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    Exhortation and Litany (1544)


The first Liturgy in English

Henry VIII, by Holbein
This is the first officially sanctioned liturgy in English, and the only one published under the reign of Henry VIII. It was, as is stated in the title page above, an exhortation and litany to be said during processions. These processions were common at the time, and were typically used to pray for God's favor during times of troubles, such as bad weather, war, pestilence, etc. The King noticed, however, that people were not responding to these processions as he thought they should, and attributed this at least partially to the fact that the people "understode no parte of suche prayers or suffrages as were used to be songe and sayde". Accordingly, he decreed in June, 1544, that there were to be "set forthe certayne godly prayers and suffrages in our natyve Englyshe tongue".

This work was done by Archbishop Cranmer, and is partly his own composition, and partly drawn from the Sarum (i. e., Salisbury) processional, from Luther's Litany, and from the Greek Orthodox Litany. It was good enough to endure, substantially unchanged, throughout the entire history of the Book of Common Prayer, down to modern times.

This Litany apparently was originally published in several editions, some with music, and some without. The edition used here is taken from a facsimile published by the SPCK in 1939 and contains sung parts, which are reproduced here as graphics.

The original text was in blackletter, or an Old English font, which, of course, cannot be easily reproduced in HTML. Accordingly, while the text is given here largely as originally printed (but in a more modern font), there are some modernizations, as follows:

  • When a vowel would, in modern usage, be followed by an "m" or "n", this was often indicated in the original text by the vowel-macron, or the vowel with a horizontal line over it, and the "m" or "n" was omitted. As the vowel-macron is not part of the standard ASCII character set, these characters have been replaced by their modern equivalents; i. e., the "m" or "n" has been inserted.
  • The letters "j" and "v" were hardly, if ever, used in the original text, being represented by "i" and "u", respectively. The text here replaces "i" and "u" with "j" and "v", as appropriate.
  • The lower case "s" was often represented by something which looks much like a modern-day "f"; the modern "s" is used everywhere here.
  • If a word is obscure or has a different meaning today, the modern equivalent or spelling is noted in brackets.
  • The reader will quickly notice that spelling was not standardized then as it is today. Many words are spelled in a variety of different ways within the text.

One can see the appearance of the original text in the sung sections of the Litany.

The Exhortation is printed below; the Litany and Suffrages follow on the next page.

We also have this entire book, which additionally includes an extensive introduction, along with the Merbecke's 1550 Book of Common Prayer Noted available as PDF graphics (size=11.4MB). There is extractable text, but this text has not been proofread and undoubtedly contains errors.


FORASMUCHE as prayer is the veray true meane ordeyned of almightye god, and taught as playnly in his holy word, wherby not onely we may, but also by gods holy commandement be bounden to have a recourse and a refuge for helpe and ayde of almightie god our heavenly father, not onely in all our necessities, and tribulations of this world, but also universally in all our affaires and businesses, what soever shalbe fall unto us, orels [or else] what soever thing we shall enterprise or take in hand. And forasmuch also as our father in heaven, of his mere mercie and infinite goodness, hath bounden himself by his owne free promise, and certified us by the same, by his owne sonne, our onely saviour and lorde CHRIST JESU, in his gospel, that what soever we shall aske of him, we shall have it, so that we aske such thinges, and in suche sorte, as we ought to doo. For these causes good christian people, beynge thus grounded upon the sure foundation of goddis [God's] holie & blessed word, which can not deceive us, we are here at this time gathered together, to make our common prayer to our heavenly father. But nowe good christian people, that by the true use of praier we may obteine and enjoye his gratious promise of aide, comforte, and consolation, in all our affayres and necessities: two things, concerning prayer, are specially to be learned. The first is, to knowe, for what thynges we ought to make our request and petition in our praier. The second is, in what wise we shuld make our prayer, in suche sorte as it may be acceptably hearde, and graciously graunted of our heavenly father.

As for the first, we ought instantly to aske of our heavenly father, his holy and blessid spirite, godly wisedome, faith, charitie, and to feare and dreade [=revere] him, and that his holy name in al thinges, and every where thorough al the hole world may be glorified, that his kyngdome may come unto us, that is to saye, that he may reigne in us, by the faith of his welbeloved sonne JESU CHRIST, and after this lyfe also to reigne in us, and over us everlastingly in glorie.

