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    Everyman's History of the Prayer Book
by Percy Dearmer




IT will be most convenient to trace the earlier history of our Church services when we come to deal with them separately, in the Third Part of this book ; in this chapter, therefore, and those which immediately follow, we will confine ourselves to the history of the Prayer Book itself as one whole book.

Services were in the Primitive Church unfixed in character, as we have seen, and largely extemporary. When the words became fixed, the services gradually came to be written out in separate manuscripts. None of the very earliest books (so far as we yet know) have survived; for one thing, as must always be remembered, the last great Persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Diocletian (303) included a systematic destruction of Christian literature ; but an early book by Serapion, Bishop of Thmuis, in Egypt (p. 188), of about the year 350, was discovered at Mount Athos in 1894, and it is quite possible that scholars may discover something yet earlier. Little service books, or liturgical notes, may have been written in the md century, or even in the time of the Apostles; for it is probable that there were some fixed formulas in the earliest services, and sentences which look like quotations of these exist in the Epistle of St. Clement (c. A.D. 96), and in the 2nd century Didachè. A baptismal creed is given in Acts viii. 37, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God": it is only in some of the texts, and may also belong to the 2nd century. Many scholars think that some verses from St. Paul are really liturgical formulas, e.g. "Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. v. 14); and "He who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (1 Tim. iii. 16), which latter looks very like a quotation from what came to be called the Anaphora or Canon of the Eucharist, and may have been part of the words which St. Paul used himself when he celebrated, just as "The grace of our Lord," in 2 Cor. xiii. 14, was perhaps a form of blessing which he was in the habit of using.

(Restored as it was in the 4th century.)

Certainly there are fragments of Christian hymns scattered over the Apocalypse, and perhaps in other parts of the New Testament. The reader will find it interesting to look these out for himself— Rev. iv. 8-11, v. 9, 10, 12, 13, vii. 12, xi. 17, xii. 10-12, xv. 3-4, xix. 1, 6-7, 2 Tim. ii. 11 - 13; and, besides Eph. v. 4, perhaps i. 3 - 14, and the prayer in Acts iv. 24-30. There are also the great Canticles given us by St. Luke in the first two chapters of his Gospel— Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloria in Excelsis, and Nunc Dimittis

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We find, in fact, many elements of Christian worship in the New Testament—(1) Praise, as in 1 Cor. xiv. 26, and in these canticles and hymns; (2) Prayer, as in 1 Cor. xiv. 14 - 16, and of course in many other places; (3) Lessons, as the reading of Epistles in 1 Thess. v. 27 and Col. iv. 16, and doubtless also the reading of "memoirs" of Christ as well as of books of the Old Testament; (4) Sermons, as in Acts xx. 7, 1 Tim. iv. 13 (5) Prophecy, probably resembling the utterances and prayers which break the silence of a Quakers' meeting (or of those "quiet meetings" which are now happily being revived in the Church of England), as it is mentioned in 1 Cor. xiv. 1, 29, 1 Thess. v. 20, and in 1 Cor. xi. 4, where we learn that women took part in the praying and prophesying, because St. Paul rebuked some for doing this unveiled. This passage is interesting because it shows that the Apostle's injunction, "Let your women keep silence in the churches" (1 Cor. xiv. 34), did not mean that they were not to take any part in the service, but referred to a habit which had grown up amongst the women, of chattering during service time: the men, it seems from the context, interrupted by babbling with "tongues," or by all prophesying at once, and then the women increased the confusion by asking questions about what they meant — which is not to be wondered at; (6) Tongues, which we see by 1 Cor. xiv. 23-39, were already becoming somewhat of a babel, and are unfavourably compared by St. Paul with Prophecy; (7) Almsgiving, 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2 Cor. ix. 1 - 15; (8) The Agape (see p. 178), called by St. Paul a dominical supper, or Lord's supper, kyriakon deipnon, in 1 Cor. Xi. 20-22; (9) Unction, in Jas. v. 14, besides Exorcism (Acts xvi. 18) and the manifold ministry of healing. All these elements are in addition to or contained within the central Rites (to be dealt with in our concluding chapters) of (I) Baptism, (II) the Laying on of Hands (after Baptism), (III) the Breaking of the Bread, (IV) the Laying on of Hands for consecration to the Ministry, as well as (V) the daily worship at home, or at first in the Temple, or the gathering for prayer and exhortation in the synagogues.

