The Book of Common Prayer is unique to Anglicanism. It contains a collection of worship services that all worshipers in an Anglican church follow. It also contains the Psalms, prayers and thanksgivings and an Outline of Faith. Essentially it is a guidebook for worship, and is meant to be used in church on Sundays, as well as in daily relationship with God. It is called “common prayer” because it is used by all Anglicans around the world.
The first Book of Common Prayer was compiled in English by Thomas Cranmer in the 16th Century, and since then has undergone many revisions for different times and places. The present prayer book in the Episcopal Church was published in 1979.
One of the benefits of having a Book of Common Prayer is that it provides a framework and unity for all Anglican worship services. For each Christian season, the Book of Common Prayer lays out the form that the service should take, and provides the text for most of the prayers. A calendar of readings from the Scriptures, called the “Lectionary,” lays out which biblical passages should be read each day. Typical services will mix readings, prayers, hymns and a sermon. In every case, while a priest leads the service, the congregation participates extensively – singing hymns and speaking or signing prayers, the creed, responses and psalms.
The Book of Common Prayer provides a fixed framework, but not a rigid one. The details vary from church to church and are a matter of tradition and taste. However, overall, services tend to follow the same essential form, which means that on any given Sunday an Episcopalian can walk into any Episcopal church (and likely any Anglican church in the Communion) and recognize and participate in the service.
The Book of Common Prayer is a treasure chest full of devotional and teaching resources for individuals and congregations, but it is also the primary symbol of our unity. We, who are many and diverse, come together in Christ through our worship, our common prayer.
You may download a copy here.