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The order for marriages from the 1636 Book of Common Prayer © University of Canterbury (2.5MB)

  • The 1636 edition was, like the early editions of the KJB, printed by the King's Printer, Robert Barker
  • The pages displayed here relate (on the left) to the final blessings connected with the sacrament of confirmation and (on the right) to the preliminary steps taken in preparation for a marriage service and the opening stages of the ceremony
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The order for funerals from the 1636 Book of Common Prayer © University of Canterbury (2.5MB)

  • The order of service for burials. This provides a good example of the way in which biblical passages were incorporated into the ceremony
  • Although the KJB was published nearly a quarter of a century before the 1636 edition of the BCP, the fact it was not used to supply the biblical texts in the Church of England's official prayer book suggests it was not, at first, universally accepted

Worship in English

The Reformation brought about more than a need for Bibles in English; it also led to demands from some quarters for church services to be conducted in English rather than Latin. In order to achieve this goal, a series of service books in English were produced from 1549.

The original author of the new English service book was Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer had been appointed archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VIII. His Book of Common Prayer (BCP) contained regulations for church services, lists of Bible readings to be used in the course of the liturgical year and the wordings for ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. In fact this prayer book provides many of the formulations with which we are familiar today: phrases such as ‘Till death us do part’ and ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ have their origins here.

Like the Bible, the precise wording used in the Book of Common Prayer proved controversial. The 1552 edition, for example, demonstrated increasingly Protestant tendencies: the word ‘Mass’ was dropped in favour of ‘Lord’s Supper’ or ‘Holy Eucharist’, and the priest’s traditional highly decorated clothing was abolished. Throughout the 16th century the wording of the prayer book continued to change to reflect the religious views of the government of the day.

Canterbury owns two early copies of the prayer book, a 1636 and a 1661 edition. Canterbury's 1661 text was one of the last to be produced incorporating an English biblical text that predated the King James Bible. The 1662 edition of the BCP was the first version to employ biblical citations taken from the KJB even though the latter had been in print for over half a century. The 1662 edition remained the standard usage of the Church of England and therefore it played an important role in familiarising people throughout the British Empire, including New Zealand, with the language of the 1611 Bible.

Further Reading

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s house divided, 1490-1700 (London: Penguin, 2004).

Resources @ Canterbury

The booke of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments: and other rites and ceremonies of the Church of England (London: By Robert Barker ... and by the assignes of Iohn Bill, 1636).

The book of common prayer, and administration of the sacraments: and other rites and ceremonies of the Church of England (London: Printed by John Bill, printer to the Kings most Excellent Majesty, 1661 [possibly 1662 n.s.])

Online Resources

For early editions of the BCP including the 1662 edition:

Early English Books Online [external link for non-UC staff/students; subscription required]

Early English Books Online [UC Staff/Students only]