(Showing the presbytery and choir of a typical basilica.)

After the Apostolic Age, we find the Eucharist described in Pliny's Letter (c. 112), in St. Justin Martyr (c. 148), in Tertullian (c. 200), and other early writers (Chapter 14) ; but it is not till the Canons of Hippolytus (probably not later than 250) that directions and formulas are given ; and the earliest real servicebook we have is that of Serapion (c. 350), which we have already mentioned. This precious document is a "Sacramentary" — that is to say, it contains the celebrant's prayers in the Communion Service (p. 189) and other rites.


We have to pass over another century or more before we find any extant books as complete as Serapion's; though we know from other writings that such books did exist. From the 7th century onwards the history of service-books can be traced with ever-increasing clearness. They consisted of three groups, the Divine Service, the Sacraments, and the Occasional Services, these latter including all the services used upon occasions such as Marriage, Ordination, and the Reconciliation of Penitents.

(The four Gospels, 9th century, are bound in a silver cover of the 14th,)

The scribes, however, did not consider so much the grouping of the services as the people who would have to use the books. In those days, when the penning of manuscripts at great labour and expense was the only way of making a service-book, the scribe naturally would not insert any matter that was not necessary to the minister for whom the book was written. Thus the bishop or priest had his Sacramentary, consisting of the celebrant's part of the Eucharist, but containing also his part for other services, such as Baptism, Marriage, or Ordination. The majority of our Prayer Book collects are from three Old Roman Sacramentaries — the Leonine (6th century), the Gelasian (early 8th century), and the Gregorian (c. 800). The deacon also had his own Gospelbook for the part it was his duty to read, the subdeacon had his Epistle-book, and the singers had musical Choir-books and Psalters for their use. We have a list of the manuscripts required in England at the close of the Anglo-Saxon period in Archbishop Ælfric's Canons (c. 1006), and for the Norman period in Archbishop Winchelsea's Constitutions (c. 1300) : these may be arranged as follows:




Anglo-Saxon List.

Norman List.

Also Gerime or Kalendar.


(A legend of a vision of Christ to St. Gregory at the Holy Communion. Initial letter from a MS., c. 1500.)
This tinted miniature is an exceptionally fine example of English figure drawing of the 10th century.

The Passional consisted of the "passions" or stories of the martyrdom of the saints. The Legend or Reading-book contained the Scriptures, lives of the saints, and homilies, which were to be read as lessons (legendae). The Gradual contained the portions of the Psalter sung between the Epistle and the Gospel, and also those sung for the Introit and at other places in the Mass. The Antiphonal or Antiphoner contained the musical parts of the services (originally the Gradual was known as the Antiphonarium Missae). The Troper consisted of interpolations into the chant: these additions to the traditional music became very large, but after the twelfth century little except the Sequences (sung after the Gradual and Alleluya, between the Epistle and Gospel) was left of them. The Manual or Handbook contained the Occasional Services. The bishop's own books are not mentioned here, the "Ordinal" meaning a directory of services.

From the 13th century till the Reformation the use of Salisbury Cathedral was followed in the greater part of England (excluding Hereford which had a use of its own, and parts of the North which followed the York use), and also throughout the mainland of Scotland and in parts of Ireland and Wales. A full list of the books belonging to this widely spread use
may he arranged thus :—






   (priest's part).



