Imagine if there were no prayers in your own language. This is how the Church of England operated before the Book of Common Prayer. Until its publishing, the prayers and worship of the Church of England were in Latin, which the common person could not understand. This prayer book changed all of that by giving English-speaking people prayers in their own language for the first time in history! Because it employed the language of the people, the Book of Common Prayer helped shape the devotional language of the English people, by giving them a simplified prayer book that they could use anywhere, whether at church or at home.
In every age, men and women have talked with God in prayer. Prayer is one of God’s main ways of communicating with His people. Through it, we build a relationship with God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Prayer brings us into direct communion with the Lord. Prayer is as essential to the spiritual life as air is to our lungs or water is to our cells. For that reason, there is nothing more universal than the practice of prayer. If you think about it, prayer is one of the practices Christians share in common around the world. There are people praying on every continent and every nation. One day in the not so distant future, the Bible tells us “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. 14:11).
However, there are times when we simply don’t have the words to express ourselves in prayer. When we don’t know how to pray or when we need encouragement to pray, we look to the church. The prayers of fellow Christians can inspire and encourage us whenever we find ourselves at a loss for words, or when our desire to pray is not there. Many prayers and thanksgivings have been recorded and passed down, since the days of the Bible, to be used by others for mutual encouragement.
Anglicanism employs a rich prayer book tradition that is unique among other Christian traditions. While other Reformation traditions developed confessional statements of faith, the Anglican tradition developed a prayer book, which is fundamentally pastoral and spiritual rather than theoretical. The Book of Common Prayer is one of Anglicanism’s greatest contributions to the world. Commenting on its influence, author and theologian J. I. Packer reminds us, “Long before the age of fish and chips, the Book of Common Prayer was the great British invention, nurturing all sorts and conditions of Englishmen and holding the church together with remarkable effectiveness.”