Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Look at the American Prayer Book Tradition: Morning and Evening Prayer

When the Episcopal Church was formed in the 18th century, one of the inevitable things which had to occur was to edit the English Prayer Book to make it appropriate in the new political environment in which the first Episcopalians found themselves. The curious thing is that these early Anglicans chose not to simply strike out "King" and replace it with "President". Instead, they embarked upon a two hundred year journey to change bits of Cranmer's liturgy as they saw fit. This article intends the explore just what those changes were and perhaps what theological implications they had upon the American Prayer Book tradition.

A brief historical discussion should suffice to explore some of the reasons why early American Episcopalians chose to edit the Prayer Book, instead of simply modifying it to fit the new political situation in the former Colonies. First, we must note that there were two sources for these various changes to the Prayer Book, one being from High Churchmen with their figure head, Samuel Seabury, and secondly, there were Latitudinarian impulses for change, perhaps represented by William White. First, in the case of Bishop Seabury, his consecration by Scottish bishops conditioned his desire for liturgical experimentation. One of the conditions for his consecration by the Scottish bishops was that he promised to incorporate the Scottish Prayer of Consecration into the new American Prayer Book. This Prayer of Consecration differed from the 1662 English Order in that it followed the 1549 Prayer more closely and included an epiclesis, a feature of Eastern liturgies. We will explore the stages in which this change was added to the American Prayer Book tradition. The Latitudinarian impulse to change the English Book resulted from a desire to shorten some of the services and eliminate doctrinal barriers among various Christians, including less than orthodox ones, such as Unitarians. For this reason, the Proposed Book of 1786 did not contain the Nicene Creed or Athanasian Creed, the former was re-inserted by the insistence of the English bishops and by Bishop Seabury, however, the Athanasian Creed has not been present in the American Prayer Book tradition, until the 1979 Prayer Book. In other instances the English Liturgy was shortened along the lines of the Proposed Book of 1689, also known as the Liturgy of Comprehension, which was a Latitudinarian effort to make the Established Church a bit more comprehensive by eliminating some things in the Prayer Book that conflicted with Non-comformist beliefs, such as the wearing of the surplice, the wedding ring, cross in baptism, etc. The influence of this work on the American Prayer Book was in the shortening of the services, for instance, in the English Book, the Gloria Patri was required after each Psalm, in the American Book it may be said after the whole selection of Psalms for the day.

A brief word should be said about the history of Prayer Book revision in the American Church. As stated earlier, the first attempt at revising the English Book for American purposes was the Proposed Book of 1786. This book was rejected by the English bishops as being too radical, for instance, in the deletion of the Nicene Creed. Some Puritan sensibilities made their way into this book, largely from the influence of the Liturgy of Comprehension, such as the optional sign of the cross in baptism, the ability of the parents to be sponsors in baptism, the reduction of the occurrences of the Gloria Patri, the deletion of the Athanasian Creed, and the reduction and editing of the Psalter and the Articles of Religion, the former was reduced to 60 selections and the latter to 20 articles. This book was only ratified by the Middle and Southern States, it was not ratified in New England. The first revised Prayer Book was adopted at General Convention in 1790. It corrected some of the things thought too radical by the English bishops (although it did not restore the Athanasian Creed). The 1789 follows the English book closely, except in the Eucharistic rite, where it incorporates the Scottish Prayer of Consecration, although following some of the English peculiarities (such as inserting the Prayer of Humble Access in its English position). The 1789 also curiously does not have the Gospel Canticles, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, it does contain a truncated Benedictus. The Prayer Book was revised in 1892 although this was a conservative revision. The only changes I am aware of is the re-insertion of the Gospel canticles and the provision for seasonal sentences in the Daily Offices. The more radical of the revisions was the 1928 Prayer Book which brought the American tradition further in line with the Scottish tradition, in regards to the Communion Office. For instance, the Decalogue was de-emphasized as were the Exhortations. The Lord's Prayer and Prayer of Humble Access were returned to their 1549 positions in the Canon. All in all the 1928 Prayer Book reflected both Catholic and Liberal influences but it was not as obvious as the 1979 Book. The latter was also influenced heavily by Gregory Dix's work, The Shape of the Liturgy, which has largely been discredited by liturgical scholars of today. The latter work reflects largely the 1970's liberalism, coupled with incarnation theology and a discomfort with penitence.

