Rector’s Ramblings: First Prayer Book (1549) and St. Columba

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

There are actually two interesting commemorations today, June 9th, although neither appears in The Book of Common Prayer (or, for that matter, in the Ordo Kalendar we are using): the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) and St. Columba (a.k.a. Columcille) of Iona.

The Book of Common Prayer 1549: The First Prayer Book


In 1549, under the reign of Edward VI, successor to Henry VIII, the primary language of public worship in England and other areas ruled by Edward was changed from Latin to English, and the first Book of Common Prayer came into use. It was first used on Pentecost Sunday, 9 June 1549, and the book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1963 commemorates it on that date. The Book was the work of a group of bishops and scholars known as the Windsor Commission, but primarily of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

It was based primarily upon the Latin worship tradition of the Use of Sarum (similar to, but not identical with, the Roman rite used by most Roman Catholic between 1600 and 1950), with some elements taken from the Greek liturgies of the Eastern Church, from ancient Gallican (French) rites, from the new Lutheran order of service, and from the Latin rite of Cologne. The older usage had grown haphazardly through the centuries, and had added so many complications that it was difficult to follow (the priest often needed to juggle multiple books to get through a single service).

The new order pruned and simplified so that only one book (the Prayer Book!) other than the Bible was necessary, and so that even the laity could follow the service and participate without difficulty. It largely kept the structure of the Latin Eucharistic rite, and preserved – in English translation – many of the prayers of traditional use, although some of them were adjusted according to reformed theological emphases. And it reduced the multiple services of daily prayer – called the “Daily Office” or the “Hours” (of prayer) – from the monastic 7 or 8 to only two: Morning and Evening Prayer, meaning that it could realistically be used by ordinary lay people.

Moreover, the quality of the English was outstanding. Indeed, most scholars of the English language would agree that the three sources which most shaped early modern English were Shakespeare, the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible… and The Book of Common Prayer. All Christians who worship in English, from Roman Catholics to Southern Baptists and beyond, are in some measure influenced by it, and all to whom it is important that the people of God understand the worship of the Church and take an active part therein have cause to be grateful for the Book of Common Prayer.

(This account has been compiled, edited, and adapted from “The Book of Common Prayer – 1549: The First Book of Common Prayer,” “The First Book of Common Prayer, 1549 | For All the Saints,” “The First Book of Common Prayer | James Kiefer’s Christian Biographies,” and other sources.

St. Columba (or Columcille) of Iona


A most interesting figure in both Irish and, indeed, Christian history, St. Columba is famous for the monastery he founded on Iona, an island off the coast of Scotland; for his mission work among the Picts; and for the further missions that emanated from Iona to other parts of then-Pagan Europe (see, inter alia, How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill). Less well-known is why he ended up on Iona in the first place: it was self-imposed exile, in penance for having started a small but bloody war over a manuscript! As “Historic UK” relates:

“Born of royal blood in 521 AD in Ireland, or Scotia as it was then called, he was the grandson of the Irish King Niall. He left Ireland for Scotland not as a missionary but as an act of self-imposed penance for a bloody mess he had caused at home. He had upset the king of Ireland by refusing to hand over a copy of the Gospels he had illegally copied; this led to a pitched battle in which Columba’s warrior family prevailed. Full of remorse for his actions and the deaths he had ultimately caused he fled, finally setting on Iona as the first place he found from where he couldn’t see his native Ireland” (…/St-Columba-the-Isle-of-Iona/).

On Iona, Columba founded the celebrated monastery which became the center for the conversion of the Picts of northern Britain, who were still largely ignorant of the Gospel. For thirty years, Columba (also known as “Columcille,” meaning “Dove of the Church,” evangelized, studied, wrote, and governed his monastery at Iona.  And from Iona, which became a major center of Christian learning, his disciples also went out to found other monasteries, which in turn became centers of missionary activity: a remarkable example of how God can turn even the aftermath of a bloody battle to spread the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

For more on the world’s first (recorded) copyright dispute, which led to the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (and 3,000 deaths), see:…/story-st-columba-modern…. For more on (what has traditionally been believed to be) the manuscript in question, nicknamed “An Cathach” (“The Battler”) for its role in the dispute, see…/cathach-of-st-columba…. Alas, most current scholars now believe that the manuscript we have was written too late to have been The Battler itself. Nonetheless, although damaged in incomplete, it is the oldest surviving Irish manuscript written (in part) in Gaelic, and the world’s second oldest collection of Psalms.

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