Intro to Prayer Book

Christ Church, Hamilton Wenham, Massachusetts. (Helen Weatherall)

Beloved Friends:

A member of our congregation, Dean Borgman, is a professor and priest in Massachusetts who’s prepared a concise but comprehensive lesson on the Book of Common Prayer for his Inquirers’ Class. He shared his lesson plan with us and I thought, “This is a great introduction. It could be very useful for new Episcopalians and visitors.” So I asked and he gave me permission to reproduce it. It’s also a good refresher for longtime members.

His remarks concern the American Prayer Book of 1979, but if you’ll keep an open mind you’ll see they also apply pretty well to other countries. I’ve edited it slightly to fix a typo or two, but this is what he’s teaching in March 2011 at Christ Church, Hamilton, Mass. So imagine yourself there in a small group, learning about the Christian faith and this amazing Book we find so helpful and rich, a kind of cathedral on paper.

Let me add one thing: People who are new or who have been away from church for a long time often feel a little intimidated by this book they hear so much about and the elaborate ways of Episcopalians. Newcomers and oldcomers want to “do the right thing” and “not make any mistakes” during the service; they don’t want to embarrass themselves or ask “stupid questions.” But please don’t feel that way. The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask—and the rest of us make mistakes all the time. Instead, walk boldly into this cathedral of the mind; wander around, look at everything, let the service unfold for you. You’ll grasp the basics soon enough and then you’ll be right with everyone else, watching, listening, imagining, learning, praying.

Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them to the Lord.

Josh Thomas
Lay Vicar

(The Book of Common Prayer)

By the Rev. Dean Borgman

Historically our Prayer Book comes out of the English Reformation and particularly, the genius and passion of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). His were the first BCP, 1549, and the second, 1552. Later, the English Church, after the restoration of the monarch, worked out a compromise between the Puritans and High Anglicans (Anglo-Catholics) in the 1662 Prayer Book, able then to use the language of the King James Bible (1611).

With few modifications the 1662 Prayer Book remained as a standard until recently in England and around the world. After our Revolution the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America was, obviously, forced to revise its English version (with its prayers for the monarch) in a 1790 version. There were only minor changes until the 1928 Prayer Book. Major revision came out of an ecumenical study of the early church called the Liturgical Renewal Movement, this was our 1979 The Book of Common Prayer. Note that continuity with the ’28 BCP is provided with Rite I; Rite II is a major revision in contemporary language.

Do you remember the 13th topic of Catechism, pp. 856-857?

We’re taking off on that topic of “Prayer and Worship” with a loving and practical tour through our Prayer Book today. The Book of Common Prayer is a wonderful tool or aid for your life of worship and prayer.

Remember that pious Jews prayed three or seven times a day (Ps. 5:3, 119:164). Daniel, a busy court official prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). In the first church, just after Jesus ascended, Peter and John went to the Temple at the 9th hour of prayer (3pm) as part of their regular prayer life.

The Roman Empire was well organized. In each town and city, the forum bell would ring to mark the beginning of each day (6am or prime), noon for lunch, 3pm calling citizens back to work, and at the close of markets, 6pm. Clement (c.150-215AD) and Origin (c.185-254) assumed Christian prayers in the morning and night—besides if possible the little hours (9,12,3). After Constantine’s conversion, such prayers would take place in basilicas and cathedrals. As monks and nuns devoted themselves to lives of prayer they used the following pattern.

1. Matins (at sunrise)
2. Prime (first hour of the day)
3. Terce (third hour of the day)
4. Sext (sixth hour of the day or noon)
5. None (ninth hour of day)
6. Vespers (end of day, sunset)
7. Compline (before retiring)
8. Vigils (during the night)

Cranmer and the English Reformers were committed to:

1. Bringing the complicated and extensive prayer system out of the 
monasteries and convents to the common people, and
2. Necessarily, simplifying it all and putting it in their common language.

This meant Morning and Evening Prayer and the Eucharist would accessible to all who could read.

Before we go on, it’s important to make the point that even more than knowledge gained, our objective in these sessions should be to enrich your love for God, your private and public prayers.

See your prayer life as a love affair—love that draws you, and love that sends you from your prayers to daily duties. Episcopalians properly use both informal impromptu prayers from the heart, but more than other Protestants, we treasure rich, traditional, written prayers.

Take time to be blessed with the words and construction of these prayers. Our Collects are usually in three parts (clauses):

We address (with different titles) and describe our Creator and Lord,
We make our Petition,
We bless God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in closing doxology.

Imagine a friend or lover who only talks to you and never listens! Over the years you have learned to talk with God and that’s been modeled for you. No one ever taught most of us “listening prayer.” After giving attention to particularly striking words or phrases of Scripture and prayers, allow yourself to pause and contemplate. This is the goal of prayer: seeking a vision of God and sensing the complete shalom (welfare and serenity) of his presence in your life.

