Book of Common Prayer  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Book of Common Prayer is the common title of a number of prayer books of the Church of England and of other Anglican churches, used throughout the Anglican Communion. The first book, published in 1549, in the reign of Edward VI, was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome. Prayer books, unlike books of prayers, contain the words of structured (or liturgical) services of worship. The work of 1549 was the first prayer book to contain the forms of service for daily and Sunday worship in English and to do so within a single volume; it included morning prayer, evening prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion. The book included the other occasional services in full: the orders for baptism, confirmation, marriage, 'prayers to be said with the sick' and a funeral service. It set out in full the Epistle and Gospel readings for the Sunday Communion Service. Set Old Testament and New Testament readings for daily prayer were specified in tabular format as were the set Psalms; and canticles, mostly biblical, that were provided to be sung between the readings.

Literary influence

Together with the Authorized version and the works of Shakespeare, the Book of Common Prayer has been one of the three fundamental underpinnings of modern English. As it has been in regular use for centuries, many phrases from its services have passed into the English language, either as deliberate quotations or as unconscious borrowings. They are used in non-liturgical ways. For example, many authors have used quotes from the prayer book as titles for their books.

Some examples of well-known phrases from the Book of Common Prayer are:

  • "Speak now or forever hold your peace" from the marriage liturgy.
  • "Till death us do part", from the marriage liturgy.
  • "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust" from the funeral service.
  • "From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil" from the litany.
  • "Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" from the collect for the second Sunday of Advent.
  • "Evil liver" from the rubrics for Holy Communion.
  • "All sorts and conditions of men" from the Order for Morning Prayer.
  • "Peace in our time" from Morning Prayer, Versicles.

The phrase "till death us do part" ("till death us depart" before 1662) has been changed to "till death do us part" in some more recent prayer books, such as the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer.

References and allusions to Prayer Book services in the works of Shakespeare were tracked down and identified by Richmond Noble. Derision of the Prayer Book or its contents "in any interludes, plays, songs, rhymes, or by other open words" was a criminal offence under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, and consequently Shakespeare avoids too direct reference; but Noble particularly identifies the reading of the Psalter according to the Great Bible version specified in the Prayer Book, as the biblical book generating the largest number of Biblical references in Shakespeare's plays. Noble found a total of 157 allusions to the Psalms in the plays of the First Folio, relating to 62 separate Psalms—all, save one, of which he linked to the version in the Psalter, rather than those in the Geneva Bible or Bishops' Bible. In addition, there are a small number of direct allusions to liturgical texts in the Prayer Book; e.g. Henry VIII 3:2 where Wolsey states "Vain Pomp and Glory of this World, I hate ye!", a clear reference to the rite of Public Baptism; where the Godparents are asked "Doest thou forsake the vaine pompe and glory of the worlde..?"

More recently, P.D. James used phrases from the Book of Common Prayer and made them into bestselling titles—Devices and Desires and The Children of Men, while Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 film Children of Men placed the phrase onto cinema marquees worldwide.

Copyright status

As the Book of Common Prayer is long out of copyright, it can be freely reproduced in most of the world. However, in the United Kingdom, the Crown holds the rights as part of the royal prerogative and as such, they are perpetual. Publishers are licensed to reproduce the Book of Common Prayer under letters patent which prohibit anyone other than the holders (and those authorized by them) from printing, publishing or importing the Book of Common Prayer into the United Kingdom.

Letters patent for England, Wales and Northern Ireland are held by the Queen's Printer, and for Scotland by the Scottish Bible Board. The office of Queen's Printer has been associated with the right to reproduce the Bible for many years, with the earliest known reference coming in 1577. Other letters patent of similar antiquity grant Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press the right to produce the Book of Common Prayer independently of the Queen's Printer. The Queen's Printer is currently the Cambridge University Press as from their takover of Eyre & Spottiswoode (which had been Queen's Printer since 1901) in the late 20th century. The protection that the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorized Version enjoy is the last remnant of the time when the Crown held a monopoly over all printing and publishing in the United Kingdom. This prerogative should not be confused with Crown copyright, or copyright in works of the United Kingdom's government.

The Episcopal Church's book is always released into the public domain. Trial use and supplemental liturgies are however copyrighted by Church Publishing, the official publishing arm of the church.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Book of Common Prayer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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