It may come as a surprise to some, but the Book of Common Prayer has not remained utterly constant over the years. Rubrics have been changed, some services were dropped, the lectionary revised, and even the title was changed for a time. The changes are interesting not only in themselves, but also because they can serve to help date a Prayer Book which has no printed date of publication; Books of Common Prayer printed since about are undated. The basic source for most of the other changes was Lynda Howell's excellent and comprehensive BCP site.
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A nglicans have always read the Hebrew Bible in public worship. As Wesley Hill recently pointed out in this space , that reading of the Old Testament has been insistently theological.
But there have been changes in how the Old Testament appears in Anglican public worship. One is quantity. That parishioner would have heard 98 verses from the Old Testament: 50 from the Psalms, 31 verses from Isaiah, and 17 verses from Exodus.
Some parishioners would also have attended Evening Prayer on that First Sunday in Advent, hearing another 62 verses from the Old Testament 40 from Psalms, 22 from Isaiah , making a total of Old Testament verses. In , a typical parishioner in the Episcopal Church attends church once, for a service of Holy Communion.
On the First Sunday in Advent, this typical parishioner heard 12 verses from the Old Testament — nine verses from the Psalms and three verses from Jeremiah. Nor is the picture different in the Anglican Church in North America: 13 verses from the Old Testament — six verses from the Psalms and seven verses from Zechariah. There is a longer Psalm option, though. There has been an 85 percent reduction in the quantity of reading from the Old Testament just on this one Sunday morning.
That can be traced, in part, to a trend in how 20th-century American lectionaries — , , and — dramatically reduced the reading of the Old Testament for Morning and Evening Prayer on Sundays.
W hen Anglicans read a lot of the Old Testament in public worship, what exactly were they reading? Part of the answer is Psalms — lots of them. In the Church of England the Venite Ps. And on both sides of the Atlantic the Decalogue was read.
Before the book, American prayer books required the Decalogue to be said at least every Sunday. Yet there is another part of the answer: the disappearance of the Sunday First Lessons. These Sunday First Lessons had a definite logic. It was not the logic of the Epistles and Gospels at Holy Communion — those had been formed through centuries of Western Christian tradition, inhabited the seasons, and were tied to each other and often to the Collect of the Day.
Nor was it the logic of the Daily Office, for which Cranmer had prescribed readings in course through nearly the entirety of the Holy Scriptures and large swathes of the deuterocanonical books. The starting point is to see the reliance on canonical order. That general commitment to canonical order meant that for the long arc of biblical narrative the readings are sequential. Thus, beginning on Septuagesima, the readings move from the creation of the world all the way to the exile to Babylon, winding through selections from Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
These selections are presented together as a single story — the very kind of theological shaping that is implicit in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke and in the ordering of the canon even in its different variations. But what about the departures from the received canonical order, Isaiah and Proverbs? How are Christians to read this Eden-to-Babylon narrative? That is where the introduction and conclusion come in.
Twenty-four chapters of Isaiah are read in all and 25 if one adds the proper First Lesson for Morning Prayer on Whitsunday. Reading Isaiah as the introduction to the Old Testament encourages the reader to approach the text Christologically. And the conclusion? After reading through the history of Israel, and reading 15 chapters from the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Micah, and Habakkuk, what follows in the Sunday First Lessons is very surprising to a contemporary reader.
The conclusion to the annual course is 11 chapters from the Proverbs. One might surmise again a Christological implication, with Christ as divine wisdom. But that theme is not emphasized by the selections e. There is a better explanation for the sapiential conclusion to the narrative sequence, and it ties in with the Christological introduction.
T he key to understanding the Sunday First Lessons is law , and specifically the three uses of the law. The civil use may be found in Deuteronomy and the readings about the kings of Judah and Israel, but it is the first and third uses that predominate in the Sunday First Lessons. When one has in mind the uses of the law, everything falls into place.
Isaiah tells the reader to look for Christ, so when the stories of sin and judgment come — as they do over and over in the Pentateuch, the stories of the kings, and the exile — we will see our condition, and run to Jesus. Lord, have mercy upon us. But these stories of sin and judgment are also supposed to work on our moral imagination, to guide and form our intention for obedience. For that purpose, the pithy axioms found in Proverbs are invaluable.
Incline our hearts to keep this law. And the sequence is exactly right: we move from the first use of the law to the third, from justification to sanctification. In between Isaiah and Proverbs, we see how God chastises and corrects his covenant people, and we thus learn how God deals with us as individuals. The selection may be accounted for on this supposition, viz.