Pontifical (bishop's services)
Manual (priest's)

Also Pie or Kalendar.
Also towards end of Middle Ages. Processional.
(Page of a very fine MS. Sarum Missal 15th century, with music, showing the Gloria in
Excelsis with interpolations, e.g. "For thou only art holy, sanctifying Mary"; "Thou only art the Lord, ruling Mary.")

As the Middle Ages went on, the Breviary services became overladen and corrupt. Always more suited for monastic use than for that of parish churches, they grew more and more unfit for any but the clergy, and even for the. clergy they became very burdensome. Although it was considered the duty of the lay folk before the Reformation, not only to be present at Mass on Sundays, but also at Mattins and Evensong, these services, especially Mattins with its many lessons and elaborate structure, must in course of time have ceased to be edifying to the people, who had to be content indeed with their own prayers. Not only did the choir services become overladen and corrupt, but the increasing cult of the saints and the spread of votive or special services caused a great multiplication, of masses, which could not all be rendered with the ceremonial dignity traditional in the Church. Already there had grown up what were called. Low Masses and Private Masses— that is to say, masses celebrated by a single priest, with only a clerk or even a boy to help him, and with no communicants. These were not only customary in small churches, where often little else was possible but they multiplied everywhere, and nowhere more than in the great churches in towns, which became filled with side altars and small chapels, where
various foundation masses were said, the stipends of which proved a temptation to the clergy to say as many of them as possible.

(The Priest is served by a lad wearing a rochet. From a 15th century MS.)

Both the paucity of ministers in small churches and the multiplication of services in the larger brought it about that it was more convenient to have the different parts of the service combined in one book than to have them separate. Each set was therefore generally made into one book in the later Middle Ages, thus :—

Breviary. Missal. Pomtifical.


Then came the invention of printing in the middle of the 15th century, which largely removed the original reason for having a number of separate books. There began at once to appear printed Breviaries, Missals, Grails, Antiphoners, Pontificals, Manuals, and Processionals.

Now, one of the results of the English Reformation has been partly to restore the old co-operative method of worship— or, as we say, the congregational method, though it is really more than this. The co-operative method not only gives the congregation its part in the service, but also gives their parts to the gospeller, the epistoler, the preacher, the special chanters or clerks, and the choir, as well as the priest: it makes the service a great united act of worship, and frees it from the evil of sacerdotalism— the "one man" system of religion.

This restoration was not possible till the Reformers set about to render the old Latin services in the mother tongue of the people. Their work was made enormously easier by the invention of printing, which not only created a desire for reform by spreading knowledge, but also made it at last possible for those who could read English to follow the services in their own

(The beginning of the services, Introit for Advent Sunday. The woodcut shows an altar shortly before the Reformation. The priest is lifting up a figure, representing the soul, before a heavenly vision; this is to illustrate the words of the Introit, "Unto thee will I lift up my soul.")

Printing, then, helped the Reformers; but their work would not have been possible at all in England had it not been for another cause. There was now a language which every one spoke. The former use of Latin had not been merely due to an irrational conservatism — though people are always apt to be irrationally conservative about their prayers and hymns. There were better reasons: Latin was the universal language of educated people in Western Europe, and thus there had been much convenience in using it in the former ages when there was no other literary language. In England, for instance, for centuries after the Conquest, French had been the language of the aristocracy and of the law courts (of which we still have traces in such phrases as "Le roi le veult," "Oyez, Oyez"); the common people spoke various English dialects which were almost like different languages, so that a book written in London would have been unintelligible to a Yorkshireman ; and therefore it is no wonder that learned people wrote in Latin, which was for them a kind of Esperanto amid the babel of tongues. In the r4th century, however, our language had become more solidified, and Wyclif (†1384) and Chaucer (†1400) were able to produce the first books in the noble library of modern English literature, the former being especially famous for his translation of the Bible— though scholars are now saying that the translation of the Bible is not his work after all.


