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Many in London gathered May 2 in St. Paul’s Cathedral with Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, to mark the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.
The book dates to 1549, when a document drafted by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, was put in place and use of the Latin Mass was outlawed in England.
However, the service could still be seen as Catholic. An update in 1552 made the service more Protestant in nature, but changes in the political scene meant it wasn’t used. That version was modified and published in 1559.
A major revision in 1662 became the book still used today. Royal permission was granted for the book in May of that year, and its use started in August.
The book contains the wording for services, both daily and Sunday, as well as special ceremonies such as christenings, weddings, baptisms and funerals.
Daily Scripture readings are listed along with some hymns. It contains the script to hold corporate worship and administer the sacraments.
Prince Charles is the patron of the Prayer Book Society, a group that seeks to promote and preserve the use of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the traditional service book of the Church of England.
Prayer books are not exclusive to the Anglicans. Many religions including Judaism and Islam as well as other Christian denominations have them. But the Book of Common Prayer has had a great influence not only on religion but on the English language and culture.
The traditional funeral phrase “We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is from the book.
Traditional weddings ceremonies are often straight from the Book of Common Prayer.
Its service starts with the familiar “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.”
The vows contain “Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”
The bride and groom exchange rings, saying “with this ring I thee wed,” and the official says, “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.”
The book has “A Table of Kindred and Affinity.” This lists the relationships that the Church of England will not allow marriage between. For instance “A woman may not marry her: Father, son, father’s father,” etc.
The book contains “The Articles of Religion,” a list of basic beliefs of the Anglican church.
While the 1662 document is still the official prayer book for the Church of England, it has been updated many times, but not until the 20th century. Those newer versions have been published through the a series of “Alternative Services.”
Localized versions exist in many countries including Scotland, America, Canada and Ireland.
Read the book
To use the book online, visit the Church of England’s website at http://www.churchofengland.org/. Click the Prayer and Worship tab, then select worship from the list. On the left, click the link to the Book of Common Prayer.
To see a broader selection of the Book of Common Prayer, visit http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/bcp.htm. This site has links to many versions and lists them by country.
Sources: Religion News Service, Associated Press, http://www.pbs.org.uk/, The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, http://www.bcp350.org/, http://www.churchofengland.org/, http://justus.anglican.org/, http://www.britannia.com/history/articles/prayerbk.html
Contact Leila Pitchford-English, at firstname.lastname@example.org.