You might be helpful to consider these aspects or actions of prayers:

OBLATION (offering)
DOXOLOGY (glory, loving embrace, and submission to God 
the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit)

The Book of Common Prayer

Our tour of the Prayer Book might well begin with its Table of Contents (3 pages) and its Preface (9-11) or lengthy and complicated instructions, and/or details of our Church Year Calendar. But instead, let’s go first to pages 136-140, “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families.” These can be done in 4-10 minutes on a busy day.

Now to our traditional Morning and Evening Prayer services, pp. 36/37 and 74/75. These Daily Offices or Divine Hours are the daily basis of Anglican spirituality—and can be done alone or together, at home or at church. Consider how they can enrich your life.

A problem for the newcomer arises on page 84. How do we know the Appointed Psalm and Lessons? Keeping a finger at p. 84, turn to p. 934. It’s again from our Jewish spiritual ancestors the Christian Church has inherited an Annual Calendar and Lectionaries — and with the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church have always maintained a well-thought-out (and prayed out) order for Sunday and daily services. So we have the three-year cycle of Scripture readings for Sunday Services and a two-year cycle of lessons for daily services/prayer. (Since most of our liturgy itself comes from Scripture, along with our daily readings, and four Scriptures for Eucharists, the Episcopal Church is, in a primary sense, more biblical than Bible churches!)

Figuring out whether we are in Year One or Year Two from the instructions on p.934 is pretty easy (Year One before odd-numbered years). Determining our Sunday readings, Year A, B, or C is a little more difficult (as explained on p.888). So, ask, and then keep both years on a bookmark you can keep for Sunday and daily readings.

Oh, one other thing. When you get toward the end of Morning and Evening Prayer, after the Lord’s Prayer and Suffrages, you’ll notice the first prayer is called “The Collect of the Day.” What this? you might ask. That’s the Collect you heard on Sunday past, the appointed Collect for that Sunday — and for the week that follows. So look now on p. 211, where our Collects in contemporary language begin. Up to p. 228 they follow special seasons of the year; thereafter, in the Season after Pentecost, Sundays closest to selected dates.

Quickly the Seasons of the Year following the Church Calendar: Advent (in late November), Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time), Christ the King (last Sunday after Pentecost, and back again into Advent). I hope you’re beginning to see advantages of our 1979 BCP over earlier prayer books — more Scripture, more variety, etc.

Our tour continues. A huge and beautiful feature of our Prayer Book is one of the most beautiful translations of the Psalms — obviously written for singing and chanting, as well as for congregational reading. You are especially encouraged to “pray the Psalms” (lectio divina).

(Prayer Book Helps)

“Daily Office” (Computer and Phone App)
Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours
Forward Day by Day
The Roman Catholic (Dominican) Magnificat

More on our Book of Common Prayer

Important insights as to our Episcopal Ethos and Identity come from reading the BCP’s “Preface” (p.9), “Concerning the Service of the Church.” (p.13) and “The Calendar of the Church Year,” which explains our Lectionary (p.15-33).

Our Book of Common Prayer was done by a committee of The Episcopal Church’s Standing Committee. They were dedicated to three fundamental criteria affirmed by Cranmer:

* Scripturally Sound (more Scripture than ever)
* Faithful to the Early Church (Liturgical Renewal Movement)
* Enlightening (that today’s congregations might be edified)

Personally, I don’t favor a return to earlier PB’s, or new one from such… and also fear a “progressive revision” from liberal revisionists — e.g. modifying the Trinity, changing the Creeds, omitting present readings of the Bible, diminishing confession, and eliminating statements about Christ’s death for our sins.

It might be helpful to take a look at the BP’s Table of Contents again:

• The Daily Office
• The Great Litany
• The Collects (Traditional and Contemporary)
• Proper Liturgies for Special Days (Ash Wed., Palm Sunday…)
• Holy Baptism
• The Holy Eucharist
• Pastoral Offices (Confirmation, Marriage, Reconciliation…)
• Episcopal Offices (Ordination services: Bishops, Priests, Deacons)
• The Psalter (or Psalms of David)
• Prayers and Thanksgivings
• Outline of the Faith, or Catechism
• Historical Documents of the Church
• Tables for Dates, The Lectionary, Daily Office Lectionary

For Personal Benefit

Now, enough of theory and detail; let’s return to special benefits you may have missed from our Prayer Book. On p.103 there is a special Noonday Service that might be appropriate around some special feast in your home. Even more likely, notice the beautiful “Order of Worship for Evening” (p. 109), which a family, perhaps with extended family or guests, might enjoy — possibly with children lighting its candles.

Let’s look at further practical uses of the Prayer Book. A friend of yours is over for dinner. She seems quite anxious about leaving on a mission trip to Haiti (or someone going to Iraq or Afghanistan). How might you conclude your time together?

Many don’t know about, or use, the wonderful prayers described by topics on pp. 810-813. Prayer 53 (p. 831a) might be a blessing to your friend and a neat way to conclude your evening: “…preserve __________ who travels, surround her with your loving care; protect her from every danger; and bring her in safety to her journey’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Or, you’re visiting someone who is sick… and they ask for prayer…. You don’t have the gift of healing and aren’t even on the healing team. You have not been given instructions nor any healing oil.

