I recently read Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, a short history of the Book of Common Prayer written by Percy Dearmer (perhaps best known as the editor of the English Hymnal) and first published in 1912. The book is available to read online.
The whole book is well worth reading (as I’ve described here), but in this post I wanted to share three interesting nuggets of liturgical nerdery which particularly struck me as I read Dearmer’s book.
First: I hadn’t fully appreciated until reading Dearmer that the term “Divine Service” refers specifically to the daily office – i.e. what St Benedict calls the Opus Dei, “the work of God” – while the “Liturgy” refers to Holy Communion. This isn’t the Lutheran usage: we use the term “Divine Service” (or Gottesdienst) to refer to the Communion service. (I wonder if there is a causal link, in either direction, between this detail of terminology and the relative marginalisation of the daily office within Lutheranism.)
Second, expanding on this, Dearmer describes in his third chapter how the full title of the Book of Common Prayer divides the book’s contents into distinct sections:
- The Book of Common Prayer
- And Administration of the Sacraments,
- And other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England
- Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches
- And the Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.
The other contents of the book as we have it (the State Services, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Table of Kindred and Affinity) are then only appendices to the Prayer Book proper.
The contents of each part are then as follows (links are to Lynda Howell’s online version of the 1662 book):
- Common Prayer
- The Administration of the Sacraments
- Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church
- The Psalter
- The Psalter.
- The Ordinal
It will be seen that the Prayer Book thus provides a complete system for Christian public worship. Dearmer, an Anglo-Catholic, also observes that the “Other Rites and Ceremonies” section includes four of the “five commonly called Sacraments” (the Ordinal containing the fifth): confirmation, holy matrimony, private confession and absolution, and healing – the last two both being contained in the order for the Visitation of the Sick. The Prayer Book gives far more attention, though, to the two uncontested sacraments that are “generally necessary to salvation”: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, the “family tree” which I’ve included at the start of this post has a line running from Eastern Orthodoxy to the Book of Common Prayer. When I posted this on Tumblr, someone asked what the Eastern Orthodox influences on the Prayer Book were. Having now read Dearmer’s book, it seems there are (or at least, have been) two:
- The “prayer of St Chrysostom” that closes Morning and Evening Prayer (“…that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests…”)
- The Epiklesis, or prayer for the Holy Spirit to hallow the elements to make them the body and blood of Christ, which Cranmer included in the 1549 Book but which was subsequently dropped: Heare us (O merciful father) we besech thee; and with thy holy spirite and worde, vouchsafe to bl+esse and sanc+tifie these thy gyftes, and creatures of bread and wyne, that they maie be unto us the bodye and bloude of thy moste derely beloved sonne Jesus Christe.