Christopher L Webber. A User’s Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: Morning and Evening Prayer. Morehouse, 2005. $8 on Amazon.com.
This is a very handy little book. It is designed for people who know nothing about daily prayer, and so takes nothing for granted. This is a good thing! Webber has reprinted the pages of morning and evening prayer out of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), going so far as leaving the same page numbers, and then provides facing page commentary.
The Introduction overs a wide variety of information. One of the primary concerns here is the difference between Rite I and Rite II. Webber provides a discussion of how Rite I differs from Rite II, but all further discussion uses Rite II. He also discusses the differences between the 1928 and 1979 BCP.
The real value of the book comes when we get to the actual offices. Set up in facing page style, each section has a general description of its purpose, history, and the sources of the actual words. One of the obvious things that comes out of the discussion is changes to the canticles in the 1979 BCP. I have to say I like the additional canticles and I would be happy if there were even more of them. It always surprises me that so much from the apocrypha is included when there are so many canticles in scripture that are omitted (Jonah, Song of Songs, Hannah’s song etc). He goes on to give the sources and authors of the collects included with the offices. The bit about the Phos hilaron was considered a cherished old hymn by St Basil in 379 is interesting. I also thought it was interesting that Webber noted that the Magnificant can be used for morning prayer and that any morning canticle can be used for evening prayer. That is very good to know because always using it for evening prayer is a little too rigid for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it doesn’t always seem like the best canticle to go with the other selections. The book rounds off short discussions of the prayers and a short glossary.
As I said from the beginning, its a handy book. Its not groundbreaking scholarship or comprehensive analysis, but it suits its purpose: to introduce new people to morning and evening prayer. I think it does that quite well.