Vol II No. 5

The Editors of the Book of Common Prayer 1662, International Edition explain their editorial approach:

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The Editors of the Book of Common Prayer  1662 (International Edition) – Samuel Bray and Drew Nathanial Keane in an explanatory note (contained in the volume itself) set out the rationale for this new edition and the very carefully considered edits made to the original text so as to make it more readily usable outside the realms and territories of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The Editors to the Reader.

In the last three and a half centuries, the Church of England and her daughter churches have developed and diverged. But this family of churches has developed from a common point. A key expression of that shared Anglican identity is the Book of Common Prayer (FGGH), along with the texts customarily appended to it: the Psalter, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles. This prayer book remains widely used in public worship around the world, and some judge it to excel recent alternatives in simplicity as well as in the gravity of both its language and theology.

But for those who wish to use it today, especially outside England, three problems arise. First, some elements of the classic prayer book, such as the state prayers, are specific to England. Second, developments in the English language have made some words and phrases into obstacles for a contemporary user. Third, the 1662 prayer book lacks some later prayers that have become a treasured part of the Anglican tradition. Each of these problems can be addressed. The classic prayer book – with its simplicity, language, and theology intact – can be presented for use today. That is the editors’ aim. A few examples will illustrate our approach.

I  Where the prayer book has prayers for the Queen and the royal family, we substituted prayers from other Anglican prayer books, with modest revisions to keep the prayers from being tied to any one country’s polity. In Morning and Evening Prayer, for example, the prayers for the Queen and the royal family are replaced by state prayers from later prayer books (US 1928, Ghana 1960). The excised prayers are shifted but retained in the book to allow their continued use in Commonwealth countries. Note that we have left unaltered the English political references in the Thirty-Nine Articles.

II Our linguistic updating has been modest. Cherubins becomes cherubim; Apostolick, apostolic. This updating of capitalization, punctuation, and orthography has ample precedent in the prayer book printing tradition. Beyond this, we revised some overly obscure words and phrases, in the manner of the Irish 1926, US 1928, and Canadian 1962 editions of the prayer book. For example, in a prayer after the third collect in Morning and Evening Prayer, curates becomes pastors. In a prayer in the Communion service, indifferently becomes impartially. In one of the exhortations to be read before a Communion service, in the mean season becomes in the meantime.

We followed the traditional form of the Lord’s Prayer most familiar around the world today: who art instead of which art,and those who trespass instead of them that trespass. In other places, too, we updated pronouns and determiners, though not always – in each case we have given weight to rhythm, euphony, and the preservation of familiar expressions. In short, we updated the language of rubrics most; prayers less; and psalms, canticles, and biblical texts least of all. Thus, for example, a phrase like ‘them that’ usually survives in a canticle or psalm, but in a prayer it becomes ‘those who’.

Our aim was to remove a few of the higher hurdles for those who have not used the classic prayer book but would like to do so. Our anchor was a desire to preserve the prayer book’s linguistic character (which was already consciously old-fashioned in 1662). The language of the prayer book is from a time when spoken and written English were in closer connection, with the ear having priority over the eye. Its distinctive liturgical register aids memorization and allows for continuity in worship across time and space. For many people today – both young and old – its language is a positive aid to worship and catechesis.

The language of the Psalter required particular attention because it is older than the rest of the prayer book. In all essentials, the prayer book Psalter is Miles Coverdale’s edition of the Psalms in the Great Bible (1539). Some adaptations of Coverdale’s work are freewheeling, but our revision is much more modest, along the lines of the Irish 1926 and US 1928 prayer books. We have made occasional alterations for clarity or accuracy, but we have not departed from Coverdale’s penchant for paraphrase and his frequent reliance on the Greek and Latin versions. Nor has there been any shift in his register and idiom. In addition, because we wished to avoid any rupture with the Anglican choral tradition, our revisions preserve the rhythms of the words or phrases they replace whenever it is possible to do so without straying from Coverdale’s idiom. For example, in 4:2 leasing becomes the metrically identical lying, which also preserves the initial consonant. An instance where we did change the syllable count is 119:70, where the prayer book Psalter says of the wicked, ‘Their heart is as fat as brawn.’ Readers now take brawn as a reference to strength (preserved in the alliterative phrase ‘brains and brawn’). But Coverdale likely has in mind a different and quite specific image, for in early modern usage brawn could refer to a boar that had been fattened for a feast. We preserve his striking image with ‘Their heart is as fat as boars’ flesh.’ Note that a list of every alteration to the spoken text of the prayer book, Psalter, and Ordinal, beyond punctuation and the merely orthographic, will be published separately.

III. We include an appendix of additional prayers. Our principles of selection were as follows. First, we included prayers that have become so well known as part of the Anglican tradition that their absence would be keenly felt (e.g. the Compline prayer that begins ‘Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night’). Second, later Anglican prayer books usually include a wide range of occasional prayers. We included ones drawn out of prayer books from Canada, England, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, Scotland, South Africa, South India, Uganda, the United States, and the West Indies. Iird, we sought to recover some prayers from earlier editions of the prayer book (e.g. St. Mary Magdalene’s Day) and from Anglican devotional manuals (e.g. preparation for communion). Finally, we included a few prayers by individuals who express the breadth of the Anglican theological tradition. Across these categories, where necessary we have made alterations for stylistic consistency and felicity. In doing so, our guide was the main text in this volume. Many more prayers could of course have been included, but restraint was essential; this book is not an encyclopedia of prayers old and new.

There are other appendices. One is a sermon on justification from the first of the two authorized books of homilies. These homilies are commended in Article xxxv and the 1604 Canons ‘for the confirmation of the true faith, and for the good instruction and edification of the people’ (Canon xlix). Uniquely among the official homilies, this sermon is also cross-referenced in the Articles of Religion: Article xi directs readers to this sermon for a fuller expression of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Another appendix contains rubrics drawn from later prayer books. These distill centuries of customs regarding the use of the Book of Common Prayer (1662).

Yet another appendix offers an additional lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer. The 1662 table of lessons, organized according to the civil calendar year, provides for continuous reading through the Scriptures with only occasional breaks for red-letter days. The alternative lectionary in the appendix is the Church of England’s 1961 revised table of lessons, which is organized by the church year. Its selection of lessons aims to wed the principle of continuous reading to alignment with the sequence of greater festivals.

The final appendix is a glossary, after which there is a page of instructions for following the services of Morning Prayer, Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer.

In all these decisions, our purpose has been to let the text speak for itself. The Book of Common Prayer (1662) is an instrument of unity, the shared heritage of Anglicans around the world. We have sought to avoid any trace of idiosyncrasy in our editorial judgements. Indeed, it is not our place as editors to indulge in theological or ethical adjustments to the prayer book, nor to explicate it with commentary. As has been true for three and a half centuries, this book will be taught and explained, by turns justified and criticized, interrogated patiently or impatiently, and rightly so. Criticism and interrogation are the fate of every human work and the health of every living tradition. But those tasks are for the users, not the editors, of this volume.

The various versions of the Book of Common Prayer, from the earliest versions to the culminating one of 1662, ‘will always be acknowledged as historical documents of the first order, and masterpieces of English prose, but that is not what they want or mean to be. Their goal … is to be living words in the mouths of those who have a living faith.’ * So, too, with this edition. It is not for antiquarian interest, nor for academic study, but for use: it is for those who desire to pray.



21st March 2020

* Alan Jacobs, The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2013), pp. 193-194

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