I recently posted an article concerning the 1662 English Prayer Book, which was more read than anything else that I have written for several years.  This popularity suggests the need for more posts about Prayer Book editions in the classical mold.

This post compares two of the 20th century editions of the Book of Common Prayer:  that of the Episcopal Church from 1928, now widely used in the Continuing Churches in the United States, and that of the Church in the Province of South Africa (CPSA) from 1954.  For brevity’s sake, I will refer to these books by their year – ‘1928’ and ‘1954’.


1928 consists of 668 pages including 57 pages of prefatory material (including calendar, lectionary, tables of precedence, general rubrics) and 611 pages of text (liturgical rites and offices, propers for various days and occasions, the psalter, a pontifical, forms for family prayers, and the Articles of Religion).

1954 consists of 759 pages:  48 pages of prefatory material and 711 pages of text. 

The Psalter in 1928 takes up 180 pages (pp. 345-525); in 1954 it also takes up 180 pages (pp. 496-676).  This suggests that despite differences in font, layout, and the like, the 1954 is in fact about 90 pages longer than the 1928. 

The 1928 lectionary take up 35 pages (pp. x-xlv); in 1954 the lectionary takes up 27 pages (pp. xix-xlvi).

Given these facts, the 1954 has about 100 more pages of text than the 1928.

Main locus of added content in 1954

The additional pages in 1954 as compared to 1928 are mainly accounted for by major additions in the section of Eucharistic propers.  As compared to 1928, the 1954 book adds a collect, epistle, and gospel for many additional major feasts and for all the weekdays in Lent.  1954 also provides many commons of the saints (where 1928 provides only one) and propers for other occasions.  In fact, the additional feasts and commons in 1954 are ample enough to lessen the need for missals in places with daily or frequent weekday celebrations of the Eucharist.

In the 1928 book the section of ‘The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels to be used throughout the Year’ comprises 179 pages, pp. 90-269.  The similar section in the South African book is about as long:  173 pages (pp. 53-226).  In 1954, however, there is an additional section for ‘Lesser Feasts and Fasts’ comprising another 145 pages (pp. 252-397). 

Lectionary & Calendar

Most copies of 1928 are printed with a Daily Office lectionary adopted in 1943.  This lectionary has a cycle of lessons for Sundays and a different cycle for weekdays; the Morning and Evening Prayer (MP and EP) lessons are not related to each other.  The lessons are often very brief and are widely criticized both for their brevity and for the omission of so-called ‘hard’ passages. 

1954, like 1928, has differing cycles of lessons for the Offices on Sundays and on weekdays.  In the 1954 book, however, the morning and evening lessons are related, with a lectio continua in which the evening lessons take up the reading of the biblical books where the morning lessons concluded.  While, therefore, someone using the 1928 book can read more or less continuous lessons while saying only MP or EP, 1954 assumes that both Offices are being said.  I believe this 1954 lectionary is in fact the same as the revised 1922 English lectionary.

As compared to 1928 the 1954 lessons are much more ample:  usually either a full chapter or, if the chapter is very long, half a chapter.  Most of the dubious ‘snips’ in the 1943 lectionary are not present in the 1954. 

While the lessons in 1954 are longer than in 1928, and in part because they are longer, the 1954 lectionary is theologically preferable.   

The Calendar in 1954 greatly expands the American calendar by including most of the ‘black letter’ feasts that were always included in English Prayer Book calendars but never in the American.  1954 adds a few greater feasts, namely the Commemoration of the Holy Communion (Corpus Christi), S. Mary Magdalene, Lammas day, and the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It adds 17 particularly Anglican feasts to the traditional black letter days, from Blessed Alfred the Great (9th century) to S. Bernard Mizeki (late 19th century).  Perhaps more importantly, with the 1954 addition of so many commons of the saints and for special occasions, the expanded calendar can actually be observed with Eucharistic celebrations proper to most weekdays. 

Daily Offices

In the daily Offices, in 1954 many pages are saved as compared to 1928 by not duplicating material in the two offices.  In particular:

  • ‘The Introduction’, containing the opening sentences and the penitential rite, is only printed once;
  • In both MP and EP when there is a canticle from the gospels, only it is printed out and there are no psalm alternatives for those canticles;
  • the Nicene Creed is not printed as an alternative to the Apostles’ Creed, nor is the Gloria in excelsis printed out as an alternative to the Gloria Patri;
  • The prayers that may follow the third collects are only printed once. 