It was therefore possible at the beginning of the 16th century not only to print the services, but to print them in an English which Englishmen all over the country could understand. Before the middle of that century the Bible had been printed in English, and thus became universally accessible and intelligible ; and just before the middle year— in 1549 — the First English Prayer Book was printed. It was no longer necessary to have but short extracts from the Bible in Divine Service; for the whole Bible — now a comparatively cheap book — could be used side by side with the Prayer Book; and These two volumes would supply every one's need. Formerly the lay folk had only been able to follow the services in little simplified books of their own, and even these were an expensive luxury; but now every one could follow the services word for word, and those who knew their letters could read them in their own books. So the old books that we have described were further condensed into two, the Bible and the Prayer Book.

King Henry VIII is distributing Bibles to bishops (on the left, in rochet and tippet), and to courtiers (on the right). Below are a bishop (as above, but with mitre), a preacher in surplice, almuce, and square cap, a doctor, and lay folk of all classes.

Now, if the reader will turn to the second Preface in the English Prayer Book, called "Concerning the Service of the Church," he will find the reasons for the liturgical Reformation set forth in admirable terms, though indeed this preface is concerned with the "Service," that is with the Divine Service. The main reasons given are six :—

    1. Great stress is laid on the need of reading the Bible as a whole in Divine Service each year. This we shall mention again on p. 156.

    2. Abuses must be got rid of. The "uncertain Stories, and Legends," and "vain Repetitions" had crowded out the Bible-reading which had been the "godly and decent order of the ancient Fathers," so that, after three or four chapters of a book had been read out, all the rest were left unread.

    3. The language spoken to the people in the church must be such "as they might understand, and have profit by hearing the same," as St. Paul had urged.

    4. The Psalms must be said properly, as the ancient Fathers had said them ; instead of a few being "daily said, and the rest utterly omitted."

    5. "The number and hardness of the Rules called the Pie" must be amended. This Pie was a perpetual kalendar, showing what things should be said at all possible services and combination of services, if a parson did not give considerable study to these intricacies before he began his office, he could hardly help going wrong: indeed, as the Preface says, "many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out."

    6. There had been great diversity of uses. The Preface mentions the uses of Salisbury, Hereford, Bangor, York, and Lincoln ; and declares that "now from henceforth all the whole Realm shall have but one Use."The uses of Bangor and Lincoln, we may mention, were, like that of Exeter, little more than variants of Sarum. London also had its own use till 1414, when the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's adopted the Sarum Use, retaining their own ceremonial.

Thus the time was ripe. The English Bible was in people's hands ; many were dissatisfied with the old services both because they had become complicated and burdensome (see p. 156) and because they contained things which are now admitted to have been superstitious and untrue. In the reign of Henry VIII (1533) the Bishops in Convocation proclaimed the freedom of the English Church, by declaring that no foreign bishop (such as the Pope) could have authority over it; and thus the English Church was placed on the same level of autonomy as the Orthodox Churches of the East. In the reign of Edward VI (1549) the first English Prayer Book was published.

(The word papa (pope) has been erased in the reign of Henry VIII, and written in again in that of Queen Mary, when also "regel nostro," two lines below, has been altered.)


The Reformation had come. Its liturgical result in our present Prayer Book may be tabulated as follows :—




Books of the Middle Ages.





 Combined Books of the Middle Ages.



Books of the English Reformation

The Prayer Book
The Bible

Morning Prayer.
Evening Prayer.
Creed of St.
Prayers and
The Psalms
The Bible.

The Collects, Epistles, & Gospels

The Order of Holy Communion

Visitation and
    Communion of
    the Sick.
Burial or the Dead.
Churching of
Forms ... at Sea.
The Ordinal.
(The Litany is the equivalent of the Processional; the Order of the Psalter, Kalendar, Tables, &c., supplies the place of the Pie.)