The purpose of this article is to explore the nature of the American Prayer Book tradition and how it compares with the English tradition, using the more popular services of Morning and Evening Prayer as a guide. I will compare the 1662 Book with the "classical" American books of 1789-1928 and then with the 1979 Book.

Morning Prayer

The first thing to analyze is the title as it stands in the various books:

  • The Order for Morning Prayer, Daily Throughout the Year (1662)
  • The Order for Daily Morning Prayer (1786-1928)
  • Daily Morning Prayer (1979)
The 1786 Proposed Book follows the order of the English book the closest in respect to the Order for Morning Prayer among the various books.

Scripture Sentences

The rite begins with the sentences of Scripture, which in 1662 are exclusively penitential.  The 1786 Book adds a few general sentences, which have stuck in the American tradition since that time, such as Habakkuk 2:20, Malachi 1:11, etc..  The 1789 continues in the tradition of keeping the majority of the sentences penitential but expands the general sentences to include a few more, which are also known to American Anglicans, such as Ps. 19:14,15.  The 1892 book is the first to include seasonal sentences, giving sentences for the seasons of the Church year and some holy days, most of the original penitential sentences have been worked into the sentences for Lent.  Later American prayer books, in 1928 and 1979, continue in this tradition of including seasonal sentences and expanding the seasonal sentences. The 1979 BCP gives explicit permission to use any of the sentences at any point not just the season designated, i.e. the penitential sentences in Lent may be used at other points. 


Following the opening sentences, the 1786-1892 prayer books include the longer exhortation, confession, absolution, and Lord's Prayer.  The 1892 is the first prayer book to allow a shorter absolution from the Communion service to be used instead of the Cranmerian form.  The 1928 book also introduces the shorter exhortation to confession, which is likewise found in the 1979 book, which alters the longer, Cranmerian exhortation as well. The 1892 Book is the first to allow the minister to skip over the Confession when Communion is to follow. The 1928 expands this permission to include any day except a day of penitence or abstinence. The 1979 follows suit. The 1979 BCP significantly edits the traditional Exhortation.

It is also significant to point out the deletions made by the 1979 Rite I liturgy to the traditional, Cranmerian confession, the bracketed portions are omitted from the 1979 liturgy:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; 
We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. 
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. 
We have offended against thy holy laws. 
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; 
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; 
[And there is no health in us.]
But thou. O Lord, have mercy upon us, [miserable offenders.]
Spare thou those, [O God], who confess their faults. 
Restore thou those who are penitent; 
According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; 
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, 
To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.


The 1786 includes the opening preces as they are found in 1662:  

Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.
Praise ye the Lord.
The Lord's Name be praised.

Beginning in the 1789 revision and until 1979, the preces were edited to read as such, for both Morning and Evening Prayer:

Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.
Praise ye the Lord.
The Lord's Name be praised.

In 1979, the preces were edited as such:

Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.
Alleluia (except in Lent)

and in Evening Prayer

O God, make speed to save us;
O Lord, make haste to help us.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.
Alleluia (except in Lent)


The 1662 and 1786 books included the entirety of Psalm 95:

O Come, let us sing unto the Lord : let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. 
    Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving : and show ourselves glad in him with psalms. 
    For the Lord is a great God: and a great King above all gods.
    In his hand are all the corners of the earth: and the strength of the hills is his also. 
    The sea is his, and he made it: and his hands prepared the dry Land. 
    O come, let us worship, and fall down: and kneel before the Lord our Maker. 
    For he is the Lord our God: and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. 
    Today if ye will hear his voice; harden not your hearts: as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness; 
    When your fathers tempted me: proved me, and saw my works. 
    Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said: It is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways: 
    Unto whom I sware in my wrath: that they should not enter into my rest.

Beginning in 1789, the last four verses of Psalm 95 were replaced with parts of Psalm 96:

COME, let us sing unto the LORD; let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. 
   Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.
   For the LORD is a great God; a great King above all gods.
   In his hand are all the corners of the earth, and the strength of the hills is his also.
   The sea is his, and he made it, and his hands prepared the dry land.
   O come let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the LORD our Maker.
   For he is the Lord our God and we are the people his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
   O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth stand in awe of him.
   For he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth; and with righteousness to judge the world and the people with his truth 

The 1928 and 1979 Prayer Books allow the use of Psalm 95 to be used instead of the version printed.  In earlier books, the entirety of Psalm 95 was expected to be read on the nineteenth day of the month, when it was assigned in the Psalter.

