One of the defining characteristics of worship in the Episcopal Church is the Book of Common Prayer, and the first edition was published in 1549! The book defines our rites and observances, providing a mode of prayer that we share in “common” with Anglicans around the world. The invention of the printing press meant that for the first time, the worshiping congregations could see the rites themselves, study them, and comprehend them. There is a continuity between the current BCP editions used around the world because they share the poetry and core theology of Cranmer‘s first edition. But the content has never stopped evolving.
In the Church of England the “official” Book of Common is the 1662 edition to this day. But liturgical forms have evolved there, too, in the form of authorized worship materials. The same applies to the Episcopal Church. Prayer Book revision is a hot topic in the Episcopal Church. The 1979 Prayer Book we use now was released in draft form 46 years ago in 1976. Some of us still think of the 1979 book as the “new” Prayer Book, though its initial release came 48 years after the 1928 BCP.
In the time since the 1979 BCP was published, publishing technology has improved dramatically, and printed materials are cheaper and easier to produce. With the advent of the Internet, online publishing offers easy mass distribution and updating at a low price. The original vision of offering the rites and services of the church not only is accessible in a book in the pews, but even on the phones of people around the world. For that reason, some speculate that the next wholesale revision of the Prayer Book will be an online-only edition, alongside extensive authorized rites that have come since 1979. That includes some of the Eucharistic Prayers and other authorized materials already in use at St. Paul’s.
The Episcopal Church Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision has created an important website called Resources for Common Prayer that includes import information and online versions of the growing library of liturgical resources authorized by The Episcopal Church and published by Church Publishing Incorporated. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5. Take a look!