The Preface to the Book of Common Prayer (First Book of 1549)
THERE was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which (in continuance of time) hath not been corrupted: as (emong other thinges) it may plainly appere by the common prayers in the Churche, commonlye called divine service: the firste originall and grounde whereof, if a manne woulde searche out by the auncient fathers, he shall finde that the same was not ordeyned, but of a good purpose, and for a great advauncement of godlines: For they so ordred the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest parte thereof) should be read over once in the yeare, intendyng thereby, that the Cleargie, and specially suche as were Ministers of the congregacion, should (by often readyng and meditacion of Gods worde) be stirred up to godlines themselfes, and be more able also to exhorte other by wholsome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the trueth. And further, that the people (by daily hearyng of holy scripture read in the Churche) should continuallye profite more and more in the knowledge of God, and bee the more inflamed with the love of his true religion. But these many yeares passed this Godly and decent ordre of the auncient fathers, hath bee so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertein stories, Legendes, Respondes, Verses, vaine repeticions, Commemaracions, and Synodalles, that commonly when any boke of the Bible was began: before three or foure Chapiters were read out, all the rest were unread. And in this sorte the boke of Esaie was begon in Advent, and the booke of Genesis in Septuagesima: but they were onely begon, and never read thorow. After a like sorte wer other bokes of holy scripture used. And moreover, whereas s. Paule would have suche language spoken to the people in the churche, as they mighte understande and have profite by hearyng the same; the service in this Churche of England (these many yeares) hath been read in Latin to the people, whiche they understoode not; so that they have heard with theyr eares onely; and their hartes, spirite, and minde, have not been edified thereby. And furthermore, notwithstandyng that the auncient fathers had devided the psalmes into seven porcions, wherof every one was called a nocturne, now of late tyme a fewe of them have been dailye sayed (and ofte repeated) and the rest utterly omitted. Moreover the nombre and hardnes of the rules called the pie, and the manifolde chaunginges of the service, was the cause, yt to turne the boke onlye, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more busines to fynd out what should be read, then to read it when it was faunde out.
These inconveniences therfore considered: here is set furth suche an ordre, whereby the same shalbe redressed. And for a readines in this matter, here is drawen out a Kalendar for that purpose, whiche is plaine and easy to be understanded, wherin (so muche as maie be) the readyng of holy scripture is so set furthe, that all thynges shall bee doen in ordre, without breakyng one piece therof from another. For this cause be cut of Anthemes, Respondes, Invitatories, and suche like thynges, as did breake the continuall course of the readyng of the scripture. Yet because there is no remedy, but that of necessitie there must be some rules: therfore certein rules are here set furth, whiche as they be fewe in nombre; so they be plain and easy to be understanded. So yt here you have an ordre for praier (as touchyng the readyng of holy scripture) muche agreable to the mynde and purpose of the olde fathers, and a greate deale more profitable and commodious, than that whiche of late was used. It is more profitable, because here are left out many thynges, whereof some be untrue, some uncertein, some vain and supersticious: and is ordeyned nothyng to be read, but the very pure worde of God, the holy scriptures, or that whiche is evidently grounded upon the same; and that in suche a language and ordre, as is moste easy and plain for the understandyng, bothe of the readers and hearers. It is also more commodious, bothe for the shortnes thereof, and for the plaines of the ordre, and for that the rules be fewe and easy. Furthermore by this ordre, the curates shal nede none other bookes for their publique service, but this boke and the Bible: by the meanes wherof, the people shall not be at so great charge for bookes, as in tyme past they have been.
And where heretofore, there hath been great diversitie in saying and synging in churches within this realme: some folowyng Salsbury use, some Herford use, same the use of Bangor, some of Yorke, and some of Lincolne: Now from hencefurth, all the whole realme shall have but one use. And if any would judge this waye more painfull, because that all thynges must be read upon the boke, whereas before, by the reason of so often repeticion, they could saye many thinges by heart: if those men will waye their labor, with the profite in knowlege, whiche dayely they shal obtein by readyng upon the boke, they will not refuse the payn, in consideracion of the greate profite that shall ensue therof.
And farsomuche as nothyng can, almoste, be so plainly set furth, but daubtes maie rise in the use and practisyng of the same: to appease all suche diversitie (if any arise), and for the resolucion of all doubtes, concernyng the maner how to understande, do, and execute the thynges conteygned in this booke: the parties that so doubt, or diversly take any thyng, shall alwaye resorte to the Bishop of the Diocese, who by his discrecion shall take ordre for the quietyng and appeasyng of the same: so that the same ordre be not contrary to any thyng conteigned in this boke.
Though it be appointed in the afore written preface, that al thinges shalbe read and song in the churche, in the Englishe tongue, to thende yt the congregacion maie be therby edified: yet it is not meant, but when men saye Matins and Evensong privatelye, they maye saie the same in any language that they themselves do understande. Neither that anye man shalbe bound to the saying of them, but suche as from tyme to tyme, in Cathedrall and Collegiate Churches, Parishe Churches, and Chapelles to the same annexed, shall serve the congregacion.
History of Letio Continua