17 April 2021

How ‘The Book of Common Prayer’
was the first book printed in Ireland

For almost five centuries, the Book of Common Prayer has contained and conveyed the essence of Anglican spirituality (Photo collage: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today marks the 470th anniversary of the printing of the first book in Ireland. The Book of Common Prayer was the first book printed in Ireland, and shortly after its printing, the new liturgy was formally introduced into Ireland at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Easter Day, 17 April 1551.

Poring old cuttings from my days as a journalist in The Irish Times, I recently cam across this feature, published 20 years ago on 17 Aril 2001, to mark the 450th anniversary of the printing of that first book:

Printing of Ireland’s first book, the ‘Book of Common Prayer’, to be commemorated

Patrick Comerford

The 450th anniversary of the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer into Ireland and of the printing of the first book in Ireland is being marked by church and State with special services and commemorative stamps.

The Book of Common Prayer was the first book printed in Ireland, and shortly after its printing the new liturgy was formally introduced into Ireland at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Easter Day, April 17th, 1551.

To mark this 450th anniversary Sunday’s Sung Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at which the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Walton Empey, was the preacher, followed the 1549 rite.

An Post is marking the occasion with a new 32p stamp illustrating the original title page of The Book of Common Prayer and administration of the Sacramentes, printed in 1551 at the first printing press in Ireland.

A companion 30p stamp, marking the 300th anniversary of Ireland’s first public library, shows a portrait of Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713), who built Marsh's Library near St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1701.

The first Book of Common Prayer, produced in England in 1549, was primarily the work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury. In it, Cranmer drew from the early church fathers, eastern liturgies, the medieval Roman rite, the reformed breviary of Cardinal Francisco Quinones, the Sarum rite of the Mass which had been used throughout England, German church orders, and the daily offices.

Clergy who had been burdened since medieval days with a large number of books for liturgical use now had all the services bound together in one simple printed work that was also available for the laity.

Cranmer’s new book also provided for the public reading of the complete Bible in church through the year: the New Testament was to be read every four months, the Old Testament every year, and the Psalter every month.

A year later, in 1550, the Council in Dublin ordered the use of the new prayer book. The “official printer to his Majesty in Ireland”, Humphrey Powell, was given a special grant to establish the first printing press in Ireland, and the Book of Common Prayer was printed in Dublin at his new press in 1551.

Although the new book referred to the Eucharist as “The Supper of the Lorde and Holy Communion, commonly called the Masse”, Archbishop George Dowdall of Armagh, who had been appointed by Henry VIII, fled his diocese, declaring that the government and the bishops had “demolished the mass to bring in another service of England's making”.

A few weeks later, the Book of Common Prayer was used for the first time in Ireland on Easter Day, April 17th, 1551, and the new liturgy was celebrated in the presence of representatives of both church and state, including the Lord Deputy, Sir James Croft, Archbishop George Browne of Dublin, and the Lord Mayor and Bailiffs of the city.

* * *

ALTHOUGH the 1549 Book of Common Prayer was revised in England in 1552, Archbishop Browne insisted that the book printed in Dublin remained the only legal liturgy in Ireland, and insisted on using it in 1553 at the consecration of two new bishops, Hugh Goodacre, who died before he could replace Dowdall at Armagh, and the fiery reformer John Bale of Ossory, who complained that the 1549 liturgy was used in Ireland “like a popish mass”.

Humphrey’s edition of the Book of Common Prayer remained the official prayer book of the Church of Ireland until Edward VI was succeeded by his sister, Mary Tudor. A revised version was introduced in 1560 under Elizabeth I, but a special clause in the legislation allowed services to continue in Latin where the people did not speak English, so long as the new form of service was observed.

The revision of 1662 was a partial return to a more Catholic understanding of liturgy. Its cultural impact remains through its introduction from eastern sources of the concluding doxology in the Lord's Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom …”

Since then, the Book of Common Prayer has been revised in the Church of Ireland in 1877, after disestablishment, and in 1927. The General Synod, which meets in Dublin next month, is in the process of debating the contents of a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer due to be published in 2004, which will contain services in both traditional and contemporary styles.

