By Mark Michael
InterVarsity Press’s new 1662 Book of Common Prayer, International Edition surely made it smoothly through all the copyrighting wrangles, but it’s not the first book I have used that merits the title. In the country church where I was first a rector, one of my congregants was a scion of a venerable clerical family of the Old Dominion. It was a parish anniversary, and we were planning a historical service. He told me he had just what I needed.
Before the service John presented me with a worn leatherbound folio, handed down from a remote ancestor, a patriot rector of a parish that was then on the edge of the frontier. The 18th-century priest had carefully worked his way through the pages with a quill pen, striking out the name of the king, making “alterations in the Liturgy which became necessary in the prayers for our Civil Rulers, in Consequence of the Revolution,” as the preface to the first American prayer book would explain a decade or so later.
That 1789 book was, in comparison with its successors, a deeply conservative text. In its general structure and presentation, it hewed closely to the 1662 original, offering careful proof of its claim “that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require.”
The first generation of prayer books issued by nearly every Anglican church after it became autonomous from the mother church are similarly deferential. The missionaries sent by the Church Mission Society or the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel came with 1662 prayer books packed in their saddlebags or steamer trunks. In more than a few African and Asian languages the very first texts to be written out were translated passages from the New Testament and the core liturgies of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
The prayer book is, of course, a monument of English prose, the source of numerous sayings and literary tags. Strictly speaking, it was not the prayer book of Shakespeare, Donne, or Herbert (though their 1559 prayer book was remarkably similar), but it sings to God with cadences they knew well. Its texts are stenciled on thousands of church walls, carved in Gothic script on dark wood furniture, and chanted by robed choirs from one corner of the Anglican world to another. Any Anglican Christian who seeks to understand the heart of the tradition must spend time under its tutelage, learn its peculiar phrases, struggle with, and finally surrender to its deeply Augustinian ethos. There are treasures here, and like the scribe of Jesus’ parable, we do well to cherish them.
Most modern readers will need an introduction, especially if they haven’t already half-heard it in later revised forms. A few words have changed their meanings, and some ceremonies are barely intelligible and certainly suspect to the contemporary egalitarian. “From the Editors to the Reader” in this new IVP volume and the glossary prepared by Samuel Bray and Drew Keane are especially helpful. Their textual revisions, especially in the Psalter, are likewise careful and well-chosen.
The book is also beautifully designed, with a pleasing and easily readable classic typeface in a size that fits more easily into the hand than the “chapel versions” of the 1979 book well known to most Episcopalians. The color is an unfortunate sea green. Perhaps it evokes the waves traversed by bold missionaries in ages past. At least it won’t be confused with any of the shades in which Oxford or Cambridge ever bound its ancestor.
In the tradition of the colonial-era book I once used, all the references to the crown have been shifted out of the main text, with the Morning and Evening Prayer versicle altered to “O Lord, save them that rule.” The table of kindred and affinity are gone, as are those distinctively 1662 services celebrating the suppression of the Gunpowder Plot and the martyrdom of King Charles (though they were quietly dropped from the prayer book by the Church of England generations ago).
These excised bits are the very features that situate the 1662 prayer book most solidly in its own time and place. Granted that repristination projects have their place, has too much of the Church of England’s lived Catholicism been sanded away in this instance?
Some valuable newer “treasures” have been added by the editors, especially as part of a well-informed selection of prayers for various occasions from later Anglican prayer books. Several of the gems of the American prayer book tradition have a place here, including the 1928 book’s collect “For Our Country” and Bishop Seabury’s “For a Sick Person.”
There’s nothing un-Anglican about writing devotional texts stuffed full of prayer book phrases, as Jeremy Taylor, Richard Allestree, and the current Presiding Bishop aptly demonstrate. There’s nothing wrong with writing “the prayer book as I wish it was.” Liturgical tinkering is a distinctively Anglican pastime, and some enduring treasures have been born out of such projects. But this text is odd for not exactly claiming to be either — and for ignoring altogether one crucial bit of Anglican tinkering that has almost completely supplanted 1662 over time.
I speak of the Scottish Anaphora, the great Eucharistic prayer drafted by William Laud and the Caledonian prelates for the 1637 Scottish Book of Common Prayer. It replaced Cranmer’s crabbed and idiosyncratic consecration text with a robust sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, modeled on the ancient liturgies of East and West. Tactfully ignoring Protestant polemics, it clearly places the highest form of Anglican prayer in continuity with the Catholic oblation lifted up across time and space.
The nascent Episcopal Church included it in its 1789 prayer book. Under the influence of the Parish Communion Movement and Liturgical Renewal, eucharistic prayers with a similar patristic shape and sacrificial character have become the norm for Anglican worship, even as the Eucharist has gradually supplanted Morning Prayer as the regular Sunday offering. Inasmuch as “international Anglicanism” has a liturgical stream, the 1662 book’s eucharistic prayer has long been relegated to a stagnant side channel.
There are a few outliers. The Ugandan Prayer Book in most common use remains a fairly literal translation of 1662, and the ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer gives rubrical arrangement for reordering its “Anglican Standard Text” (i.e., the Scottish Anaphora) into something approximating Cranmer’s jumble. Eucharistic prayers that echo Cranmer’s model were composed for the Church of England’s Common Worship and the Diocese of Sydney at the insistence of conservative evangelicals (whether they use them is another matter). Ashley Null, among others, has winsomely recast Cranmer’s eucharistic order as a guided exercise in the formation of holy desires, tactfully sidestepping Gregory Dix’s damning critique of its overt anti-sacramentalism.
Such a catalogue of defenders, though, should make one pause. Every Anglican prayer book has taught doctrine, directed public worship, and guided private devotion. But each has also been an exercise in ecclesiastical politics. And 1662 preservation projects have their own role in our multigenerational contestations about Anglican identity, usually as a tool for those who resist Catholic order and practice in the name of a narrow, Calvinist confessionalism. It’s no surprise that the most important recent reappearance of the 1662 book on the international Anglican stage was as “a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer” in the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration that founded the GAFCON Movement, a claim for 1662 that the Anglican Covenant had refused to make.
Bray and Keane are not, to my knowledge, ecclesiastical tacticians. They don’t propose their text as a resource for public worship — another reason that makes it odd to call it “a prayer book.” But, as the patriot rector who took the pen to his folio knew well, no prayer book revision project is ever innocuous.
Fr. Mark Michael is the editor of The Living Church magazine and rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, Maryland.