The 1549 Prayer Book – I`m in Love

We all think Henry VIII changed the Church of England, threw out the popish stuff, put the service into English and just resolved all of that. But that is not what happened.

The English Book of Common Prayer was not released until Edward VI, the young son of Henry who ascended the throne on the death of his father in 1547. The book was in process for years, but the mass was in Latin all through the years of rule by Henry. Henry was not interested in turning his kingdom upside down. He had enough civil unrest with which to deal. He had opposed the pope, as had many English kings, on matters besides the issue of his divorce from his first wife. Too much English money left the country headed for Rome. Too much English land was in the hands of the pope. To the English kings for generations, it was as if a foreign monarch was receiving tribute, levying taxes, and drafting the young and the brightest minds for his own service. Henry VIII was in a position to stop this, and he did.

Archbishop Cranmer worked steadily as a scholar and as a bishop to find adequate models for an English liturgy that were both uniquely English and still within the tradition of the ancient church. He had access to many liturgies besides the old Latin ones – Orthodox books dating back to the fifth century, and the most recent ideas from the Contintental reformers. The 1549 book is a distillation of all that.

I love it because it is straightforward; there are few rubrics; fanciful manual acts are discouraged and prohibited. Vestments were to be much simpler than the recent past. Processions were minimized. It was pure prayer and liturgy, to be understood by the people.

The people heard the scripture, lots of it. The people heard the prayers and made answer in their own language. It was plain talk for plain people – a very English idea. The book could be used anywhere, whether a huge cathedral or a tiny chapel. Priests no longer had to juggle several books at once. The Sunday lessons were included along with the appropriate psalms. Henry had ordered Bibles in the churches, and a chapter to be read in English to the people every week. This gave them even more scripture.

Cranmer intended that the people should hear and understand the prayer and lessons. He intended that the people would know what was said on their behalf. I believe he was less concerned than his European friends about contradicting the old ways and throwing out anything that had ever been done in a Roman church. (To continue that to its logical end, we would not have the sacraments at all.)

It is for these reasons I love the book, as well as for its language and simplicity. I am using it as my daily prayer book. I can just about feel the holy presence of not only our Lord, but of the saints of our church who worked and fought and died for this effort, Cranmer among them. I am connectd to the time of those great reformers, who so sincerely served God that they accepted prison and the stake for that service.


14 thoughts on “The 1549 Prayer Book – I`m in Love

  1. I recently received the Wesley Study Bible. As you may remember, I am Methodist. I think that I feel about it the same way that you do the 1549 Prayer Book. In the notes of the Bible are sections of sermons or particular definitions that apply to the doctrines of the Methodist Church. It has become not only my favorite Bible for when I have to prepare something for Lay Speaker’s Class but my favorite Bible in general and I seem to always be in it.

  2. Anglicanism began life as Catholicism but with Henry 8th replacing the Pope’s position, less ornaments- and no monastries & nunneries.This was not reformation, this was one King exploiting his power to divorce & remarry and to sieze the wealth of the church.

    Yes, money that could have gone to Henry went to the pope and yes the churches would have been dripping with treasures but with those treasures were transfered from the church to the king, and the monastries & nunneries that provided shelter to travellers, education to the rich, food to the poor and treatment to the ill were shut.Basically the power and taxes transfered from one tyrant to another.Of course this triggered secular education and the first universities.

    Making the Anglican church Protestant was left to Henry’s son, which is why I consider the Anglican church to be Catholic Lite with snobbery.To this day I know Catholics who are more comfortable attending an Anglican service than a Methodist (a true Protestant from the Anglican faith) or a Presbyterian.I suppose the first attempt of Reformation in the Anglican church started the low and high Anglican churches, but the real Protestants to come from the Anglicans are the Methodists who are most definately Protestant.Magda, when the Methodists started up they were all for plain dress, simple churches and connecting with the poor, the community and the ordinary folk.They scandalised decent society by starting up Sunday schools for the children of the poor (it was getting them “above their station” apparently)- and some even went as far as to teach children how to read and write.I believe a woman to turned up at a Methodist service wearing lace would be scorned and asked to leave.Perhaps you are a Methodist at heart, just about 150 years late….?

    • There lots of Anglican apologiae out there for the long wrangling between king and pope, but can’t disagree with you. Henry was definitely a medieval king, and had no problem sending many to their deaths for treason and whatever. I’d never count him as a saint, although he may have been a forgiven sinner. We can never judge the state of someone else’s soul!

      What the Anglicans did in the 1500s was very different from then-current Roman rite. If anything, the Romans moved closer to the Anglicans over the centuries rather than the other way around, except for some high church people who thought to “restore” what they thought was medieval rite. They were merely romantic about it, in my opinion.

