The liturgy is often perceived not only as an
"icon" of heaven but also as a "banner"
of human ideology. In the 16th century, the Reformers could
not tolerate traditional liturgies, because they thought of
them as symbols of medieval superstition and a departure from
strict Monotheism. In the 20th century, the liturgical reformers
mandated by Pope Paul VI could not tolerate the traditional
Roman liturgy, because they perceived it to be the symbol of
a force opposing progress and human evolution. The same intolerance
reigns, whether it is a priest imprisoned in the 1860's for
"ritualism" or priests removed from their parishes
in the 1970's for refusing the Novus Ordo.
In reaction to these reforms, the traditional
Roman liturgy has become associated with the political right-wing
and conservatism. Many find it incredible that the "ritualist"
priests of the 19th century were not right-wing conservatives
- but Socialists. They were highly innovative in their concern
for the poor and unfortunate people at the fringes of society.
We live in a society where tolerance and inclusivity
are the keywords, but in which tolerance and inclusivity are
hard to come by in the clash of ideologies. On the 7th July
2007, Pope Benedict XVI released a document in which he affirmed
the right of Roman Rite priests to celebrate the liturgy of
before the Pauline reform as an "extraordinary use".
Fair-minded people would say that they would have no objection
to that. Surely people can then choose what they prefer, just
like being free to buy products of different brands in the world
of trade and commerce.
Then the accusation came, sometimes from diocesan
bishops, saying that the Pope had "given in" to the
traditionalists, that he was something of a traditionalist himself
and planned to cancel what was acquired by Vatican II and its
positive teachings and aspirations in the modern world. Indeed,
it is time to cast away our ideology and look at things with
a fair mind. We can read the Conciliar documents, and we can
read what Pope Benedict XVI has clearly written and said.
The Pope was very careful to avoid using the habitual
terminology of the traditionalists, for example constrasting
"traditional" and "conciliar" or "modern",
or even "new" and "old". He introduced the
notion of two uses of the Roman Rite. At long last, we
see the key to undoing the ideological damage caused ever since
the Protestant Reformation. Before the Council of Trent, and
in some places, many centuries after it, there remained particular
liturgical uses in local dioceses and some of the religious
Orders like the Dominicans. Many modern Roman Catholics are
surprised to know that the Archdiocese of Milan, the Diocese
of Braga in Portugal and Lyons in France were not using the
standard rite "of Pius V". The Church has always been
a coloured tapestry of unity in diversity.
Is this opening a step backwards in terms of progress
and modernity? Some have said that by allowing the old rite,
Benedict XVI wanted to go back in time like a nostalgic old
man. Nothing could be further from the truth. For him, the Church
lives in our own time, and the teaching of Vatican II is yet
to be received in the Church for there to be a renewal. In the
immediate post-conciliar period, there was a cultural crisis
that implied that in 2,000 years, Christendom had done little
to improve the condition of man, and now Marxism was to be the
new panacea. Later, Communism collapsed, but the response was
"post-modern" scepticism and not a return to the faith.
As ideologies wear down, we see more clearly and in retrospect
the intentions of the Concilar Fathers. Fr. Joseph Ratzinger,
who then became an Archbishop, then a Cardinal, and now Pope,
was in the middle of the whole period as one of the world's
greatest theologians - and his experience should be seen as
the key to his decision as regards the liturgy. When we read
his profound thought and theology, we see that we are not faced
with a conservative or someone who lives in the past. The past
affects the present and the present turns towards the future.
The motu proprio is not the expression of a step
backwards, because spiritual progress is not like scientific
or technological progress. None of us using Windows Vista, XP
or even 98 is using Windows 3.1. We don't even have the old
programmes on our hard disks. When a car is no longer roadworthy,
it is taken to the scrap heap and broken up, and we buy a new
car. Not so with the liturgy, because innovations do not abolish
and cancel the older elements. To make another analogy, some
of the English cathedral organs were redesigned and rebuilt
in the 1960's according to an entirely different aesthetic ideal.
They were no longer to be "stodgy" romantic English
instruments, but were to sound like 18th century German and
French organs. 40 years later, these radical rebuilds are often
seen to be errors. Old organs are restored to be again as they
were built in the first place. Perhaps an improvement can be
made here and there, but the original material is respected
and fostered for future generations. No one objects to new elements
in the liturgy, for they show the liturgy to be as alive as
the Church, but the old remains as a testimony of tradition.
Why should the liturgy be separated from conservative
ideologies? Simply, the liturgy is not the property of a group
of believers, the old rite no more to a group of right-wingers
than the new use to a radical community. In the 1950's, as in
the 1540's, there needed to be something of a shake-up. In Europe
and America, the Mass was in Latin and many of the prayers were
inaudible. True, people could follow the Mass with a bi-lingual
missal, but a real separation was in place as when they squinted
through holes in the Rood screen. As a result of this separation,
people resorted to private devotions and the Rosary. When the
changes came, like a "Christmas game" as the recusants
complained, lay people became more active. It went to the other
extreme, and in came the dialectical divide and the "hermeneutics
With a little intelligence, we will find that
lay participation is possible in the older forms of the liturgy,
with appropriate pastoral guidance and priestly sensitivity.
"Actual participation" is not only doing, but
also praying and silence.
I listened to an interview
with an independent bishop of the Liberal Catholic tradition.
Like the "progressives" in the Roman Church, he was
experimenting with a "circular Mass". Unlike the Protestants
who do not admit an ordained Priesthood in the Apostolic Succession,
he advocated opening the priesthood to all and removing its
association with any kind of "clerical status". I
found this bishop's thought profound and cogent in many respects.
