The Book of Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is a great resource for all Episcopalians. Not only does it set out the order of service for Communion (with several versions to choose from), it also has morning prayers, midday prayers, evening prayers and Compline, a service to close the day. These are excellent services for both individuals and groups. There are also a set of daily devotions suitable for use by individuals and families. These provide short prayers to be used in the morning, at noon, in the evening and at the close of the day. A online version of the Book of Common Prayer can be found here.
A Beginner's Guide to the Book of Common Prayer
Or - Things I wish I'd been told when I first became an Episcopalian
This is by no means a comprehensive or scholarly guide, but hopefully it will be of help to anyone encountering The Book of Common Prayer for the first time.
The Prayer Book is ordered around 'Life'; after the daily prayers we have Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, birth, sickness, and then, appropriately, death. After that the rest of the BCP is mainly devoted to reference material and Episcopal housekeeping! Not forgetting our own translation of the psalms.
If you are looking for information on the history of the Book of Common Prayer take a look at this Wikipedia article.
With over a thousand pages of fairly dense print the Book of Common Prayer can appear quite daunting at first. The good news is that with regular use it becomes very familiar. Most of the content is given in two forms. One version is in traditional language and the second a contemporary language version. You'll notice that a lot of the content is labeled 'I' or 'II" indicating respectively traditional or contemporary language.
In the original version published in 1549, instructions to the Officiants - the clergy or lay people leading the services - were printed in red. Modern copies use italics to identify instructions.
Yes, you read that correctly. Lay people can lead an Episcopal service. However, a lay person cannot give a Blessing, or, without special training and a dispensation from the Bishop, provide Holy Communion. If you are ever called upon to lead prayers for a small group or your family; when you come to a blessing simply change the wording from 'you' to 'us'. The best advice is to take it slowly, and, of course it gets easier with practice.
How do people use the Prayer Book?
Everyone uses it differently. Some like to use it during church services, and others rely on their memory and the prompts in the bulletin. Some people will browse through looking for a passage or prayer to suit their needs. Others follow the Daily Devotions. And some people, of course, will hardly ever pick up a copy. Each to their own.
The best way to get to know the Book of Common Prayer is to just dip in! Here are some favorites:
The Daily Devotions starting on page 137, and the Prayers and Thanksgivings that can be found starting on page 815 (there's a useful list of the prayers on page 810). After that try random pages. Got a sick friend? Try page 458, and should you ever need it, there's also a prayer for a sick child to be found at the bottom of the page.
Here's a quick run through the Prayer Book.
Daily Prayer & Devotions
Pages 37-140. There are two versions of the Morning and Evening Prayers, and a single version of Compline - the service held at the end of the day. The daily devotions on pages 137-140 are very short; a page each for the morning, noon, evening and close of day.
Pages 159-261. A collect is a short prayer made up of an invocation, petition, and conclusion. There are collects covering all sorts of occasions and events including Holy days and the celebration of the lives of Saints.
Liturgies for Special Days
Pages 264-295. The special days are: Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and The Great Vigil of Easter.
Page 298-313. In the Episcopal Church, it is common to be baptized as a young infant - though adults can be Baptized too. The Prayer Book provides a form of words to be used when someone is not sure if they've already been baptized (Conditional Baptism), and even an Emergency Baptism, which can be performed by any baptized person (both can be found on page 313)
Pages 323-382. The celebration of Christ's sacrifice for us, by the partaking of bread and wine. Several variants of the of Holy Communion service are provided.
Pages 413-419 Confirmation is performed by the bishop of the diocese, and represents the adult acceptance and reaffirmation of their Baptismal vows.
Pages 423-437 The complete marriage service. If you wish to be married at Christ Church, the service is set out here. Contact the Rector if you are interested in getting married at Christ Episcopal Church..
Thanksgiving for a Child
Pages 439-445. Prayers for the birth or adoption of a child.
Ministration to the Sick
Pages 453-461. Prayers for the sick, their caregivers, for those in pain, and those recovering from illness.
At the Time of Death
Pages 462-467. Prayers to be used at the time of death.
Pages 469-507. The details of the burial service.
Pages 510-579. All sorts of celebrations, including the ordination of the clergy, and dedication and consecration of a church.
Pages 582-808. A complete set of 150 psalms - the 'hymns' or poetry, if you prefer, included in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Prayers and Thanksgivings
Pages 810-841. An excellent resource of prayers for all occasions.
An Outline of the Episcopal Faith
Pages 844-862. If you want a really definitive definition of the Episcopal Faith, this is where to look.
Pages 864-878. All sorts or interesting things including the preface to the 1549 book of common prayer and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral
Tables & Lectionary
Pages 880-1049. Lots of tables and dates to tell us whom should be celebrated when, and what scripture should be read on any given day.