Here, then, is the liturgical explanation of our taking the Bible and the Prayer Book to Church. But it will occur at once to the reader that on Sundays we take a hymn-book as well; and as a matter of fact hymn-books have been bound up with the Prayer Book from the 16th century onwards. The modern hymnbook occupies indeed an important part in our more popular services, and contains a great many more hymns than the old Latin hymnals. There is also a floating collection of additional services, the most important being the Coronation Service and the Form for the Consecration of Churches (the former taken from the old Pontifical) ; while the Accession Service is by authority printed with the Prayer Book. Three other State Services were added in the Reign of Charles II, and were excluded in that of Victoria; and a form "At the Healing" (for use when the King laid his hands on sick persons, "touching for the King's Evil"), was sometimes printed with the Prayer Book in the 17th century and in the reign of Queen Anne.

By the Archbishop of York. The other prelates are (from left to right) the Bishop of Winchester, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Norwich, the Bishop of Oxford.
(By special permission of Messrs. Thos. Agnew & Sons, owners of the copyright of Professor Tuzen's picture.)

While we are discussing the way in which the old Latin services were transformed into the Prayer Book, it may be worth while for the benefit of our brethren of the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches to show how it is that two of the ancient Occasional Services, the so-called Lesser Sacraments of Penance and Unction, have still a place in the Anglican Church, though they do not appear among the twenty-seven Contents which are given above.

The Visitation of the Sick contains express directions for confession and absolution; and thus this service includes the second of these Lesser Sacraments ; nor are individual confession and absolution confined to the sick, for they are proclaimed to the whole in the First Exhortation of the Communion Service; while general and public confession and absolution are used at Divine Service and at every celebration of the Liturgy. Those who follow the Mediaeval reckoning of seven Sacraments will include Unction also among the seven. Now a service for Anointing the Sick appeared in the First Prayer Book, but was omitted in the second and in all subsequent revisions, the reason being that Unction had become in practice a service for the dying instead of a sacrament of health. The last Lambeth Conference (1908) decided not to recommend the Unction of the Sick, but to allow its use, expressing a hope that the other apostolic act for helping the sick, the Laying on of Hands, might be used with prayers for the restoration of health. Those who are inclined to press the importance of Unction should remember that in the New Testament, and for long afterwards, the Laying on of Hands was used at least as much as Unction for helping the sick. It is therefore rightly to be regarded as an alternative form of the Sacrament of Healing; just as we administer Confirmation by the Laying on of Hands, whereas in the Eastern Church, and in most of the West, Confirmation is administered by anointing.


The floating mass of additional services is indeed a very important factor in Anglican religion, and we should form a wrong estimate of Anglicanism if we ignored it. The influence of Hymn-books alone upon worship and religion is enormous; Hymns Ancient and Modern, the Hymnal Companion, Church Hymns, and latterly the English Hymnal, have proved an invaluable means of allowing each generation to enrich our services; and they still keep us in touch with the thought and feeling of our own age, besides having the happy result of enabling Christians of other denominations, Protestant and Catholic, to contribute to our services. Closely allied to hymns are the modern anthems, which in cathedral and collegiate churches are collected in Anthem-books, thus adding a fourth to the volumes required for Divine Service each day. Hymns and anthems together place every form of sacred vocal music at the service of the Church. Nor
are they unauthorized additions: the existence of these collections of hymns and anthems which provide Anglicanism with so precious an element of freedom has been sanctioned by authority ever since the 16th century (see pp. 65, 96, 97, 136), and the latter are mentioned in the twice repeated rubric, "In Quires and Places where they sing, here followeth the Anthem."

Another notable and ancient feature, which also has the invaluable quality of adaptability to varying needs, is the Bidding Prayer in the pulpit, which is not mentioned in the Prayer Book, but is ordered by the 55th Canon (1603) to be used before all Sermons, Lectures, and Homilies, and has formed part of the Sunday Eucharist from Anglo-Saxon times onwards.