Many aspects of what he said were similar to the ideas of the
"emerging church" movement - discarding traditional
forms to provide a Christian platform for disconnected post-modern
people. I found that I could not reject this person with the
usual brush-off cynical attitude. He has walked his spiritual
path and is convinced he is doing the right thing. The reflections
this talk provoke in me amount to doing things a different way:
separate the liturgy from ideology in order to impregnate
the old with a new spirit.
Separate the liturgy from ideology in order
to impregnate the old with a new spirit - I would advise
the reader to stop on these words and reflect. Perhaps go for
a walk or do some gardening, and then read the rest of this
article on returning to your computer or printed paper. Christ
talked of old wine and new bottles, the new and old things from
the treasure house, and above all the spirit he did not find
in the attitude of the Pharisees. The key is the Knowledge
of God through personal experience. Christ's strongest
reproach of these formalist and hypocritical self-righteous
clerics was that they they took the key of knowledge
away from the people. The people were no longer to have their
own experience of God, but be guided only by verbal teaching
from the clerocracy.
I am not in favour of the "circular Mass",
because the Mass is pointed to God and open to Him. It is a
communal celebration of immanence, but turned to the sacred
and the transcendent. However, there are ways to involve the
laity in an eastward-facing celebration. Allow them to sit in
the choir stalls and be near the altar. The charismatics often
like sitting on the floor using mats and little kneeling desks.
I would have nothing against this kind of spontaneity. I often
think of university lectures in the Middle-Ages: the professor
had a chair, a kind of pulpit, and the students sat on the floor
to listen to the lecture, ask questions or make "objections"
for the professor to answer. For those who assist at Mass, there
are times to be silent and adore, times to learn from the reading
of Holy Scripture or the teaching by the priest, and times to
witness to the power of God.
As the older form of the Roman Mass returns, at
least for those who want it, I made the decision nearly a year
ago to adopt the ancient Use of Sarum as the "older form"
of the Anglican rite. It can be celebrated in the original Latin
or according to the excellent English translations of Pearson
and Canon Warren. There is no Feast of the Sacred Heart or of
Saint Francis of Assisi! These are just 2 feasts among others.
We English have our own, like the Five Wounds and the
Holy Name of Jesus on August 7th. My vestments are of
Roman shape and colour - but does this matter? There is no objection
to adding feasts and celebrations from the Roman Missal to the
Sarum Use, as prefeces from the "ordinary use" (Novus
Ordo) can be used with the "extraordinary use".
This kind of flexibility can help to find the via media
between excessive purism or eclecticism. After all, Anglicans
have used the Roman Missal as a supplement to the parsimonious
17th century Prayer Book for decades. Our voyage of discovery
leads to a new world.
I cannot say enough for fostering a sense of wonder
and awe, without which our hearts and souls are exposed to the
mortal dangers of indifference and spiritual lethargy (acedia).
Far from turning back the clock, whichever rite to which we
are attracted, we are invited to turn away from radicalism -
both right-wing and left-wing, and embrace traditional liturgical
worship in an entirely new way. For many years, I have found
the "conservative" spirit just as foreign as 1970's
philistine brutalism. I feel the way for a new approach, the
prophetic voice of the Vatican II Fathers.
We Anglicans are not Roman Catholics, though now
there is a formal dialogue between the Traditional Anglican
Communion and Rome, as there is also for other groups of Anglicans
opposed to the "dictatorship of relativism". Our recovery
of the liturgy is very similar to that in the Roman Catholic
Church under Benedict XVI. Our forefathers suffered for it as
we ourselves have suffered from isolation, marginalisation,
ostracism, incomprehension from our own families and friends,
rejection by our churches and parishes, ruined lives of former
seminarians whose generosity met with the irrevocable sentence
of "unstable and psychologically immature - no vocation".
This treasure is too dear for us to discard along with our old
Windows 3.1 and DOS 6 (anyone remember that?) and the old Ford
Cortina that failed its roadworthiness test. It is a treasure
for which many of have given our lives, at least morally and
In the Roman Catholic Church, most people will
continue to prefer the vernacular liturgy, as most of us Anglicans
use the Prayer Book or one of the new revised services. But
the presence of the ancient wealth of the Roman rite or the
old diocesan uses is an invitation to a voyage of discovery
in a world so far removed from the world of fast food, instant
entertainment and supermarkets.
The independent liberal Catholic bishop whom I
mentioned advocates new liturgies and entirely new forms for
new pastoral situations. Perhaps he is right for his own flock,
and I am impressed with his reasoning and candour - but I see
much more potential in presenting old signs, gestures, symbols
and texts for rediscovery by open-minded people in this new
pastoral situation of "post-Christianity" that is
rapidly becoming a new "pre-Christianity". The Orthodox
Churches of the East (except one American Antiochian archbishop
and a couple of open-minded bishops in the Russian Church) have
missed out by their self-centred conservatism and refusal of
western Christianity. At last, Rome is becoming open to the
same thing we Anglicans have been working for over the past
170 years or so. We are tired of our aspirations being just
The whole point of traditional liturgy is not
to be a banner of conservatism, prejudice, bigotry and anti-intellectualism,
but the spiritual and Sacramental reference of the Church in
a new age of openness and post-ideology. The renewal will be
slow, as people still find difficulties in seeing through the
ideologies, but those who persevere will have the grace and
strength to lift away the curtain so that the sunlight might
shine into their souls. Few will see this vision in these early
days, but it will snowball in time.
I see some parallels between the beginning of
this century and the beginning of the 19th. The old Establishment
was largely destroyed by the French Revolution and people were
tired of the terror and the fanaticism. They turned to what
was good in the middle ages, even though they saw things through
a distorted mirror of Romanticism. The 19th century revival
was far from perfect, and it only lasted for so long, but there
was something in Romanticism then as there is now. I cannot
see the future, but we can but ... hope.