Thinking allowed

Alternative Services

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the enact­ment of the Pray­er Book (Altern­at­ive and Oth­er Ser­vices) Meas­ure 1965.

It was this Meas­ure of the old Church of Eng­land Assembly which for the first time enabled the Church to revise the 1662 ser­vices of the Pray­er Book and to make extra pro­vi­sion. Until that point only the 1662 Book (with minor amend­ments passed by Par­lia­ment in the 19th cen­tury) had been leg­al, and the Church’s great attempt after the First World War to revise the Book had twice been lost in Par­lia­ment after passing the Church Assembly. The Church’s response to that fail­ure was a resolve to nev­er again sub­ject litur­gic­al texts to Par­lia­ment­ary revi­sion. But it took nearly 40 years (with an inter­ven­ing World War) before this Meas­ure was approved by the Assembly (Bish­ops: 30 in favour, 0 against; Clergy: 200 to 1; Laity: 203 to 11) and then by each House of Par­lia­ment. The Meas­ure did not con­tain any litur­gic­al text, but provided a mech­an­ism whereby texts which were altern­at­ive to or addi­tion­al to Pray­er Book texts could be approved by the Church Assembly for use for a few years.

The first fruits of the Meas­ure were the author­iz­a­tion of large parts of the pro­posed 1928 Book, and these became known as the Altern­at­ive Ser­vices First Series. Almost sim­ul­tan­eously a Second Series began to be pub­lished and author­ized. These rep­res­en­ted the work of the new Litur­gic­al Com­mis­sion, and in many cases they depar­ted from the struc­ture of the Pray­er Book ser­vices, intro­du­cing the fruits of litur­gic­al schol­ar­ship and ecu­men­ic­al think­ing, but still using lan­guage that was lightly tra­di­tion­al. The First Series mar­riage and buri­al ser­vices con­tin­ue to be author­ized, and much of the Second Series Holy Com­mu­nion ser­vice con­tin­ues as Com­mon Wor­ship Order One in Tra­di­tion­al Language.

The Meas­ure provided for tem­por­ary exper­i­ment­a­tion over a small num­ber of years, and it was an essen­tial step on the route to the mod­ern lan­guage ser­vices of Series 3, brought togeth­er only 15 years after the Meas­ure in the Altern­at­ive Ser­vices Book 1980. By that time the Meas­ure had been replaced, repealed entirely by the Wor­ship and Doc­trine Meas­ure 1974. That Meas­ure enabled the Church to make pro­vi­sion by can­on law for the author­iz­a­tion of ‘forms of ser­vice’, and is the cur­rent leg­al basis for all litur­gic­al texts includ­ing the 1662 BCP as well as Com­mon Wor­ship.

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