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Book review: Oxford’s Book of Common Prayer–Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662

October 18, 2011

cranmerPerhaps Protestant prayer books with scholarly annotation are not rare, but I have not encountered many (a significant exception is Blunt’s 1866-1872 Annotated Book of Common Prayer).   Thus it is a special delight for me to open Brian Cummings’ new The Book of Common Prayer:  The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662.  Here is a prayer book – actually three prayer books in original spelling and some original artwork, with 74 pages of prefatory material including a full, detailed introduction, over 100 pages of notes, a glossary (including words in medieval or early modern spellings that may be unfamiliar) and appendices including the “black rubric” of 1552, and additional orders of service from 1662-1685, the 39 articles of religion, and a table of consanguinity forbidden for marriage (big surprise for me:  the Anglicans apparently forbid levirate marriage.)

The volume is printed in original spelling, right up to the medieval crosses copied from the Sarum missal used in “bl✠esse and sanc✠ifie” (p. 30.)

Besides including Cranmer’s classic phrasings, this volume also includes a particularly elegant presentation of the Coverdale Psalter.

Simply watching the evolution of prayer in the volume is fascinating – for example the evolution from the Purificacion of Weomen in 1549 (“nygh unto the quier door”) to the Thankesgeving of Women after Childe Byrth in 1559 (“nyghe unto the place where the table standeth”) to the Churching of Women (“shall come into the Church decently apparelled, and there shall kneel down in some convenient place.”)  A note explains that “decently apparelled” “is not some etiquette of dress code, but refers to the common practice of wearing a veil for this service; Cosin’s first draft read ‘decently vayled.’  Puritans, however, considered wearing the veil a sin, as an unnecessary ceremony; the veil also revealed the origins of the service as a form of ritual purification, rather than a thanksgiving (as in the changed wording of 1552)” and continues to discuss the various places were women were permitted ending with the “churching stool.”

Although my copy was flawed with an improper page; I trust that Amazon will be replacing my volume soon.  For me, this volume is merely informative, but for those who wish to pray out of it, there is a ribbon included and the volume is hand-sized and open easily.  I would recommend this to anyone interested in English liturgy or the evolution of English in the 16th and 17th centuries.

(Note:  I previously mentioned this book here.)

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