The Diamond Jubilee of the Prayer Book

The Diamond Jubilee of the Prayer Book

(By the Revd. Dr. Gordon Maitland. Dr. Maitland is the National Chairman of the Prayer Book Society of Canada and a parish priest in Windsor, Ontario.)

The year 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer. However, before we say anything more about that book, it is worth noting that this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the first Canadian version of the Prayer Book. When the Church of England in Canada gained its autonomy from the Mother Church of England in 1893, it also gained the right to revise the Prayer Book without seeking the approval of parliament because the Church of England in Canada was not an established church. A Canadian BCP was given final approval by General Synod in 1918, but the Primate’s proclamation giving final assent to the canon authorizing the new book was not issued until 1922. Thus, 100 years ago, Canadian Anglicans for the first time had a version of the Prayer Book that they could call their own. This version of the BCP was authorized for use until it was replaced by the 1962 edition. This means that the Anglican Church of Canada’s second edition of its Prayer Book has now been in use twenty years longer than the first version.

The Prayer Book Society is suggesting three dates that could be observed as a way of marking the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the current BCP. Each of these dates has a significance in the history of the Prayer Book. The first date is Monday, March 21, which is the date of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s martyrdom. This is Cranmer’s feast day in both the BCP and BAS liturgical calendars. Since this date falls on a Monday in Lent, it would probably be best to observe the commemoration at a parish mid-week celebration. Archbishop Cranmer was the architect and compiler of the original Book of Common Prayer in 1549. Although the Prayer Book has undergone various changes since that time, the wording of many of the prayers and exhortations is still his work and has stood the test of time for more than 450 years.

The second significant date for this Diamond Jubilee year is Saturday, September 3. It was on this date in 1959 that the 1962 Canadian BCP was first used (on an experimental basis) in the Canadian Church. Why, you might ask, is it called the 1962 BCP when it was first published in 1959? In our Canadian Church, any legislation which comes before General Synod and has the potential for changes in doctrine must be passed by two consecutive General Synods to come into effect. For Anglicans, doctrine is enshrined (in part) in our liturgical formularies, and therefore changes in the Prayer Book have potential doctrinal implications. Thus, it was not until the revised Prayer Book was passed at a second General Synod in 1962 that it could be accepted by the Church as a whole. Between 1959 and 1962 the new Prayer Book was used only experimentally alongside the 1922 Canadian BCP.

Frobisher watercolour
The Frobisher Expedition, 1578, Watercolour by Gordon Miller

The September 3 date has further significance for Canadian Anglicans. It was on this day in 1578 that the first recorded celebration of the Eucharist using the Book of Common Prayer took place in what is now Canada, celebrated by the Revd. Robert Wolfall in Frobisher Bay during an expedition in search of the North-West Passage led by Sir Martin Frobisher. The historical significance of the September 3 date was not lost on the Anglicans assembled for General Synod in 1959, because the Bishop of the Arctic, D. B. Marsh, was allowed to be the first cleric to celebrate the Eucharist using the new Prayer Book, which took place in St. George’s Church, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec. The choice of date and celebrant for the first Eucharist using the present Prayer Book was a conscious way of signaling the historical continuity of Anglicanism within Canada. Since September 3 falls in the Labour Day weekend this year, Canadian Anglicans may wish to celebrate the occasion of the first use of the 1962 BCP on a Sunday or week day afterwards.

1962 Primate's Decree
Select the above image of the 1962 Primate’s Decree to see it larger.

The final significant date in this Diamond Jubilee year is the first Sunday in Advent, November 27. After the revised Prayer Book received approval at the 1962 General Synod, the then Primate, Archbishop Howard Hewlett Clark, sent out an episcopal decree to the whole Canadian Church that the canon authorizing the exclusive use of 1962 BCP would come into effect as of the first Sunday in Advent 1962. As it turns out, Advent I fell on December 2 in 1962, so rather than observe the actual date (December 2 falls on a Friday this year) the Prayer Book Society is suggesting that it would be more convenient to urge parishes to observe the anniversary on the first Sunday in Advent 2022, which is November 27. To the right is a scan of the Primate’s decree which was sent out to every Anglican Church in Canada announcing the official date on which the sole use of the 1962 Book of Common Prayer would come into effect.

The 1962 Book of Common Prayer is still authorized for use in the Anglican Church of Canada, and it is hoped that even congregations which use primarily the Book of Alternative Services for their worship will consider using the BCP for some of their celebrations this year. The BCP is a part of our Anglican heritage, and a significant marker of Anglican identity. Educational resources and suggested liturgical material for celebrating the above anniversary dates can be found here, and we invite interested people to visit this page and explore them. An informed acquaintance with the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer will help Canadian Anglicans to appreciate the deep and rich legacy of faith our forebears have entrusted to us.

The Diamond Jubilee of the Prayer Book