The space saved by these omissions is partly used to restore the Athanasian Creed and to add the ‘Great O’ Antiphons for Advent.  Also, a third option to use as the second canticle at MP is provided, the Urbs Fortitudinis (Isaiah 26:1-4, 7 & 8), with a rubric that it or the Benedicite, omnia opera may be said during Advent and from Septuagesima until Easter Even.  Both 1928 and 1954 add optional invitatories to be used with the Venite, exultemus

In general 1954 follows the English Offices fairly closely, with Psalm 95 used before the Psalms in the morning (rather than the American confection), with the English form of the Te Deum (without the three American changes), and with the English form of the opening versicles.  1954 does, however, follow 1928 rather than the English prayer book in the fifth pair of suffrages after the Creed (‘For it is thou, Lord, only, that makest us dwell in safely’).  1954 does not abbreviate those suffrages before the collects in Morning Prayer as does 1928.

As noted above, the Athanasian Creed, Quicunque vult, is in 1954, while it was omitted from all the classical American Prayer Books.  The rubric concerning its use, however, is less demanding in 1954 than in the English books.

Eucharistic Rite in 1954

In the 1662 English Prayer Book, the Decalogue is to be recited at every celebration of Holy Communion.  In 1928 the Decalogue is to be recited at least once a month.  In 1954 the Decalogue shall be said once on every Sunday in Advent and Lent, but otherwise may be omitted and replaced with the Summary of the Law, the Kyrie eleison, or both.  1954, then, suggests, or at least permits, that the Decalogue be treated as a troped Kyrie for penitential seasons.

In 1954 the Nicene Creed ‘Holy’ has been restored in the marks of the Church.

For the offertory 1954 provides seasonally and occasionally appropriate sentences, general sentences much as in 1928, and also a few sentences referring to sacrifice.  That is, the almost exclusive emphasis in 1928 on almsgiving is broadened.

At the oblation of the bread and wine, 1954 provides an explicit prayer of blessing of the oblations;  ‘Bless, O Lord, we beseech thee, these thy gifts and sanctify them unto this holy use, that by them we may be fed unto everlasting life of soul and body; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ 

The Prayer for the Church has some optional petitions (for missions, for education, and for all men in their several callings), prayer for the departed, and the portion of the prayer from the 1549 canon referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints.

An alternate, abbreviated form of confession and a slightly shortened absolution are provided for permitted use on ‘working days, not being Feasts with the permission of the Bishop’.

The salutation to introduce the Sursum corda dialogue is restored in 1954.  The proper preface for the Trinity is printed as the default preface for Sundays.  After the Eucharistic rite a schedule of other proper prefaces is provided (pp. 246-248), including those in the 1928 but with three additions:  for memorials of the departed, for Maundy Thursday, and for the dedication of churches.  A rubric for the preface of All Saints assigns it also for feasts of apostles, evangelists, and the Nativity of Saint John Baptist.

Neither 1928 nor 1954 includes the Benedictus qui venit after the Sanctus

The 1954 Prayer of Consecration is clearly in the classical Anglican tradition, with most of the language in 1928, but with small changes that lessen the possibility of a receptionist interpretation, including a shift of the reference to ‘these thy creatures of bread and wine’ to a place before, rather than after, the Words of Institution.  There is a somewhat stronger petition that the Father would ‘pour thy Holy Spirit’ upon the worshipper and the gifts.  In general the 1954 keeps the strengths of the 1928 consecration as compared to the 1662 Prayer Book and then strengthens it further in an objective and realistic direction.

The Lord’s Prayer and Prayer of Humble Access follow the consecration as in 1928. 1954 does not contain the rubric permitting a hymn after the Humble Access, which many using the 1928 take as authorization for the Agnus Dei.  

In both 1928 and 1954 the words of administration of the sacrament are given as in all Prayer Book editions from 1559 onwards.  An alternative, however, is permitted in 1954, in which the priest first addresses the whole congregation saying, ‘Draw near and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which were given for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.’  After thus once saying the second part of the 1559 formula for administering the Body and Blood of our Lord, the priest then administers the Elements to individual communicants with roughly the 1549 form of words:  ‘The Body [or Blood] of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.’

The 1954 rite then concludes mostly as does the 1928.  The fixed Thanksgiving Prayer is always said.  In 1954 the rubric says that the Gloria in excelsis ‘shall be said’, where 1928 in line with general Western liturgical usage permits the use of another hymn in its place.  After the hymn, both in 1928 and 1954 the blessing follows, with permission for the use of another postcommunion collect between the hymn and the blessing. 

2 thoughts on “Two Prayer Books Compared: American 1928 & South African 1954. Part 1.

    1. I have the 2018 ‘Texts for Common Prayer II’. I have not reviewed it carefully. In general I find modern language texts unappealing for purposes of public worship. I am not interested enough in any of them to do much by way of comparing them with each other….


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