      Both Quakers and Methodists were Anglican offshoots. I am so not a Methodist! What is now the Congregational churches were the Puritan Protestants who wished to reform the “too Roman” Anglican church into a model following Calvin’s Geneva theocracy. They were the first Anglican protestants – hence Oliver Cromwell.

      Sunday Schools were originally instituted by Anglican reformers to teach children to read: I believe the Methodists adapted and improved it.

      • Human rights sadly are a relatively new invention.In Henry’s day cruelities such as torture, the stocks, hangings, beheadings with the heads on spikes were acceptable, normal day occcurances.People could be punished for having mental illness, for being a Jew, for having elepilpsy and for appearaing to be a “witch”.

        In all honesty I believe that the Anglican church was very Catholic.There really was very little difference.(Shall we agree to disagree?^_^)At first Anglican churches were barren and devoid of all decoration- and this meant for many parishes the removal of their beloved stain glass windows, carvings, statues and paintings.It became popular for various men to preach at street corners condemning rosary beads, the celebration of Christmas, church statues, nuns, priests and monks.That was really how Protestant views snuck into England and the Anglican church.People took to reading bibles for the first time; some even encouraged women to read them too.

        Then things became more leniant ads Henry aged and as the public tired of the harsh, joyless rules set down these new preachers; it became OK to be Catholic, just a discreet Catholic with a few statues in the Catholic churches.The more hardline Protestants and those with Anabaptist leanings were now suspect as people likely to cause revolt and commit treason.The Anglicans ended up quite moderate as a result- not too Catholic and not too Protestant but more Catholic than Protestant. Henry’s son made the Anglican church more Protestant in it’s outlook and that set the trend of the Anglican church.

        I know that you live in Canada and things would be different there but here in Europe the Anglicans and the Catholics remain unchanged.I think the Escoplicans lean towards the Catholic faith more?- and perhaps more liberal than the Anglicans and the Catholics?We don’t have any Escoplicans so I am not certain.Irish Anglicans worship in churches that have pews with a little carving and stain glass windows depicting only words, patterns and plants.The overall effect is of understated elegance. There are women preachers but they cannot be bishops and I have not heard of an Irish gay Anglican preacher.Services are sedate affairs with beautiful hymns.To the Canadian and the American an Anglican church would probably mistaken as Methodist, so I think there may be some confusion here.I did encounter an American give a verdict online about an Irish Anglican church and he or she described it as akin to a United Methodist affair.

        The Puritans were the first real Protestants but didn’t they die out or change into another group?Baptists or something?At any rate they were chased out of England.As far as I know Quakers and Methodists are the only living churches that came from Anglicanism.Quakers indeed also sprung out of Anglicanism but I would hesistate at calling them Protestant.They seem more to be a unique branch of Christianity other than the Orthodox branch, the Catholic branch and the Anabaptist branch.

        The Methodist idea of taking the poor and educating them in reading & writing, passing on religious education and keeping children off the streets was a good one.Victorian England had problems in the industrialised cities with children and teens running about in gangs.The term Methodist became a dirty word to describe the liberals of the day.They were scorned for educating the lower classes.(It makes me think a little of the Indian caste system and how everyone was to keep to the place they had been born into.)I admit I rather like the Methodists for their quiet faith and general desire to help others around them.It is admirable.I wonder if the Salvation army was inspired by the Methodists or the other way round.Both began with the same intentions to help the poor and needy.

        But back to Methodism- you are not a Methodist by today’s standard but you do fit by the standard of early Methodists and early Methodists were Anglicans who desired social justice and plainness in dress & life.Wesley did not intend to start a different branch at all!Methodists were plain Anglicans who dressed plainly and had a passion for spreading the gospel- which sounds like you! Of course by modern standards you are too plain for the Methodists.I hope I am not causing offense in saying this but I mean it as a compliment.I know some lovely Methodists who are very into dressing simply (modern plain as Quaker Jane puts it) and into helping their neighbours even when they have little.

        I confess that I was pleased when I discovered that Wesley himslef had visited my hometown 11 times and set up the Methodist church there!

      • I’m not sure we disagree. I’m rather investd in the thesis that the Church of England always stood apart from the Church of Rome in theology even when they shared the Latin mass. The Puritans did end up in Massachusetts (and elsewhere) but some of them would have been Baptists eventually. I do admire the Wesleys, certainly, but modern Methodism holds no appeal to me. They are more like Congegationalists now.

        There is a broad spectrum in Anglican liturgy. I have been in American Episcopal churches that would pass for Catholic, and others where if we didn’t have a Book of Common Prayer in hand, we might be mistaken for Baptists. Canadian Anglicans vary from Wesleyan Evangelical to nose-bleed High. Some churches are little Gothic gems, some are Byzantine in style, some are no more than white-painted chapels with a simple table for an altar. We are united only in the Book of Common Prayer (our tradition) and our deep-seated dependence on scripture, and a Trinitarian faith that just doesn’t brook any heretical, Arianist heretic nonsense.