The 1928 book also added the set of antiphons, to be used before the Venite, which are carried over into the 1979 book.  Following the practice of other churches, the 1979 book permits the use of the Jubilate Deo as an invitatory anthem, instead of its traditional place as an alternative to the Benedictus

All the books presume that the Pascha nostrum will be sung on Easter, with the exception that the 1928 book prescribes it for the octave and the 1979 which allows it to be used throughout the Easter season. 


All the American prayer books allow the Gloria Patri to be sung after the whole selection of the Psalms, unlike the English book which requires the Gloria after all Psalms and Canticles.  

All American Prayer Books offer the monthly cycle of Psalms and later books begin to offer alternative cycles or selections for those who do not wish to use the monthly cycle.

The earlier books allow the Gloria in excelsis to replace the Gloria Patri after the portion of the Psalms assigned for the day.


The American Prayer Books follow in the English tradition of assigning two lessons per each service. These are followed by a canticle. The 1928 is the first to allow the minister to delete one of the lessons at Evening Prayer (the 1979 only gives one reading for Evening Prayer but allows a second from another year to be used). 

The Table of Lessons in the American Books generally follows the English system until 1928. The 1789 reflects the 1662 Lectionary, covering a majority of the Bible each year, with about two chapters read at each service. The 1892 follows the 1871 revision of the English lectionary and offers shorter lessons. The original 1928 lectionary covered more lessons and followed the English 1922 lectionary but it was extensively revised in 1943.


The lessons are followed by a canticle. We will compare briefly the offering of canticles in the 1662 versus the American books. Note that the 1979 BCP is not considered here, considering that it differs considerably in this respect. 

Morning Prayer

1. Te Deum/Benedicite

The 1928 BCP adds the Benedictus, es Domine, which can be used instead of these two canticles. 

2. Benedictus/Jubilate

As stated earlier the 1789 BCP only had a truncated version of the Benedictus, later restored in the 1892 BCP. 

Evening Prayer

1. Magnificant/Cantante Domino

The 1789 BCP added the option of the Bonum est instead of the Magnificat together with the Cantante Domino. The 1892 BCP restored the Gospel Canticles at Evening Prayer. 

2. Nunc Dimittis/Deus miseratur

The 1789 BCP offers the canticle Benedic mea instead of the Nunc Dimittis.

The Creed

The Creed follows the lessons in the Anglican daily prayer tradition. This was the Apostle's Creed in the 1662 BCP, except on days when the Athanasian Creed was appointed to be read (which were fourteen in number). The American BCP tradition allows the Nicene Creed to replace the Apostle's Creed, probably resulting from the popularity of Mattins as a Sunday morning service. 

The Suffrages

In the 1662 BCP following the Creed there was the Kyries, the Lord's Prayer, and then the suffrages. This section was drastically truncated in the American tradition. First, the Kyries were removed from all of the American service books. The Lord's Prayer was made optional at this point, conditioned upon earlier recital at the beginning of the rite (in the 1928 BCP, where the penitential section is optional, the Lord's Prayer is said here, if that portion is deleted). Also, the suffrages were considerably reduced, using on the first and last sets from the 1662 BCP. The 1892 BCP restored the longer set of suffrages at Evening Prayer, a feature that was carried over into the 1928 BCP. 

Final Collects

The rest of the service roughly follows the English form, first with the Collect of the Day and then the two collects pertaining to either the Morning or Evening Office. Then what follows is a Collect for the President, for the Clergy, the Prayer for the Conditions of all Men, the General Thanksgiving, the Prayer of St. Chrysostom, and the Grace. The American tradition allows the minister to end the Offices after the third collect at either Office, selecting the prayers he thinks fit after that point. 


In conclusion, I would offer the following reflection on the American Prayer Book tradition. I think the respective changes in the American Prayer Book tradition are not necessarily a good or bad thing at the surface. The changes observed in the Daily Offices appears to come from a Latitudinarian concern or a practical concern, that being to shorten the services, which in itself is not a bad thing. Perhaps this diversity reflects the principles laid out in Article 34, "It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word." This is an important thing to remember because, at times, there can be some form of Prayer Book "idolatry" in some Anglicans' minds, or the desire to return to a desired form for non-theological reasons. However, liturgical diversity was envisioned by Cranmer and the Reformers, reflecting the particular circumstances in which Christians found themselves, provided that their liturgy was soundly biblical. The liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal Church reflects this principle in action.

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