Controversy always greeted BCP

Published June 1, 1999

The title page of Mattins set to music by John Merbecke in 1550.

ON THE 450th Anniversary of the first Book of Common Prayer it is worth remembering that when the BCP was introduced on the Feast of Pentecost in 1549 there were riots in opposition to it. It was used as a partial pretext for a desultory revolution in Devon and Wales and was condemned as “inadequate ? ambiguous ? impious”, and as “a Christmas game.”

The purpose of the Prayer Book Society of Canada is stated as, “Promoting the understanding and use of the Book of Common Prayer as a spiritual system of nurture for life in Christ.”

The Prayer Book, from its inception through its many revisions, has been a statement and vehicle of classical Anglicanism. This expression of the Christian life takes its belief from Scripture as interpreted through Holy Tradition by sanctified reason. So Anglicanism claimed not merely sola Scriptura, the Bible alone nor a “two font” theory, equating tradition with God’s Word. Nor did it claim experience or today’s popular “it must be so ’cause we like it that way” church, but rather “the One Faith revealed in Holy Writ, and defined by the Creeds as maintained by the undivided primitive Church in the undisputed Ecumenical Councils” (Solemn Declaration 1893).

The Prayer Book is a repository of Apostolic faith seen through the Solemn Declaration, offices, eucharist, ordinal, and in the much maligned Articles of Religion.

On that first and disastrous Sunday in 1549, the people of God were introduced to what most of us consider today a conservative translation and revision of the medieval Mass but which they, for the most part, saw as a radical change.

Some years ago our parish received two batches of Prayer Books from churches who were disposing of them for reasons best left unmentioned. The first set, from a moderately “high church” congregation was sorely afflicted in pages 67 to 86 while the second bunch, from a “low church” had tatters from page 1 through 12. The remaining pages of both sets of books were relatively unscathed. The wear patterns illustrated that some parishes at least do not understand or use the Prayer Book as a “system of nurture for the life in Christ.”

The Prayer Book is designed to be used in parishes, in chapters of religious houses and cathedrals, in families, and by individuals in prayer. Our Prayer Book includes not only Mattins and the Eucharist but also family prayers, other offices, sacraments and sacramentals, and a wealth of devotional material, all designed to be used by God’s people.

And to what purpose? As a spiritual system of nurture for life in Christ; that is, for the sanctification of the people of God.

The process of theosis, of being made over into the image of God, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ who is God incarnate, is the ultimate reason for the Book of Common Prayer.

Some decades ago a novel called The Archbishop’s Test suggested that the worst thing about the Prayer Book system was that it had never been tried. The author may have been right.

Canon Douglas Skoyles SSC is rector of St. John the Evangelist Parish/Shrine Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, Calgary.


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