With exquisite skill, Keble works through the entire year of Sunday First Lessons. He concludes that his sketch. This, then, is the logic of the Sunday First Lessons. They present the story of Israel from creation to exile, but they also, by carefully framing the Old Testament narrative with Isaiah and Proverbs, guide us in how to read that story. We look for Christ Luke Now the reader may have a nagging doubt.
This is how the Sunday First Lessons once worked, but can they still work this way today? Is the logic of the Sunday First Lessons compatible with prayer books from the 20th and 21st centuries?
All one has to do is allow the series of Old Testament Lessons to have its logic. The Epistles and Gospels have their logic, and are tightly connected with each other and sometimes with the Collect. Or, in a service of Morning or Evening Prayer, a seasonal proper for the Second Lesson will have its logic. Or, if a New Testament book is being read through in course for an expository series, those readings will have their logic. Each of those can be complemented well by the Sunday First Lessons.
Consider, for example, whether the Sunday First Lessons would pair well with the Epistle and Gospel in a contemporary service of Holy Communion. The answer is yes , and without regard to whether the Epistle and Gospel come from the traditional Book of Common Prayer eucharistic lectionary or the Revised Common Lectionary.
And the logic is sound: Isaiah prepares us for the birth of the Savior at Christmas, and the failures of Adam and the patriarchs prepare us for the mortification of Lent.
Neither one of these ancient Christian patterns is consistently followed in other lectionaries, including the lectionary printed in the prayer book i. In those lectionaries there is some Isaiah in Advent and some Genesis before Lent, but without consistency. W hat would be required for a congregation to try the Sunday First Lessons, assuming there was ecclesiastical permission to do so?
It might involve adding Morning Prayer before Holy Communion. For any congregation that used the Sunday First Lessons, one difference would be immediately detected. The readings are longer. Yet this length is often accompanied by greater understanding, because the longer reading is more coherent and sensible as a unit. The chapters chosen for the Sunday First Lessons are often rhetorical masterpieces, the kind that cannot be successfully peeled and diced into smaller units, such as Genesis 3, Daniel 4, and Ezekiel These chapters are far more coherent when read whole contrast, e.
Anglicans like to think we read a lot of the Old Testament in our public worship services. The reality is that we read a lot less than we used to. William Wilberforce, the renowned abolitionist and evangelical Anglican, once called the Book of Common Prayer.
Samuel L. He is also a coauthor, with John F. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. If one actually reads them, that if very often not the case. The fact is that the Collects arose in a completely different context. It is likely their logic is more as a conclusion to the Entrance Rite of the ancient Latin Rite than as an introduction to the Scriptural readings.
Thanks for this lovely reflection! I am greatly encouraged to find another soul who has seen the value of this old lectionary. A couple of years ago, I actually began using the whole lectionary in my private daily Office. To do this, I needed to find a copy of the BCP printed before the lectionary was altered in Most reacted comment. Hottest comment thread. Notify of. Opinion — 12 December — Thinking Anglicans.
Michael Merriman. Jesse Billett.
Daily Prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
You may be interested in some of the web-sites listed below. Click on the links to visit the sites, but please remember that the Prayer Book Society is not responsible for these sites, nor does inclusion in the list below imply any endorsement by the Prayer Book Society. Albans Truro Wakefield Winchester York. The Book of Common Prayer website An "unofficial" site maintained by a volunteer in the USA, Lynda Howell, containing the full texts of the Book of Common Prayer, available to search and to download in several different formats.
The Contents of this Site
Book of Common Prayer BCP is the short title of a number of related prayer books used in the Anglican Communion , as well as by other Christian churches historically related to Anglicanism. The original book, published in in the reign of Edward VI , was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome. The work of was the first prayer book to include the complete forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English. It contained Morning Prayer , Evening Prayer , the Litany , and Holy Communion and also the occasional services in full: the orders for Baptism , Confirmation , Marriage , " prayers to be said with the sick ", and a funeral service. It also set out in full the " propers " that is the parts of the service which varied week by week or, at times, daily throughout the Church's Year : the introits , collects , and epistle and gospel readings for the Sunday service of Holy Communion. Old Testament and New Testament readings for daily prayer were specified in tabular format as were the Psalms ; and canticles , mostly biblical, that were provided to be said or sung between the readings. The book was soon succeeded by a more reformed revision in under the same editorial hand, that of Thomas Cranmer , Archbishop of Canterbury.