The Golden Jubilee of the BCP

Published March 1, 2012

The year 2012 is full of anniversary celebrations.  It is the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the Diamond Jubilee of the accession of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is also the Golden Jubilee of the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer. In response to the request by General Synod 2010 that the Anglican Church of Canada observe this anniversary, the Prayer Book Society of Canada (PBSC) is working with the Faith, Worship and Ministry department of the national office to make this observance a memorable one.

As part of this jubilee celebration, the Prayer Book Society is suggesting four dates be observed. Each of these dates has a historical significance in the history of the BCP. The first date is Wednesday, March 21. This is the date of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s martyrdom. Archbishop Cranmer was the architect and compiler of the original Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and this day is Cranmer’s feast day in both the BCP and BAS liturgical calendars. Although the prayer book has undergone many changes since then,  the wording of many of the prayers and exhortations has stood the test of time for more than 450 years.

The second date is Wednesday, May 2. This is the day of the nation-wide celebration of the 1662 English edition of the Book of Common Prayer in the United Kingdom. This celebration will take the form of an evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer was the edition used by the United Empire Loyalists and first Anglican settlers in what is now Canada.  Since the 1662 BCP was the one in use when the Anglican Church of Canada obtained its autonomy from the Church of England in 1893, it is the edition of the BCP referred to in the Solemn Declaration.  

It is interesting to note that when the Anglican church in Canada obtained its autonomy from the mother church in England, its first liturgical business was not a revision of the BCP but the production of a new hymn book! The first Book of Common Praise appeared in 1908. The revision of the prayer book was delayed by the First World War, but the first Canadian edition of the prayer book came into use in 1922.

After the Second World War, the need for revision was felt again and a new revision was published in 1959. This brings us to the third significant date for the Golden Jubilee year, which is Monday, September 3. It was on this date in 1959 that the 1962 Canadian BCP was first authorized (on an experimental basis) for use in the Canadian church. Why is it called the 1962 BCP when it was first published in 1959? In our Canadian church, any legislation that comes before General Synod and has the potential for changes in doctrine must be passed by two consecutive General Synods to come into effect. For Anglicans, doctrine is enshrined (in part) in our liturgical formularies, and thus changes in the prayer book have potential doctrinal implications. It was not until the revised prayer book was passed at a second General Synod in 1962 that it could be accepted by the church as a whole. Between 1959 and 1962, the new prayer book was used only experimentally alongside the 1922 Canadian BCP.

The September 3 date has further significance. It was on this day in 1578 that the first recorded celebration of the eucharist took place in what is now Canada, celebrated by the Rev. Robert Wolfall in Frobisher Bay. The historical significance of the September 3 date was not lost on the Anglicans assembled for General Synod in 1959, because the b ishop of the Arctic, D. B. Marsh, was allowed to be the first cleric to celebrate the eucharist using the new prayer book. The service took place in St. George’s Church, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Que. Since September 3 falls in the Labour Day weekend, Canadian Anglicans may wish to celebrate the occasion of the first use of the 1962 BCP on a Sunday or weekday following the long weekend.

The final date in the cycle of celebrations marking the Golden Jubilee of the 1962 Canadian BCP is the First Sunday in Advent, December 2.  After the revised prayer book received approval at the 1962 General Synod, the then primate, Archbishop Howard Hewlett, sent out an episcopal decree to the entire Canadian church that the 1962 BCP would come into effect, and be used exclusively, as of the First Sunday in Advent 1962. As it turns out, Advent also fell on December 2 in 1962, so this year’s anniversary date will be exactly 50 years to the day that the 1962 BCP became the official worship book of the Anglican Church of Canada.  

The 1962 Book of Common Prayer is still authorized for use in the Anglican Church of Canada, and it is hoped that even congregations who primarily use  the Book of Alternative Services for their worship will consider using the BCP for some of their celebrations this year. The BCP is a part of our Anglican heritage, and a significant marker of Anglican identity. Educational resources and suggested liturgical material for celebrating the anniversary dates will be available on the website of the Prayer Book Society of Canada ( and we invite people to explore the interesting resources to be found there. An informed acquaintance with the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer will help Canadian Anglicans to appreciate the deep and rich legacy of faith our forebears have entrusted to us.

The Rev. Gordon Maitland is the national chair of the Prayer Book Society of Canada and a parish priest in Windsor, Ont.


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