According to the editor of the new Book of Common Prayer, Canon Brian Mayne, both styles “are being recognised as authentic worship integrities”. Of course, the new book will not include the 1549 rite, used in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday.

But, according to some liturgists, the 1549 rite is among the best liturgies of the Reformation period. The Book of Common Prayer continues to be a work of great poetry and linguistic beauty, and some of its spirit will live on through the use of a traditional language Evensong.

Cranmer’s book had a role in shaping modern English that puts it alongside the works of Shakespeare and the King James translation of the Bible, his collects and cadences had far-reaching influences, and his inspired phrases continue to be used commonly.

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
60, Waterford’s two cathedrals

Holy Trinity Cathedral on Barronstrand Street, Waterford … designed by John Roberts and is the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford … said to be the finest 18th century church building in Ireland, it replaced the earlier cathedral used by Bishop Patrick Comerford in the 17th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This week, I am offering photographs of churches with close associations with my family and ancestors. My photographs this morning (17 April 2021) are from the two cathedrals in Waterford City.

We are all surprised when we Google our own name, find our own name in an index in a book, or get an email or a parcel intended for someone else with the same name. I still feel uneasy when I see my name on someone else’s grave, and I am still slightly surprised, no matter how often I see it, to read the name Patrick Comerford on pillars and plaques in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Waterford.

Indeed, there are two cathedrals in Waterford: the Church of Ireland cathedral on Cathedral Square – Christ Church Cathedral or, more formally, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity; and the Roman Catholic cathedral on Barronstrand Street – Holy Trinity Cathedral. Both were designed by John Roberts, who shaped much of Georgian Waterford.

For a period in the 1640s, before the Cromwellian siege of Waterford in 1649-1650, the older Church of Ireland cathedral was used by the Roman Catholic diocese, when Patrick Comerford (1586-1652) was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1629-1652).

The copes, chasuble, dalmatic and other vestments he had used in Waterford, were long lost and disappeared for generations. A later bishop, John Brenan, claimed the ecclesiastical Patrick Comerford had taken the ‘ornaments’ of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore to France.

The City Corporation decided to build a new Church of Ireland cathedral a century later. John Roberts built Christ Church Cathedral (1773-1792) on the site of Waterford’s mediaeval Gothic cathedral. He also built a new Roman Catholic cathedral on the site of the old Penal chapel on Barronstrand Street (1793-1796).

During the demolition of the older cathedral, the mediaeval vestments missing since Patrick Comerford left for France in 1651, were found in the crypt. In a gesture of ecumenical goodwill, centuries before ecumenism became standard practice, they were presented by Bishop Richard Chenevix to his Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Peter Creagh, and they are now kept in the Museum of Treasures in Waterford and the National Museum in Dublin.

Bishop Patrick Comerford is named twice in tablets in Holy Trinity Cathedral. One plaque lists him with other distinguished theologians, priests and bishops from Waterford, including Peter Lombard, Archbishop of Armagh, James White, the Jesuits Michael Wadding, Peter Wadding and Ambrose Wadding, Thomas Walsh, Archbishop of Cashel, and the historian Geoffrey Keating. A second plaque lists him among the Bishops of Waterford, between Patrick Walsh and John Brenan, who accused him of taking the cathedral vestments with him when he left Waterford.

Bishop Patrick Comerford died at Nantes on 10 March 1652, aged 66, and was buried in Nantes Cathedral with full episcopal honours.

The family tradition continued in the city’s cathedrals: Edward Comerford was the organist at Holy Trinity Cathedral until he died in 1894.

Patrick Comerford listed among the distinguished theologians, priests and bishops from Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 6: 16-21 (NRSVA):

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.

Patrick Comerford listed among the Bishops of Waterford and Lismore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for those who give of their time, talent, and treasure for the continued building of the Kingdom here on Earth.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A cope used by Bishop Patrick Comerford on display in Waterford Heritage Museum

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org