1892 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer

While the 1793 BCP was revised several times to correct or explain minor errors or misunderstandings, the 1892 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) represented a significant official revision of the 1789 BCP in the American Episcopal Church. It aimed to update the liturgy, address changes in American society, and respond to theological developments within the Church. Revisions included:

  • Increased use of inclusive language:  Some references to “man” and “he” were replaced with more inclusive terms like “humanity” and “all people.”  While the changes might reflect a growing awareness of gender equality, the historical distinction between men and women remained historically paternalistic.
  • Greater clarity and simplicity: Archaic language and overly complex sentence structures were simplified to enhance accessibility and understanding.
  • Restoration of some traditional language: While maintaining clarity, some traditional phrases and prayers from the 1662 BCP were reintroduced, seeking a balance between modernity and historical continuity.
  • Expansion of the Lectionary: The number of daily Scripture readings was significantly increased, enriching the liturgical calendar and offering greater scriptural variety.
  • Increased emphasis on ritual and ceremony: The 1892 BCP incorporated more ceremonial elements, like the use of incense and vestments, reflecting a growing interest in bridging the gap  between Episcopalian and Catholic practices.
  • Additional options for Holy Communion: Alongside kneeling and standing, the option of receiving communion while seated was introduced, further emphasizing inclusivity and flexibility.
  • Increased emphasis on the sacraments: The importance of baptism and Holy Communion was more explicitly conveyed, aligning with a growing appreciation for sacramentalism within the Church.
  • Expansion of devotional materials: New prayers and devotional practices were added, catering to increased piety and individual spiritual expression.
  • Inclusion of optional alternative prayers: Recognizing diverse theological perspectives, the 1892 BCP included alternative prayers alongside traditional ones, offering greater choice and flexibility.
  • Revision of the Psalter: The Psalter was updated to reflect a more accurate translation and contemporary language.
  • Introduction of new offices and services: Services for specific occasions like Thanksgiving Day and Labor Day were added, reflecting the evolving American context.
  • Clarification of rubrics: The instructions for conducting services were made more detailed and specific, promoting uniformity and consistency in worship.

The 1892 BCP sparked controversy, with some praising its inclusivity and enrichment of worship, while others criticized its ritualistic additions and perceived drift from Protestant simplicity. Nonetheless, it remained the official Prayer Book of the American Episcopal Church until 1928, leaving a lasting impact on its liturgical tradition and theological identity.

Lengthy Process of Accommodation and Compromise

Agreement to revisions of the Episcopal first Book of Common Prayer officially was reached in the General Convention of 1880. However, calls for revisions, especially shortened services, had roiled the Church body for years.  Some priests and bishops, dissatisfied with the growing Anglo-Catholic Tractarian (aka “Oxford”) movement within the American Church, established the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873.

When the 1880 Convention passed the resolution to  determine whether, in view of the fact that this Church is soon to enter upon the second century of its organized existence in this country, the changed conditions of national life do not demand certain alterations in the Book of Common Prayer in the direction of liturgical enrichment and increased flexibility of use,”  Reverend Doctor William Reed Huntington,  wrote Bishop John Williams of Connecticut:

“I cannot tell how it looks to you, but it does seem to me that never since the days of White and Seabury has such an opportunity been vouchsafed to the Church. We certainly do not want to Americanize the Prayer Book in any vulgar sense, but at the same time we cannot forget that it is in America we live, and to Americans that we minister. To bring the worship of the Church closer home to the hearts of “this great and understanding people” by making it more attractive to their imaginations and more adaptable to their needs is a work to which we may well thank God for having called us.”