May-June: The First Book of Common Prayer

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

This feast is appropriately observed on a weekday following the day of Pentecost.

The first Book of Common Prayer came into use on the Day of Pentecost, June 9, 1549, in the second year of the reign of King Edward VI. From it have descended all subsequent editions and revisions of the Book in the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

Though prepared by a commission of learned bishops and priests, the format, substance, and style of the Prayer Book were primarily the work of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1533–1556. The principal sources employed in its compilation were the medieval Latin service books of the Use of Sarum (Salisbury), with enrichments from the Greek liturgies, certain ancient Gallican rites, the vernacular German forms prepared by Luther, and a revised Latin liturgy of the reforming Archbishop Hermann of Cologne. The Psalter and other biblical passages were drawn from the English “Great Bible” authorized by King Henry VIII in 1539, and the Litany was taken from the English form issued as early as 1544.

The originality of the Prayer Book, apart from the felicitous translations and paraphrases of the old Latin forms, lay in its simplification of the complicated liturgical usages of the medieval Church, so that it was suitable for use by the laity as well as by the clergy. The Book thus became both a manual of common worship for Anglicans and a primary resource for their personal spirituality.


I  Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, did restore the language of the people in the prayers of thy Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  Almighty and everliving God, whose servant Thomas Cranmer, with others, restored the language of the people in the prayers of your Church: Make us always thankful for this heritage; and help us so to pray in the Spirit and with the understanding, that we may worthily magnify your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Psalm 33:1–5,20–21


1 Kings 8:54–61

Acts 2:38–42

John 4:21–24

Preface of Pentecost

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

8 Responses to May-June: The First Book of Common Prayer

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The Hebrew Scripture reading is new.

  2. Michael Hartney says:

    Ask, and it shall be given unto you … voila!

    Readings: A comment I have made before … if we are going to truncate a Psalm why don’t we include the last verse, verse 22? “Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, * as we have put our trust in you.”

    • John LaVoe says:

      Michael — you have a valid question there — nothing obvious explains omitting 22 when 20 and 21 are included. (Plus, if you’re chanting with the usual 2 verses to a psalm tone pattern, an even number of verses is convenient, and including verse 22 would total an even number.)

      My question would be, why complicate following it in the BCP by having to jump from 5 to 20/21 when 1-5 seem sufficient to begin with? (Probably nobody follows it in the actual, bound, physical BCP anymore. What’s a BCP?) (What commemoration is this?)

  3. John LaVoe says:

    I realize this is an unusual commemoration in that it’s about a book and not a person, but I am in awe of the BCP, and am thankful for it’s spiritual wholeness and wisdom, not just its literary qualities. The narrative does what it should do, and the collect does as well. The readings don’t knock me over with enthusiasm, but frankly, Scarlett….

    The only one that comes to mind as a suggestion (as a replacement for the newly suggested 1 Kings passage), is Nehemiah 8:1-12. It’s obviously not about a prayer book, but IS about a community regrouping in loving faithfulness and devotion to God by hearing AND UNDERSTANDING — which is one of the greatest benefits and blessings (as well as one of the hoped for fruits) of the BCP. (This is the “Water Gate” passage.)

  4. Pingback: May-June: The First Book of Common Prayer (via Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music) | Reflections on my LifeJourney

  5. Steve Lusk says:

    For the Epistle, how about Acts 2:1-11 (“every man heard them speake with his owne language”)? Not only does it underscore the importance of doing the service in the language of the people, but it was the Epistle read at the first use of the BCP in 1549.
    Likewise, Psalm 33 was the Psalm appointed for Pentecost in the 1549 Book, so it’s a keeper. They read the whole thing back then, and maybe we should, too.
    The 1549 Gospel was John 14:15-22, which is at least as good a fit as 4:21-24, and using it avoids the jarring “woman” (what woman?) in the first verse of the present reading.
    As this is an unusual feast, why don’t we follow the 1549 Book’s lead and not have an Old Testament reading at all? If we must have three readings, maybe a second New Testament passage could be used, like Acts 19:1-7 (a shortened version of the Pentecost Evensong reading from the 1549 Book), Acts 10:34-43 (from Pentecost Matins), or Romans 8:11-17 (“how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”).

  6. Michael Weylandt says:

    I’d caution against stereotyping the uses of the English Church pre-1544 and the consequent history of the BCP. A few points:

    1) If I remember correctly, the Sarum Rites called for certain bits most relevant to the congregation to be given in English (bidding of the bedes and publishing of bans immediately come to mind) Ironically, these were two of the 3 things V-II specifically authorized to be in the vernacular; everything else comes under a provision of “exceptional circumstances” which seem to have become the rule…

    2) The BCP continued (and continues even today) to be used in Latin in certain, primarily academic circumstances: e.g., the first mass of term at Oxford.

    3) Don’t underestimate the intelligibility of the Latin mass (see Duffy’s work for a counterbalance to the standard Protestant history of “no one knew any Latin at all whatsoever and they couldn’t understand anything the mean terrible priests were doing”) to laity of that era, or our own — this coming from someone who takes advantage of Latin masses whenever traveling outside the Anglophone world!

  7. Derek Moore says:

    as long as the liturgical color for this feast day are not BLACK, were doing good!

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