Cranmer did not start from scratch, but modified and adapted the services of the Medieval Church for a new generation. As already noted, his primary aim was to let the Bible be heard, so that the people 'might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true Religion.' This necessitated the removal of anything that hindered the continual course of the reading of Scripture, the simplification of the services for the sake of clarity, and the use of English rather than Latin.

Cranmer was even concerned about having too many notices in the services! But certain things remained the same, such as the use of creeds and appropriate biblical passages as vehicles of congregational response. Scripture was used in traditional patterns of prayer and praise, as outlined below. Prayers were adapted to reflect biblical teaching more accurately and clearly. All these features came to be recognised as hallmarks of Anglican liturgical practice.

Making it count

The Anglican Reformers wanted to provide simple, uncluttered forms of service, but they were also concerned to retain what was helpful from the past. In fact, Cranmer explicitly valued forms used by Christian in times past precisely because they were ancient.

For example, some form of the following invitation to praise God, with congregational responses, has been continuously used by Christians since at least the third century to introduce 'The Great Thanksgiving' in the Lord's Supper. Here is the version in An Australian Prayer Book:

Lift up your hearts: we lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God: it is right to give him thanks and praise.

Many ancient prayers were updated and simplified. Words and ceremonies that were untrue, uncertain, vain, or superstitious were removed, but some traditions were retained, such as the sign of the cross in baptism or kneeling at Communion, because they were considered edifying. These became a source of contention in the era between the publication of the first Prayer Book and the issuing of the 1662 revision.

For more than a century, there was intense debate about the contents of the Prayer Book, with some wanting to alter it extensively, and some seeking to abolish it or remove the obligation for its use. So the 1662 Preface speaks about the need to keep 'the mean between the two extremes, of too much stiffness in refusing, and of too much easiness in admitting any variation from it.' The aim was not to compromise between Catholic and Protestant theology and practice, but to deal with different attitudes to changing the form and content of services. This is still a live issue in many congregations today!

Maintaining some continuity

With a passion for contemporary relevance, it's easy to lose the benefits of some continuity with the past. A generation of Anglicans is emerging with little appreciation of our liturgical inheritance and the potential for carefully planned and theologically-deliberate church gatherings.

In the face of independency and strong opinions about the Prayer Book, the 1662 revisers sought to preserve peace and unity in the Church of England, while procuring reverence, and exciting 'piety and devotion in the public worship of God.' They perceived that a degree of uniformity was helpful for the edification of a great diversity of congregations.

Is there a pattern for us to follow here in our own context today?

Next: Learning to pray together