Revisions in the BCP 1540 to 2000

Reaction to the original BCP was generally negative by those on each side of the Catholic and protestant rift.  A petition from Catholics in Devon stated:  “We demand the restoration of the Mass in Latin without any to communicate, and the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament: Communion in one kind, and only at Easter: greater facilities for Baptism: the restoration of the old ceremonies—Holy bread and Holy water, Images, Palms, and Ashes. We will not receive the new service, because it is but like a Christmas game but we will have our old service of Matins, Mass, Evensong and processions in Latin, not in English.” 

Two of its contributors were no less satisfied. with the final result. Bishop John Hooper pronounced the new Book “defective and of doubtful construction,” and was imprisoned for refusal to wear the proper vestments at his own service of consecration as bishop of Gloucester. Bishop Nicholas Ridley, transferred to London in April of 1550, led a drive against kissing the Lord’s Table, ceremonial washing of the fingers, ringing of Sanctus bells, blessing the eyes or crossing the head with the paten, holding up the fingers, hands, or thumbs joined towards the temples, and other practices of traditional ceremonial, which he collectively described as a “counterfeiting of the popish mass.”

Unsurprisingly, the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer has been revised in 1552, 1559, and 1662 reflecting ongoing the theological debates and political shifts (Henry VIII to Edward VI to Mary I to Elizabeth I).  Most recently, it was amended in 2000.  Today, the Church of England uses various versions of the Book of Common Prayer, with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer being the most widely used in England. 

1552 Revision “Second Prayer Book of Edward VI”:

  • Shift towards Protestantism: Reflecting Cranmer’s evolving theological views, the Eucharist became more symbolic, emphasizing the Real Presence of Christ in a spiritual rather than literal sense, a distinction further from the Catholic position of transubstantiation.
  • Simplified Ceremonies: Some Catholic rituals, like the veneration of relics and processions, were removed, streamlining the service and aligning with Protestant principles.
  • Increased Scripture: The number of Scripture readings was expanded, further reflecting the Protestant emphasis on biblical authority.
  • Changes to Language: Minor tweaks to language were made, particularly in the communion liturgy, to clarify Protestant interpretations.

1559 Revision “Elizabeth’s Prayer Book”:

  • Moderation and Compromise: Queen Elizabeth I sought a middle ground, reintroducing elements like vestments and the elevation of the bread and wine in the Eucharist.
  • Retention of Catholic Influences: Some Latin phrases and traditional prayers were reinstated, acknowledging the sensibilities of conservative factions within the church.
  • Clarification of Doctrinal Ambiguities: The revision aimed to address ambiguities and clarify Protestant interpretations, particularly regarding the Eucharist.

1662 Revision:

  • Focus on Stability and Uniformity: After years of religious turmoil, this revision aimed to solidify the Prayer Book and establish liturgical consistency within the Church of England.
  • Minor Tweaks and Clarifications: Most changes were minor adjustments to language and structure, reflecting ongoing debates and seeking to address ambiguities.
  • Introduction of the Black Rubric: This appendix clarified the stance on kneeling during communion, a contentious issue during the revision process.

2000 Revision:

  • Increased Flexibility and Diversity: This collection of contemporary liturgical resources marked a significant shift, allowing for adaptation of prayers, readings, and music to different contexts and preferences.
  • Inclusion of Language and Rituals from Other Traditions: Reflecting the Anglican Communion’s global nature, the Common Worship incorporates elements from various Christian traditions.
  • Emphasis on Inclusive Language: The language is modernized and made more inclusive, addressing gendered language and offering options for diverse congregations.

Other Anglican churches worldwide have adopted and adapted their own versions of the Prayer Book, reflecting their unique contexts and theological interpretations.