The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 edited by Brian Cummings (OUP, 2011) is only £16.99 for a beautifully presented hardback of 896 pages.
The year 2012 is, of course, the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Coming hot on the heels of the 400th anniversary of the King James version of the Bible in 2011 (and the planned distribution of this “cultural artefact” to all schools at the Government’s expense), this catches the nation in a positively nostalgic mood. For those so inclined, therefore, this well-produced edition of the BCP in three different historical guises, enables us not only to hear the word as Shakespeare would have heard it in church on a Sunday, but pray along with him in the Reformation idiom of Cranmer’s Prayer Book. Many will of course be familiar with the Prayer Book already, not as a dusty old document but as the living liturgy at use in their local parish church (at 8am Communion services, at least, but occasionally elsewhere too). They may not, however, be as familiar with the former incarnations of the 1662 text which were authorised for use by Edward VI and Elizabeth I. This volume therefore brings together Cranmer’s first Prayer Book of 1549 with the Prayer Book of the Elizabethan Settlement (1559) and the Restoration Prayer Book of 1662. As the editor writes, this is “more than a book of devotion… this is a book to live, love, and die to.” He helpfully points out the pre-history of phrases made famous by the BCP, such as “in sickness and in health” and “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We may disagree with him that liturgical obscurity is moving or transcendent but still find much of interest in his useful commentary which seems abreast of both the history and modern discussion of it. An excellent textual basis for the numerous commentaries and encomiums which will surely be produced in 2012.
This review first appeared in Churchman 126.2 (2012).