There are also other additional forms of service at the present day, authorized in different dioceses in great number. The idea sometimes put forward that such additions are unlawful innovations will not bear examination: they belong to the bishop's jus liturgicum, and are a necessity to a living Church. Before the Reformation every diocese was free to have its own use ; and when the English Church settled down in the reign of Elizabeth, no less than forty-four forms of public prayer, fasting, thanksgiving, for all sorts of occasions— plague, war, political crises, etc.— were issued between 1560 and 1600 ; besides the Latin Commemoration of Benefactors (which is still used in Westminster Abbey and elsewhere) and the Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for Funerals, in the Latin Prayer Book of 1560. These have been reprinted by the Parker Society in Liturgical Services, Queen Elizabeth. The same Society printed a volume of Private Prayers, put forth by authority, between 1559 and 1578, the private devotions in this collection including the Primer, which contains among other things forms for Lauds and Prime, Terce, Sext, and None, with office
hymns and antiphons, and the Dirge for the departed, with prayers for them.

It may be interesting here to mention some of the forms of prayer and thanksgiving after 1600, copies of which are preserved in the Library of the British Museum :— 1626 (Thirty Years' War) ; 1665 (Victory over the Dutch); i666 (After the Fire of London), which did not go entirely out of use till 1860; 1784. (End of the War of American Independence); 1789 (Recovery of George III) ; 1789 (Battle of the Nile) ; 1815 (Battle of Waterloo) ; 1847 (Irish Famine) ; 1856 (Several forms of thanksgiving during the Crimean War) 1859 (End of the Indian Mutiny); 1866 (During the Prevalence of the Cholera) ; 1887 and 1897 (Queen Victoria's two Jubilees).

The reader will remember other recent forms, such as the memorials for Queen Victoria and King Edward VII, which were issued by the Privy Council, having been drawn up by the Archbishops. The Archbishops themselves, and other bishops also, issued forms of prayer during the Boer War, and of thanksgiving at its conclusion. A collect has been issued at the last two General Elections by the two Primates ; and they in 1912 put forth Collects, with special Psalms and Lessons, at the time of the Industrial Unrest of that year. It will be noticed that the forms from 16oo to 1897 were mostly thanksgivings after the event; but in the present century the intercessory element has been greatly restored.

(Engraved by Hollar.)

There have been also many local services, such as that at Windsor on St. George's Day, with its great procession, a picture of which we give on p. 170. The Bishops have also had to make their own pontificals., since the Prayer Book only contains four services for their special use. Thus we have forms for the ordination of Deaconesses, the admission of readers, the profession of nuns, and many dedications and benedictions, including forms for the Consecration of churches, chapels, and churchyards. Bishop Andrewes drew up a form of Consecration of a Church in 1620, Convocation in 1712 and 1715. There are similar forms in the American Prayer Book and the Irish (1878); and one by Bishop John Wordsworth (1898), among others.

So far indeed from the Anglican Communion being poverty-stricken in liturgical matter, it suffers rather from a plethora of additional services. A selection of those in common use to-day, so far as the Eucharist is concerned, was made by Dr. Frere, Archdeacon Taylor, and the present writer, and published in an altar-book called The English Liturgy (and in a small form in The
), wherein half the additional Collects, Epistles, and Gospels had been already authorized. The Scottish Church authorities recently issued a valuable appendix to the Prayer Book (The Scottish Liturgy, together with Permissible Additions to and Deviations from the Service Books of the Scottish Church, Cambridge University Press, 1912), and have now included them in a complete Scottish Prayer Book.

Thus are the needs of each generation brought within the scope of our common intercession and devotion. We are not confined within the corners of the Prayer Book; nor is the ancient tree dead, which has borne such abundant fruit during the Christian era. Our own branch indeed of that liturgical tree is at present very full of life, and sooner or later the work of Prayer Book Revision, now in its early stages, will bear fruit in a Sixth English Prayer Book.

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