The Book of Common Prayer was written in “a tongue understanded of the people”; but language evolves and what the common person understood in 1549 is not always as understood today. So the Prayer Book Society (PBS), a campaign group that “encourages rediscovery and use of the majesty and spiritual depth of the Book of Common Prayer at the heart of the Church of England’s worship”, has produced a helpful guide to some of the words used in the iconic service book.
Drawing heavily on the Bible and much earlier books of prayer, the 1549 service book was the first time an English-language service book had been produced to unite clergy and laity in prayer. It was the bedrock of the newly independent Church of England. Its author, the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, revised it in 1552 and it underwent further revisions in 1559, 1604 and 1662. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer remains an official service book of the Church of England and formed the basis of many Anglican provinces’ Books of Common Prayer.
Now, the PBS has published a useful glossary of terms in the BCP, which it is sending to first-year theological college students across the UK. The glossary was researched and prepared by Fergus Butler-Gallie, a 25-year- old ordinand at Westcott House Theological College in Cambridge.
“Although Cranmer committed himself to setting out church services in ‘a tongue understanded of the people,’ the meaning of some of his language – as with Shakespeare’s – has changed over the centuries,” the PBS said. “The new glossary aims to help theological students and other Prayer Book users understand words which are unfamiliar or whose meanings have changed.”
The words in the glossary include supplication and satisfaction to oblation and holpen.
“Supplication”, it says, is “humble and earnest petition. e.g. ‘Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee...’” While “satisfaction” is “fulfilling an obligation incurred. e.g. ‘ye shall reconcile yourselves unto them; being ready to make restitution and satisfaction’, ‘a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.’”
It says of “oblation”: “from the late Latin oblatio, (from offerre, oblatum, to offer), offering. e.g. ‘alms and oblations’, ‘his one oblation of himself once offered.’” And “holpen” is described as the “past tense of ‘to help’. e.g. ‘He remembering his mercy hath holpen His servant Israel.’”
The glossary is available online at the PBS website; and can be ordered in the form of a double-sided card which can be used as a bookmark.
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