Vol I No. 1

The classic prayer book for the 21st century

Drew Nathaniel Keane

Liturgical renewal has taken center stage recently among Anglicans and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in particular has been much in the spotlight. In 2018 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (Resolution A068) invited Bishops to “engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts” — that is, alternatives to the 1979 — opening the door to the rediscovery of old liturgies as much as to the development of new ones.

Birmingham’s cathedral Church of the Advent, for example, has “chosen to engage portions of the earlier Prayer Books in our Communion liturgy (particularly those of 1552 and 1662), precisely because we believe those versions offer a clearer and more consistent gospel message.” GAFCON’s Jerusalem Declaration on the Global Anglican Future affirmed “the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer.” The 2019 Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church in North America calls the 1662 Prayer Book “Anglicanism’s sine qua non,” noting that at “the beginning of the 21st century, global reassessment of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662” recognizes it “as ‘the standard for doctrine, discipline, and worship.’” Even its 16th-century English, which many in the mid-20th century felt to be a serious liability, has attracted a younger generation to the old Prayer Book in the 21st century. It looks as if there’s more interest in using the classic liturgy now than in perhaps a century.

But, what edition of the 1662 should one use? Several recent editions are available. In 2000 the Everyman Library published an edition with an introduction by Diarmaid MacCulloch. 2013 saw the publication of Brian Cummings’s critical edition of the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. These editions, fine as they are, are far from ideal for use in worship — the Everyman edition appeals to the curious reader of English literature and Cummings’s is better suited for the scholar. Of course, there are handsome editions designed for use in worship available from the University Presses of both Cambridge and Oxford. Yet these editions are less than ideal for use outside England, particularly in countries with republican forms of government. Moreover, the Cambridge and Oxford editions no longer include the 1662 table of lessons (replacing it with the revised tables of 1871 and 1922).

There are other draw-backs as well. The spelling and punctuation are occasionally unfamiliar or difficult. Some words have become obscure even to lovers of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible.

It was with these concerns in mind that Samuel Bray and I prepared a new edition of the 1662 for use outside England.

Published by InterVarsity Press, with a projected release of January 2021, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition aims to make the classic prayer book as usable as possible for a new generation of worshippers not only in America but around the world, without sacrificing its beauty, simplicity, and doctrinal clarity.

Endorsed by the US Prayer Book Society, bishops and clergy in the Episcopal Church, Anglican Church of North American, the Church of Nigeria and Uganda and others, as well as writers such as Gerald Bray, Catherine Pickstock, Alan Jacobs, and Torrance Kirby, this new edition of the 1662 provides polity-neutral state prayers, updates obsolete spelling and punctuation, and modestly revises some of the more strikingly obsolete language — all without breaking from the robustness, rhythm, or register of Cranmer’s prose or Coverdale’s psalms.

We have also included five appendices. These are (1) the Homily on Justification (which the Articles cross-reference); (2) additional prayers, including selections from the prayer books from Nigeria to America, from India to Ireland, as well as selections from classic Anglican devotional manuals, collects by Cranmer that were replaced in 1662, and a few newer compositions as well; (3) additional rubrics; (4) an alternative lectionary for the daily office that follows the church year (Church of England 1961); (5) and a glossary.

Commenting on the design, Alan Jacobs has called this edition “absolutely gorgeous.” It is our conviction that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is an instrument of unity and vitality for Anglicanism and one of the chief contributions of our tradition to the Church Universal. As editors, this has been our driving motivation, and it is our prayer that the publication of this edition will help to revive use of the 1662 Prayer Book throughout the world. And it will soon be available for purchase from the Prayer Book Society itself as well as the InterVarsity Press itself.