We ought to pray, that his blessed wyl may be fulfylled here in this world emonges [amongst] us his mortall creatures, as it is of his immortall angels, and of al the holy company of the heavenly spirites. We muste pray for our dayly breade, that is, for our necessary fode and sustenance bothe of body and soule. Of body, as meate, drinke, and necessary apparaile, peace, helthe, and what soever god knoweth to be necessary for the behofe [behalf] and conservation of the same, that we may do to our lorde god true service therwith, every man in his state and vocation, whereunto god hath called hym. Of the soule, as the word of god, and the true knowledge of the same, the true conservation of our heavenlye fathers holy and blessid commandementis, the lively bread of the blessed body of our saviour Jesu Christe, the holy and sacrate cuppe of the precious and blessed bludde, whiche was shed for us upon the Crosse, to purchase us pardon and forgyvenes of our synnes. Furthermoe we must pray for the forgyvenes of our synnes, that our heavenly father wyll be mercyfull unto us, and forgyve us our synnes bothe many and great, wherby we offende againste his infinite goodnes, as we do forgive the offences of them that offend us, whiche, howe great so ever they appere unto us, yet in comparison of the offences that we do against god, they be bothe small and few. We muste pray, that our heavenly father suffre us not not to be ledde into temptation, for without his continuall aide and protection, we are but weke and soone overthrowen. Our gostely ennemy is stronge, violent, fierse, subtyll, and exceding cruell. And therfore we muste continually pray, with al instance, that in all his assaultes we may be delivered by the mighty hande of our heavenly father, from all evyll. Finally, and before all thing, as saint Paule exhorteth in the first epistle to Timothe, Let us make our prayers, and supplycations, rendrynge and gyvyng of thankes for all men, and namely for kynges, princis, and al other set in chief dignitie and high roumes, that by theyr godly governance, their true faithfull and diligent execution of justice and equitie on to all their subjectes, our heavenly father may be glorified, the common welth may be daily promoted and increased, and that we al, that are theyr subjectes, may live in peace and quietnes, with al godlines and vertue, and our christen princis & heades in unitie and concorde emonges them selfes, ever callyng uppon theyr heavenly father, whiche is the king of all kynges, and the lorde of all lordes, which shall judge without respecte of persone, accordynge to every mans doing or workes, at whose hande the weake shall take no wronge, nor the myghty mat not by any power escape his juste judgement. That our princes I say, thus calling uppon theyr heavenly father for grace, maye ever in all their affaires be directed and governed by the holie spirite of god, and bothe rule, and be ruled, by his holy feare, to their owne endles joye, compforte, and consolation, and to theyr owne everlastyng salvation, thorough our saviour Jesus Christ.

AND here specially let us pray for our dere and soveraigne lorde the kynges majesty, who doth not onely study and care dayly and hourely for our prosperitie and wealth, but also spareth not, to spende his substance and treasure, yea readye at all tymes to endaunger himself for the tender love and fatherly zeale, that he beareth towarde this his realme, and the subjectes of the same. Who at this present tyme hath taken upon hym the great and dangerous affayres of warre. Lette us praye, that it may please almighty god, lorde of hostes, in whose handes is onely wealthe and victorie, mercifully to assyst him, sending his holy angell, to be his succour, keper, & defender from all his adversaries, and from all evyls. Let us pray for our bretherne, that bende them selves to batail for goddis cause and our defence, that god maye grant them prosperous successe, to our comfort, and the increase of his glory. Let us praye for our selfes that remain at home, that almighty god defende us from synne, sickenes, derth, and all other adversities of bodye and soule.

The seconde thyng to be lerned concernyng praier, is to knowe, howe we shal make true paryer, so that it may be graciously harde, and mercyfully graunted of oure heavenly father. Fyrst of al we must, upon consideration of our heavenly fathers mercy and goodnes towardes us, and of his everlastyng trueth, and free promyse made unto us in his owne holy worde, conceyve a full affiance [=reliance] hoope and trust: and that with out waveryng or doubtfull mistrustyng, either in his trueth, his goodnes, or in his almightie power, certainely assuring ourselfe, that both of his omnipotencie, he may do what soever shall please his goodnes, and also for his infinite goodnes, and fatherlye affection towarde us, that he woll both here and graunt out lawful and godly requestes, after that measure, sort, and degree, as he of his infinite and incomprehensible wisdome knoweth the thynges to be moost mete, moost convenient, and behofeful [= beneficial, profitable] both for his own glorye and honour, and for the profit, behoufe [=need], and commoditie [=value] of his children.