You might still turn to p. 456a, and read a prayer (in the name of the Church and Jesus Christ) over your friend who is ill.

“… beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace… enabling you to serve him both now and evermore.”

You go to visit a dying friend and find the family gathered together…. They seem to want a bonding and comforting prayer.

Fortunately you have your Prayer Book with you. On page 462 is the beautiful and comforting litany, or “Ministration at the Time of Death,” and you know you exercise “the priesthood of all believers.” You sense or ask whether they would like to all join in the litany (in which case you might find a copy machine; better, you’ve brought copies unobtrusively with you), or you read and lead yourself.

What a comfort and powerful experience I’ve seen this to be. Then, if a person has just died, see how appropriate might be the following “Prayers for a Vigil,” 
(p. 465-466).

Imagine your family or community prayer group has come together in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake, flood or terrorist attack….

Please turn to the little-used “Supplication” (p. 154, right after “The Great Litany) and notice its appropriateness — with its Versicles (V) and Responses (R).

V. O Lord, arise, help us;
R. And deliver us for thy Name’s sake.
(repeat 3x)
“… grant that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness and pureness…”

Please review the wonderful Prayers and Thanksgivings (pp. 810-813). And notice the Prayer Book’s wonderful flow of services: Confirmation, Commitment to Christian Service, Celebration of a Marriage, Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child, Reconciliation of a Penitent, Ministration to the Sick, Ministration at the Time of Death, and Burial services. From cradle to grave the Church places us in the loving arms of God.

Finally, (for Confirmands, and profitable for all of us) do not neglect to study and pray your Confirmation Service (pp. 412-419) — including the Baptismal Vows, which you affirm. May this prepare you for the grace God wants to give you in the laying-on-of-hands.

15 thoughts on “Intro to Prayer Book

  1. Thank you Josh and Dean Borgman for sharing the info on the Prayer Book.
    It is a good review for new and old Episcopalians.


  2. I also was blessed by what I read and better yeat felt the need to return to a reading of the office 3 times a day. I used to do the off and other prayers often but sliped away. Thank you for these words.
    David Nye


  3. I enjoyed the review of the BCP and the prayers for addicts. I also noted the memorials, ESP. For Howard Galley of the Church Army. I had the privilege of meeting and working a bit with him and the Rev Massey Shepherd sp? At the General Conventions in 1976 & 1979. As a very young priest I was assigned to the House of Depities Prayer Book committee. There were great and wise people who worked on the Prayer Book at that time. Those are great
    Memories for me. I retired in 2007.


    • David, I’m glad you knew and got to work with Howard Galley and Massey Shepherd, and helped the Prayer Book committee get through the approval process. I bet that was hectic at times.

      You’re right about the great and wise people who gave us this Book.

      Josh Thomas


  4. An excellent explanation on how to use this tool to enhance one’s walk and enrich their prayer lives. Thanks for the Lesson, and thanks be to God!


  5. Thank you very informative. Can use as ECW and Sunday school meeting material trivia questions. What time is trece- the third hour of the day?


  6. Pingback: The Daily Office - Christian Forums

  7. Pingback: What's a DOR? - DOR Scribe

  8. I am very much interested in owning a copy of this wonderful prayer book. I have been praying as long as I can remember, and I pray from the heart and words that come to mind. This prayer book will help me improve in so many other areas.
    Yours Sincerly
    Maurice T. Boaza


  9. Dear jesus i pray that my family returns what they have taken from me and takes no more.I pray for a home and that you guide me to live where is best.I pray for health and wisdom in all things mind body,heart,thoughts and most of all soul.I pray for my back to heal and my skin to heal and no more flu.I pray to forgive all and i pray to be forgiven.I pray for the sisters and volunteers please thank them somehow for us who ask for help praying.I pray for the homeless and incarcerated may they be treated with dignity and be relieved of their condition.I pray for war to stop.I pray for the hungry and those in need of medical.I pray for the lonely may they have friend’s.I pray for everyone i said i would pray for.I pray for emotional intelligence.I am very thankful for what im about to receive please help me to make the right decisions with it.I pray for little franny may i find her.I pray for all animals may they not suffer at all.I pray for the mentally ill may they clear their thoughts.I pray for all of my sinful thought’s to be cast away as soon as they come.I pray to find a vape to stop smoking.I pray to never drink and to stop swearing.I pray for peace and love all around forgiveness all around.I love you im sorry for my sin’s please clean my heart,mind,soul.Peace and love peace and love thank you very much!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • AJF, I copied your prayer, and we’re going to pray it word for word on your behalf Monday morning on our live webcasts.

      Jesus hears you, knows you love him and loves you back.

      Vicar Josh


  10. Very informative. I attended Christ Church, Wenham, while attending college. It was nostalgic to see the picture. I very much appreciate the Daily Office

    Liked by 1 person

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