  • The Apostolic Tradition (early 200s) - Ordination of bishops; rules for priests and deacons, regulations for the laity; a description of baptism; visiting the sick, fasting, burial
  • The Didascalia (early third century) - draws from the first two, much longer and more detailed. 
  • The Apostolic Constitutions (4th century) - even more elaborate.  

The growth of monasticism, along with the theological controversies of the early centuries leads to increasingly detailed liturgies with specific instructions for the various orders and the establishment of fixed texts. Legalization - and then official imperial preferment - of Christianity leads to further elaboration as Christian worship takes the limelight in the public sphere (basilica/cathedral worship). The development of ceremony requires additional directives for the various roles. At least in theory, the liturgy was in the vernacular.

Eventually there’s the appearance of booklets for the different ministers (sacramentaries for priests, lectionaries for readers, litanies for the deacons, hymnals and antiphonals for cantors and choirs, etc.). 

Collapse of Roman empire and parting of ways between East and West leads to distinctive strands of liturgical practice.  

As the 8th and 9th centuries press on, there’s an increased push to enforce liturgical uniformity across the Holy Roman Empire (i.e., western europe). Roman sacramentaries with Latin as the language to be used for worship. 

By the time we get to the turn of the millenium, things in the west have developed to such an extent that the priest is able to say all the parts of the service, and the people have become mere spectators in the liturgy. 

Monasteries are the almost exclusive possessors of the daily office, and with few exceptions of the very rich who could afford a breviary for private worship, liturgy in the Christian west was the sole possession of religious communities and the ordained. 

As the 16th century dawned, voices in the Christian west were beginning to challenge this norm, and there were moves afoot to make the worship of the church once again accessible to the people of the church.