Book of Common Prayer

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The Book of Common Prayer is the common title of a number of prayer books of the Church of England and of other Anglican churches, used throughout the Anglican Communion. The first book, published in 1549 (Church of England 1957), in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome. Prayer books, unlike books of prayers, contain the words of structured (or liturgical) services of worship. The work of 1549 was the first prayer book to contain the forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English and to do so within a single volume; it included morning prayer, evening prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion. The book included the other occasional services in full: the orders for baptism, confirmation, marriage, 'prayers to be said with the sick' and a funeral service. It set out in full the Epistle and Gospel readings for the Sunday Communion Service. Set Old Testament and New Testament readings for daily prayer were specified in tabular format as were the set Psalms; and canticles, mostly biblical, that were provided to be sung between the readings (Careless 2003, p. 26).

The 1549 book was rapidly succeeded by a reformed revision in 1552 under the same editorial hand, that of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. It never came into use because, on the death of Edward VI, his half-sister Mary I restored Roman Catholic worship. On her death, a compromise version, largely 1552 with a few amendments from 1549, was published in 1559. Following the tumultuous events leading to and including the English Civil War, another major revision was published in 1662 (Church of England 1662). That edition has remained the official prayer book of the Church of England, although in the 21st century, an alternative book called Common Worship has largely displaced the Book of Common Prayer at the main Sunday worship service of most English parish churches.

The Book of Common Prayer appears in many variants in churches inside and outside the Anglican Communion in over 50 different countries and in over 150 different languages (Careless 2003, p. 23). Again in many parts of the world, more contemporary books have replaced it in regular weekly worship.

Traditional Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian prayer books have borrowed from the Book of Common Prayer, and the marriage and burial rites have found their way into those of other denominations and into the English language. Like the Authorized King James Bible and the works of Shakespeare, many words and phrases from the Book of Common Prayer have entered common parlance.

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