Furthermore also is it necessarily requyred to that, that our prayer may be acceptable unto our hevenly father, to have charitie, and brotherly love betwixt neighbour and neighbour, and towarde all our even christen. So CHRISTE him selfe teacheth us, sayinge whan you stande to praye, forgive, if you have any dyspleasure agaynste any personne: that your father, which is in heaven, maye forgive you. It is a true saying, that saint Augustine sayeth:

There is no good friucte, no goode deede, no good woorke, whiche springeth not out of the roote of charitie. And saincte Paul teacheth plainely, that where as charitie lacketh, nothyng can avayle us.

And moreover we must in our prayer, be ware of vayne glory and prayse of man, outwardly shewing a great pretence of holynes, and being vayne of true godlynes inwardly, onely to have the commendation of men before the world , for if we do, we shall lose the reward and benefit of our prayer, as our saviour CHRIST saieth his owne selfe. We must take hede also, that we thincke not the vertue of prayer, to consist in multiplyeng of many wordes without faythe and godly devotion, thynckyng as the heathen doth, that for our many wordes of muche speaking, we shalbe herde of our heavenly father who so ever doth thinke so, he shall deceyve him selfe, for god doth not regarde neither the swete sound of our voice, not the great number of our woordes, but the ernest ferventnes and true faythful devotion of our hartes. Fynally we muste beware in our praier of that common pestilent infection, and venemetull [=venomous] poyson of all good prayer, that is to say, when our mouthe prayeth, and out hartes pray not.

Of the whiche the prophete Esaie [Isaiah] complaineth sore. And our saviour in sayncte Mathewes gospel rebuketh the pharisees, for the same, saying thus: O hipocrites, Esaie the prophet prophecied well uppon you, when he sayd thus: This people draweth nighe me with theyr lyppes, but their hartes are farre frome me, that is to saye, they speake with their tongue and lippes, the wordes of praier, but in their harte, they mynde nothyng lesse then they speake, as that the goodnes of the prayer stode in the outwarde speaking onely of the woorde, and not in the inwarde, true, and faythful request of the harte. And to the intent therefore your hartes and lyppes maye goo together in praier, it in very convenient, and moche acceptable to god, that you shuld use your private prayer in your mother tongue, that you understandyng what you aske of god, maye more ernestly & fervenctly desyre the same your hartes & myndes agreing to your mouthe and woordes.

Wherefore let us eschewe (good people) in our prayers, al the afore rehersed vices, for elles we shall not obteine our petitions, and requestes, but contrarye wise we shall highly displease god and grevously offende him. Therefore good Christian brethern, seynge we are come together to praye, let us do it according to our bounden duetie, and as it ought to be done. Let us tuuely praye with a faithfull harte, and a sure affiaunce [=reliance] of our heavenly fathers infinite mercy, grace, and goodnes: let us make our prayers, beyng in love and charitie with all and every one of our neighbours, everhavyng in our harte an ernest request and desyre of those godly benefyttes, whiche ar appoynted in goddes worde, that we shulde pray for, and yet not prescribing unto god, either the time, place, measure, or degree of his gracious benefites, but holly committyng our selves to his blessid wyl and pleasure, receyvyng in good woorthe and with thankes gyvyng, what so ever, and when so ever, it shall please his graciouse goodnes, to bestowe his gracious giftes upon us. Let us also fournishe and beautifie this our prayer, that it may plese god the better, and delite the eares of our heavenlie father, with fasting and holsome abstinence, not onely from all delicious living in voluptuouse fare, and from all excesses of meate and drinke, but also to chastyse and kylle the synfull lustes of the body, to make it bowe and redy to obey unto the spirituall mocions of the holie gooste. Let us also furnish it with almes dede, and with the workes of mercie and charitie. For praier is good and acceptable unto god, when it is accompanied with almose dedes, & with the workes of mercy as the holy man Tobye [Tobit] sayth, with the whiche, and usyng the vertues aforerehersed, and also eschewing diligently the foresayde vices, our prayers shalbe of muche price and value, as was the prayers of Hely, [Elijah?] Danyel, & Moyses, before our heavenly father, and that for our saviour Jesus Christes sake, whiche hath redemed us with his precious bloude, and hathe signed & sealed us up to everlasting life. To whom both now and ever, with his father and the holy goost, be glorie and honour without ende. AMEN.


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