One of the most distinguishing symbols of Anglicanism worldwide is the Book of Common Prayer. You will see them used by churches across the spectrum: evangelical, broad, charismatic, anglo-catholic, anglo-orthodox. Within its covers you will find everything you need for prayer, worship, Scripture reading, celebrating the sacraments, observing Holy Days (feasts and fasts), and pastoral care. It is a symbol of our unity-in-diversity, as our prayers and liturgies are translated into many languages and contextualized for the nations and cultures in which Anglican Christians reside around the world.
This need for people to worship in their own language is indeed one of the reasons the very first Book of Common Prayer of 1549 was compiled by Thomas Cranmer. In those days, the English people, including many priests, did not understand the Latin, which was the liturgical language of the Western Church. The circumstances of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century made an opportunity for Thomas Cranmer to translate the historic liturgies of the church into the language of the people so that they may be edified through worship, hearing the Divine Service of the church not only with their ears, but also with their “hearts, spirit, and mind” (Preface to the BCP 1549). When we hear the story of Pentecost in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, as the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak of the good news of God in Christ in the languages (dialects at the very least) of all the people who were gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. Just as with the Incarnation when God became flesh and related to us in every way except sin, the Word of God proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit comes to us and is revealed in ways in which we can perceive and understand and respond in faith to the grace of God which brings us to everlasting life. Very appropriately, when we commemorate the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), it is to be a weekday following the Day of Pentecost.
Another aspect of the gift of the prayer book is that it is a tool for our formation and development as followers of Jesus. With the prayer book we can pray appropriate prayers and psalms for each designated hour of prayer. We are guided with a table of daily Scripture readings throughout the calendar year, and weekly Eucharistic lessons that invite us to join Jesus in his life and ministry. We participate in the sacraments of the church and celebrate what God has done through the saints of the church through the liturgical calendar.
The Book of Common Prayer is a gift to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and it is a blessing to be a Christians of this heritage. In the prayer book there is a commitment to the Gospel, there is simplicity, there is repetition, and there is beauty. With it we are guided and nourished in our faith as it leads us to encounter our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us be thankful for this gift.