    • As I said in previous answer, it is more archaic. the language was changing so fast with the spread of printing, the shift in population, and the rise of general education. 1549 has an immediacy about it, almost like the Gospel of Mark – we need to get this done now and get it out on the streets! 1552 shows the influence of the Continental Rformers such as Bucer, a friend of Cranmer. I certainly prefer the simplest of ceremonial. My parishes were either wary of or delighted by my refusal to have processions, make the manual acts, or wear a pile of vestments. I had my reasons – processions belong in cathedrals and colleges; the manual acts are not described or required in the prayer book; I am short and (in my more athletic days) quite slight and just hated being swathed in layers of fabric! I used to trip on stoles and chasubles, so usually celebrated and preached in cassock and surplice, tailored for my stature and size. My stoles and tippet were cut short, too!

  3. 1549 eh? We have the Book of Common Prayer here which is 1662 (I think) isn’t it? I haven’t seen the earlier version. I totally love the 1662 one – I am blessed to be part of a church here where Book of Common Prayer sung evensong happens every few weeks – and sometimes I go and spend a few days in York to get my fix of Cathedral evensong at the Minster. But I will see if I can get hold of a copy of the 1549 book – I’d love to have it in my hand to compare.
    Thank you!

    • Yes, the Church of England still uses the 1662 book – the basis for our current Book of Common Prayer. The edition I am using is the 1964 Everyman which I think was published through 1972. It was a used copy that Mother Kay had in her library. (And she is so not a 1549 type!)

  4. How do you feel about the book of 1552? It is usually regarded as far closer to what Cranmer wanted than that first release of 1549 – and is certainly much plainer in doctrine and ceremony.

    • The edition I am using has both. The 1552 is more complete, true, and I am just being romantic in prefering the weird spellings and archaic usages. I think I prefer the “Gloria” at the end of the service, when we are at a moment of grace having been shriven and communed, but that may be much of a muchness anyway. Yes, it is plainer in many ways, but the ceremonial of both is much plainer than the elaborate processions and vesture of the contemporary Latin rite. I’m of two minds on this, and I think for public usage I would choose the 1552, and the 1549 for private devotions, which is how I use it now.

  5. Hello all,

    Here, in Indiana and I think just about all over the US, the United Methodists are extremely liberal and considered rather related to Catholicism. Now we have one other church in our tiny town that is called the Early Methodist Church and it is considered a “Holiness” church. They say they are like the earlier Nazarene’s. Other Holiness churches are called Pilgrim Holiness. Then there is the Weslyan Methodist Church and many are going by new names now, such as New Life. They are unrecognizeabe from what they were 20 yrs ago. Around here, the liberals are afraid of them, that is how far off the map they have gotten. We have been involved with them in our church visiting history and it had a grevious ending and not because of an argument – long and sad story. I can say there is a trend to send young graduates from seminar with new ideas, using the world’s ways of luring young ones in. Anyhow, the Holiness churches are still very modest, but we see a hint of change coming, as it did with the Nazarenes 20 yrs ago. We have always visited the Early Methodist ( Holiness) from time to time to keep our friendships up, encourage our friends. The pastor’s wife has been so good with our son and we visit one another. Very in love with the Lord and serving Him. But…. it is not our cup of tea in many ways.

    I have told you, I think, that we spent 5 yrs traveling around visiting churches of many types – 80 to 90 of them. (We finished doing this about 6 yrs ago or 7) We spend more time at some than others. Most were just a visit and that was it. But the scary thing was that they all seem to be homogonizing ( sp?) into the same blob and losing their distinctions. And there is just not a big interest anywhere in even bothering to discuss the things that made the different churches distinct. Just watered down everything. Now, we did meet some people in most places that were deep christians and trying to hang in there.

    I have to also say that we learned so much from our very first pastor in a Quaker meeting who was actually a United Methodist! He was a very conservative and strong Christian man. He stayed 9 yrs there and was loved. He often said Quakerism rubbed off on him, though looking back I don’t think there was much Quakerism being practiced. I still appreciate the time we spent there and know it was where God wanted us at that time.

    • My experience with American Methodism is about the same. It is quite political. I guess I’m safe in the Anglican church where we are expected to keep our politics quietly to ourselves, voting our conscience but respecting differences. someone is bound to correct me on that, with recent changes in our church – the most politically motivated seem to leave, though. The Holiness churches, sort of primitive Pentecostal, were Methodist to start. The Azusa Street Revival that led to the Holiness movement in the early 20th century was Methodist in origin. I believe we can have friends across many denominations, and even attend each other’s churches, without problems. At heart we follow Christ, and in the end of all things, He won’t judge us according to which church we joined, but how we stayed close to Him.

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