The employment of the Book of Common Prayer was made mandatory through England by an Act of Uniformity passed by Parliament in early 1549.  It declared “that all and singular ministers in any cathedral or parish church or other place within this realm of England, Wales, Calais, and the marches of the same, or other [of] the king’s dominions, shall, from and after the feast of Pentecost next coming, be bound to say and use the Matins, Evensong, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, commonly called the Mass, and administration of each of the sacraments, and all their common and open prayer, in such order and form as is mentioned in the same book, and none other or otherwise.”

Its passage was controversial.  Among the eighteen bishops in the House of Lords during the debates over the Act – which succeeded a series of theologically intense debates about the original authorization of the prayer book – eight ended up voting against it.  These were, largely, traditionalist figures, but it should be noted that a particular person’s theology can never be inferred simply from the fact of his or her opposition to a particular version of the Anglican prayer book.  As Brian Cummings has commented

in practice, the Book of Common Prayer seemed to please almost no one.  Many Elizabethans were still Catholic at heart and conformed only reluctantly to a church now bereft of spiritual comfort and external signs.  Puritans, on the other hand, mocked even the use of the surplice, rejected the wafer in favor of ordinary bread, objected to the sign of the cross in baptism, kneeling for communion, the ring in marriage…and bowing at the name of Jesus.”

To this theme we will repeatedly have cause to return.

From: The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography by Alan Jacobs; “Lives of Great Religious Books” series (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), pp. 45-46.


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