Together with the Authorized version and the works of Shakespeare, the Book of Common Prayer has been one of the three fundamental underpinnings of modern English. As it has been in regular use for centuries, many phrases from its services have passed into the English language, either as deliberate quotations or as unconscious borrowings. They are used in non-liturgical ways. For example, many authors have used quotes from the prayer book as titles for their books.
Some examples of well-known phrases from the Book of Common Prayer are:
“Speak now or forever hold your peace” from the marriage liturgy.
“Till death us do part”, from the marriage liturgy.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust” from the funeral service.
“From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil” from the litany.
“Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” from the collect for the second Sunday of Advent.
“Evil liver” from the rubrics for Holy Communion.
“All sorts and conditions of men” from the Order for Morning Prayer.
“Peace in our time” from Morning Prayer, Versicles.
The phrase “till death us do part” (“till death us depart” before 1662) has been changed to “till death do us part” in some more recent prayer books, such as the 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer.
References and allusions to Prayer Book services in the works of Shakespeare were tracked down and identified by Richmond Noble (Noble 1935, p. 82). Derision of the Prayer Book or its contents “in any interludes, plays, songs, rhymes, or by other open words” was a criminal offence under the 1559 Act of Uniformity, and consequently Shakespeare avoids too direct reference; but Noble particularly identifies the reading of the Psalter according to the Great Bible version specified in the Prayer Book, as the biblical book generating the largest number of Biblical references in Shakespeare’s plays. Noble found a total of 157 allusions to the Psalms in the plays of the First Folio, relating to 62 separate Psalms—all, save one, of which he linked to the version in the Psalter, rather than those in the Geneva Bible or Bishops’ Bible. In addition, there are a small number of direct allusions to liturgical texts in the Prayer Book; e.g. Henry VIII 3:2 where Wolsey states “Vain Pomp and Glory of this World, I hate ye!”, a clear reference to the rite of Public Baptism; where the Godparents are asked “Doest thou forsake the vaine pompe and glory of the worlde..?”
More recently, P.D. James used phrases from the Book of Common Prayer and made them into bestselling titles—Devices and Desires and The Children of Men, while Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men placed the phrase onto cinema marquees worldwide.
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