March 14, 2018

“Amen” in the Book of Common Prayer

The principal Sunday service at my church is a Rite II Holy Eucharist. During Lent, however, we are using Rite I, with which I am less familiar. When Rite I is used, I have to follow along in my prayer book more closely than usual, since I have most of the Rite II service memorized but not Rite I.

This past Sunday, I noticed, for the first time, that the amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer on page 336 is rendered in italic small capitals. This was jarring, as “amen” is usually presented as “Amen.” Well, not always.

I decided that I should investigate how “amen” is rendered in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Mostly, the underlying rules regarding how the word is printed are pretty straightforward. There are a few surprises, however, and a few places where a revised prayer book should depart from the current one.

Read what I discovered and what I suggest for revision on my Web site. See “Amen in the Book of Common Prayer.”


  1. From a book of mine:

    "Back in 381 A.D., the great Saint Jerome wrote about the “Amen.” In his Commentary on Galatians II he spoke of the Great Amen at the end of the prayer of consecration in the Mass, and said that in Rome when all the Christians at Mass cried out the great “Amen,” the very walls of the pagan temples trembled.
    "Indeed, it was that very comment of Saint Jerome that moved the compilers of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer to do an unusual and unique textual thing: they capitalized the Great Amen in the Eucharist! (The only other capitalization in the book is the name YAHWEH in Psalms 68 and 83.) The compilers intended for the word to be “cried out,” not just muttered. They intended that we strangulated Episcopalians finally let it all out: that we boldly call out that “Amen”—and make the pagan temples tremble!
    But why does that matter? Because it is by that Great Amen that the actions and words of the priest at the altar are confirmed by the gathered Assembly. Indeed, if the assembled laity do not give their sanction and consent, priestly acts and words are empty and impotent. It is not by chance that a priest is forbidden to celebrate the Eucharist without at least one other person there to represent the whole mystical Body of Christ. There must be a congregation and the congregation must say the “Amen.”
    And “Amen” also sneaked into our Prayer Book in a new place—and in both brackets and italics—on page 365: “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. [Amen.]” and “The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. [Amen.]”
    "We might be reminded that in the ancient eucharistic document known as “The Apostolic Tradition” [ca. 215 AD] the bread was distributed with the words “The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus” with each communicant responding “Amen.” And in the document known as “The Apostolic Constitutions” [ca. 375 AD] the words of administration are “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ, the cup of life” and the people responded “Amen.” "

    1. Thank you, John Julian, for another thoughtful reply. My complaint about “AMEN.” is not that it should be emphasized, but that the typography used does not sufficiently make that clear. At the very least, we should replace the period with an exclamation point. (We should also educate parishioners, but that’s another matter.)

      I considered saying something about the amens in brackets, but I was unsure what I should say. I assume the brackets indicate that the amen is optional.


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