Perhaps contrary to popular belief, the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) has not remained unchanged since its first publication during the turmoil of the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. The BCP in English made its first appearance in 1549 with revisions following in 1552, 1559 and 1662. After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, changes were made to the 1662 Prayer Book and a new edition was published in 1878 to reflect the changed times and circumstances of the Church. A further revision was initiated by the General Synod in 1909 and was published in 1926, again with the intention of adapting services ‘to the requirements of the present time’. Two alternative forms of Evening Prayer were then added to this revision in 1933 to produce the BCP in use in many churches of the Church of Ireland today.
In 1962, great liturgical changes were underway in all the major Churches of Christendom and in that year the General Synod set up the Liturgical Advisory Committee (LAC) to bring forward proposals for a further revision of the services of the Church of Ireland. In their work the LAC gave attention to the use of modern language in worship and the result was the Alternative Prayer Book (APB) published in 1984.
In the preface to the APB it was clearly stated:
‘This book does not replace the Book of Common Prayer but provides authorized alternative services for use in public worship.’
Continuing this work of modernisation of language and forms of worship, the General Synod passed a number of statutes between 1986 and 1992 providing for alternative or additional forms of service for ‘pastoral occasions’. These were gathered together and published as Alternative Occasional Services (AOS) in 1993.
In 1997 the General Synod of the Church of Ireland requested the LAC to prepare a new edition of the BCP. This new Book of Common Prayer was to include not only services of the Church handed down through the centuries but also services in contemporary language. Thus the new book would represent the cumulative labours of committee and of synod over many generations.