The Book of Common Prayer: A Short Primer

books-of-common-prayerOver the course of the last week, several people have asked me how to begin using the Book of Common Prayer. Here is a brief introduction for those who might be interested in exploring this historic resource for individual and corporate prayer.


 Tradition is the living faith of the dead.  Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living

Jaroslav Pelikan


Welcome to the Book of Common Prayer!

Millions of Christians who have used this tool to structure individual and corporate worship for over five hundred years.  It was originally created in response to the English Magisterial Reformation, however, the Book of Common Prayer drawls from the deepest sources of the entire Christian tradition, even before the time of the European Reformations. Its purpose is to make Christian prayer and worship accessible to all believers, structuring life around the Christian year, and providing language for believers to understand major life events in view of Jesus Christ.


  • Liturgy means “Work of the People”
  • Eucharist means “Thanksgiving”
  • BCP is the abbreviation for “The Book of Common Prayer”
  • Collect is the assigned prayer for the week.
  • Rite I = a worship service written in Elizabethan English (closer in format and language to the 1928 version of the BCP)
  • Rite II = a worship service written in contemporary English

Basic content

  • Worship services – for individual and corporate use.
  • There are four types of prayer services outlined for various times of day.  These are refered to as the Daily Office (Morning, Noon, Evening, Compline)

Example: Turn to page 355 and read through the Rite II Eucharist Service. Notice the main movements of the service (Entrance into God’s presence and prayer of purity, Scripture lessons, corporate affirmation of faith, corporate prayers, confession of sin, communion)

  • Written Prayers – for insertion into worship/prayer services and  various other occasions.
  • The Book of Psalms – often referred to as “The Psalter”
  • A guide for reading the scriptures on a daily and weekly basis – individual and corporate use,  referred to as “The Lectionary”

Where to Find

Apostles Creed…………………….Page 96

Daily Devotional liturgy………..Page 136

Weekly written prayer…………..Page 211

Confession of Sin………………… Page 360

Psalter………………………………….Page 585

Sunday Scripture Readings…….Page 887

Daily Scripture readings…………Page 933

An Example of How to use Devotionally

1) Begin on pages 137 – 140 and choose a prayer format for appropriate time of day. For instance, if in the morning choose the Morning Rite.

2) Pray through the opening prayer (from Psalm 51), either alone or with others.                 –

3) After the section titled “A Reading” read the assigned scripture passages for the day.

  • To find the assigned reading turn to the Daily Lectionary Readings (beginning on page 934) and find the current week in the liturgical year. On this week in 2013 we are in the Daily Office Year One – Week of 4 Easter (left side of page, page 960). Choose the week that corresponds to the church calendar.
  • The numbers above the Old Testament reading refer to the Psalms to be read in the morning and the evening

4) Read 1 Peter 1:3 aloud (page 137).

5) Next is a time for structured and unstructured prayers, silence and songs. There are many options in the BCP for structured prayers. For instance, on p. 389 is an order for prayer called “Form V.” This works well in a group, with additional time for spontaneous prayers in the midst of the structured prayers.

6) Conclude the time of prayer by praying the Lord’s Prayer (on page 97)

7) Pray the written prayer at the bottom of page 137 (called a “Collect”), or find the Collect assigned for the week. The collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is on page 225.

A Further Resource

Black, Vicki K., Welcome to the Book of Common Prayer. Morehouse Pub., Harrisburg, 2005.


Download the BCP:

The 1979 U.S Book of Common Prayer formattted

Daily Prayer Offices from the BCP:

Mission St. Claire

BCP Daily Readings on