The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) has had an illustrious and checkered career since Archbishop Thomas Cranmer first introduced it to the Church of England back in 1549, almost five hundred years ago. If you've ever pledged to be faithful to someone "till death do us part," mourned to the words "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," or hoped for "peace in our time," you've been shaped by Cranmer's cadences, perhaps without knowing it. Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Baylor University and former professor of English at Wheaton College, has given us a lively recounting of the old Anglican prayer book's history in this new "biography," part of Princeton University Press's Lives of Great Religious Books series. Jordan Hylden, a doctoral candidate in theology and ethics at Duke University Divinity School, corresponded with Jacobs about the BCP's global reach and its mixed reception by evangelicals.
The Book of Common Prayer is nearly 500 years old. Does it still make a difference for how we worship today?
I suppose that would depend on who you mean by "we"—there are millions of Christians worshipping in ways unaffected by the BCP, except insofar as they share common roots in Jewish and early Christian worship. But the reach of the BCP is more extensive than one might think. It has relatively direct connections to Methodist and Lutheran worship. And the liturgical scholarship that, in the early 20th century, went into possible revisions of the Church of England's 1662 book eventually made its way not only into modern Anglican prayer books but even had an influence on liturgical developments in the Roman Catholic Church, ...1