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 By that time the Measure had been replaced, repealed entirely by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974.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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