Q. What is prayer?
A. Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.
— The Book of Common Prayer, p 856

Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer can be complicated even for lifelong Episcopalians, and seems even more bewildering for visitors and newcomers. Although this is brief, we hope to answer some of the questions you may have and make worship easier for you.

Our current Book of Common Prayer, revised in 1979, was originally compiled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, in 1549. There are more than 80 million Anglicans (of which Episcopalians are part) in 163 countries throughout the world using a Book of Common Prayer in their own language, reflecting our diversity and ethnic backgrounds.

The Book of Common Prayer is a collection of ancient and modern prayers and worship services for occasions when the community gathers and for individual use as well. It allows everyone to participate, reminding us that each person is an important part of the worship experience, whether the service is a celebration or a solemn occasion. It is a guidebook for daily Christian living.


The Episcopal Church is bound together in a unique way by the Book of Common Prayer.  We believe that praying shapes believing — and that God is calling to us in each moment if we can find the space to hear that voice.  While other churches might place more emphasis on doctrinal purity or strict behavior codes as a way to shape and guide their communities, we have found that welcoming the Holy Spirit by regular prayer in the patterns of the ages has a still deeper and more powerful way of shaping us.

We believe that God calls us into deeper relationship through the habits of holiness which are laid out for us in the Book of Common Prayer.  It represents a way for all Christians in our community to become monks or nuns of a sort (even as they go about busy lives and hectic days) whose lives are shaped by patterns of prayer day by day from generation to generation.

Q: Why call it “common” prayer?

Common does not mean ordinary. These are the prayers we say together or “in common” when we worship as a community.

Q: Does it relate to the Bible?

Scripture is the foundation of our worship. Two-thirds of the Book of Common Prayer comes directly from the Old and New Testaments.

Q: What services are included?

The primary worship service included is the presentation of Lord’s Last Supper with his disciples, a service we call the Holy Eucharist. However, the first experience many visitors have with the Book of Common Prayer is at weddings, baptisms, or funerals in the Episcopal Church.

Q: Can it be used in personal devotions?

Yes, in private daily prayers or with family, prayers in the morning and evening, special prayers of praise or thanksgiving, requests for others, and for special occasions. All 150 Psalms, or poems from the Old Testament, are also contained in the Book of Common Prayer

A calendar for reading through the entire Bible every two years, as well as an outline of the Episcopal faith (called a catechism) and Church history, is included in the back.

Q: Can I make up my own prayers?

The Book of Common Prayer is meant to complement daily individual prayers, not to replace them. Every service in the book includes time for personal prayer requests, either silent or aloud.

The Book of Common Prayer has been a source of comfort, joy and inspiration, a unique treasure in Christian worship for more than 400 years. Join us this Sunday and experience for yourself the love and the presence of God at Saint Philip's in the Hills.

The Lectionary

A Lectionary is a table of readings from Scripture appointed to be read at public worship.  The association of particular texts with specific days began in the 4th century.  The Lectionary (1969, revised 1981), developed by the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II, provided for a three-year cycle of Sunday readings.  This Lectionary provided the basis for the Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer 1979 as well as those developed by many other denominations.

The Common Lectionary, published in 1983, was an ecumenical project of several American and Canadian denominations, developed out of a concern for the unity of the Church and a desire for a common experience of Scripture.  This means that denominations that use the Common Lectionary (like the Episcopal Church) are reading the same scripture in their weekly worship services. It was intended as a harmonization of the many different denominational approaches to the three-year Lectionary. 

The Liturgical Year

The Christian calendar divides the year into six liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The season after the Day of Pentecost is sometimes called “Ordinary Time,” although this term is unofficial and does not appear in the Book of Common Prayer. Every season has a designated color, which is displayed on clergy vestments and altar veils during that season.

  • White (or gold) signifies purity and joy and is used during Christmas and Easter, and on All Saints’ Day and other joyous occasions such as weddings.  White is also often used during funerals because death is viewed in relation to Christ’s resurrection.
  • Purple and blue signify penitence and patient waiting and are used during Advent and Lent. These colors also suggest royalty, indicating that during Advent we await the return of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
  • Red symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit and is used on Pentecost Sunday and for the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons.  It also signifies the blood of Christ and is used in the festival of martyrs.
  • Green suggests hope and growth and is used during the weeks after Epiphany, Trinity Sunday, and Pentecost.