[Copyright retained by author]
The Offices in the English Book of Common Prayer of 1549
The first Prayer Book of Edward VI from 1549 contains very few directions concerning ceremonial or posture, except some rubrics designed to ensure audibility. The priest is also directed to stand for the reading of the collects at Mattins. The book makes clear that the Offices and their lessons may be said or sung.
The 1549 book provides for no private preparatory prayers, no opening sentences from Scripture, no General Confession and Absolution, no prayers after the fixed collects, no variable anthems or hymns apart from the prescribed Canticles, no concluding Grace, and no private thanksgiving. The two Offices both open with the Lord’s Prayer (without doxology) and Opening Versicles and each concludes with three collects, the first variable and the second and third fixed. This list of omissions is striking to those familiar with the medieval Offices in use prior to 1549 and also is striking to those familiar with later Prayer Books. The bulk of the material, however, that would be read in all subsequent Prayer Books at any given Office is in place in 1549. The general conservatism of the Anglican Office rooted in this 1549 version can be seen by noting that all of the elements retained have medieval precedents. The core of the Office is solidly traditional.
The 1549 Office contains almost no variable elements apart from the collect for the day, Psalms read according to the day of the month, and an Old Testament and New Testament lesson read according to the day of the year. Otherwise the only variable elements are:
- ‘Alleluia’ is added at the end of the Opening Versicles from Easter to Trinity Sunday;
- The Te Deum after the Old Testament lesson is omitted during Lent and replaced with the Benedicite, omnia opera.
- The Athanasian Creed is assigned to be said or sung at Mattins after the Benedictus Dominus Deus on ‘the feastes of Christmas, Thepiphanie, Easter, Theascencion, Pentecost, and upon Trinitie Sunday’.
This reduction of variable elements, while somewhat and sometimes sensibly modified in subsequent Prayer Books, is central to the simplicity and accessibility, and so the popularity and effectiveness, of the Prayer Book Office. One should, however, remember that in 1549 the vast majority of laymen were illiterate and that books in any case were rare and expensive. A highly complex and variable Office would have been inaccessible to such laymen. In contrast, in literate and bookish ages and with printed service bulletins, variable elements such as hymns may be added without serious danger of overly confusing the people.