The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662

Diarmaid MacCulloch writes:

The publication of this definitive edition of the Book of Common Prayer heralds a significant anniversary; it is 350 years since the final version of the book was authorised by Parliament in 1662. The modern Church of England might look like and often behave like a ‘denomination’, but from the 16th century to at least 1800, it was the national Church, enjoying the allegiance of the great majority of the population in both England and Wales. Its liturgy was not a denominational artefact; it was the literary text most thoroughly known by most people in this country – the Bible should be included among its lesser rivals. The English and the Welsh were active participants in the Prayer Book, as they made their liturgical replies to the person leading worship in the thousands of churches throughout the realm: they were actors week by week in a drama whose cast included and united most of the nation, and which therefore was a much more significant play, and culturally more central, than anything by Shakespeare.

(LRB 24 May 2012)

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