I am given to believe that the Holy Father
has taken a great personal interest in Catholic-minded Anglicans
desiring communion with the Catholic Church. It is true
that this Pope is a spiritual father and a Pastor, and ready
to welcome Christians into that Unity willed by Christ in
the Gospel. He is also interested in reforming aspects of
contemporary life in the Catholic Church that have somewhat
wandered away from orthodoxy and good practice.
One of the main themes of Benedict XVI's pontificate
is the hermeneutic of continuity. Hermeneutics
is the study of interpretation - how we read and understand
a text and get the fullest meaning out of it. It is applied
to biblical studies, but also to law and every other written
text and record of human communication. The question in
the Holy Father's mind is one of continuity or rupture.
The notion of continuity is tightly associated with the
notion of organic development formulated by John Henry Newman.
To understand the idea, in the biological world, a kitten
becomes a cat and an acorn becomes and oak tree, both through
growth but also through identity. A legitimate development
in a doctrine is the notion of the implicit becoming explicit,
an identity of meaning but an improved expression. Nothing
new is invented and nothing old is abolished or destroyed.
There need to be criteria for discerning the difference
between the continuity of legitimate development and the
rupture of destruction and innovation.
The Roman Catholic Church, like during the
sixteenth century crisis and other conflicts with those
representing interests other than Catholic Christianity,
has had its difficulties. In the wake of Vatican II, there
was a generalised spirit of euphoria and a desire for change.
Those were the 1960's and 70's, years that left their mark
on my own childhood and adolescence. Now, ideas and liturgical
forms from those days, forty years ago, are dated. Retrospect
gives us an extremely lucid view of those days when Paul
VI introduced the new liturgy and presented the idea of
it replacing the venerable Roman rite as akin to giving
up something pleasurable for Lent!
Most of us have heard about liturgical abuses
and have seen Catholic churches physically transformed and
"wreckovated". In the 1970's the level of iconoclasm became
so great that some were comparing what was going on to the
sixteenth century Reformation - when altars and statues
were broken, church silver sold, vestments burned or thrown
into the trash. The recusants (from the Latin recusare,
to refuse) of our own time have been known as traditionalists
or integralists. In the 1980's, the present Pope
was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, and observed events very closely, especially the
developments in the priestly society founded by Archbishop
Marcel Lefebvre. There is something Cardinal Ratzinger very
astutely noticed, especially in those difficult days of
For the liberals and progressives, Vatican
II had not gone far enough in abolishing the old liturgy
and life of the Church and the traditionalists perceived
the changes as a betrayal and rejected Vatican II, referring
to the status quo of the Church as it had been under
Pope Pius XII. In both attitudes, Vatican II was perceived
as a break, a rupture in the life of the Church.
Now, could we not interpret the more ambiguous documents
of Vatican II in a way that is in harmony with Tradition
and a development into our own time? Surely, the
ecclesiology, the ideas for liturgical reform and ecumenism
were signs of progress and life. Had I been a priest in
the early 1960's, I would certainly have welcomed these
ideas and teachings with enthusiasm and optimism.
Many Catholics noticed that former Anglican
converts were particularly sensitive to developments and
deviations in Church life. For some of the changes, former
Anglicans had a feeling of déjà vu - we have been
through all this before. There was a convert Anglican priest
by the name of Fr. Quintin Montgomery Wright who became
a Roman Catholic in the 1940's from having been a curate
in a London Anglo-Catholic parish. He went to France in
search of something closer in spirit and "feeling" to the
pre-Reformation Church, something more "natural" than the
Catholic Church in England of the years immediately following
the end of World War II. Bishop Peter Elliott is a well-known
convert, an Australian and has distinguished himself in
interpreting the modern Novus Ordo rite in the most
conservative way possible, simply through its own system
of options. He wrote a book about the Ceremonies of the
Modern Roman Rite, obviously inspired by the old Fortescue
and O'Connell books on the old rite. Only a former Anglican
would do such a thing!
Yes, we Anglicans have been through it all
and not for a mere forty years but four and a half centuries!
No rupture was more brutal than the Reformation, especially
when war was declared upon the recusants and all those who
accepted the ministrations of foreign priests or English
priests trained abroad. Many books have been written on
the Reformation from both Protestant and Catholic points
of view, and that subject does not seem appropriate for
this short article.
Eventually, Anglicanism settled into its way
as an Establishment national Church and influenced its people
through its culture, literature and spirituality. There
were high points and low points. The Caroline Divines sought
a via media between perceived political interference
from Rome through the recusants and the lawlessness of the
Calvinist puritans. This was already the beginning of an
Anglican identity and a kind of "reform of the reform" if
we use an anachronistic term. The Prayer Book and the Articles
became the symbol of Anglican fidelity as opposed to post-Tridentine
"popery" and the total a-liturgism of the puritans.
It was on this basis that several positive
movements emerged from the spiritual lethargy and decadence
of the eighteenth century. The first was Methodism with
a surprising "high" theological vision. The second was the
Tractarian or Oxford movement which concerned an effort
to recover the theology of the Church Fathers as opposed
to liberalism influenced by sceptical philosophy. The third
movement was that of the Ritualists and their famous six
points. They all used the 1662 Prayer Book, but appealed
to the Ornaments Rubric to justify this "re-catholicising".
Percy Dearmer was very strict about using the Prayer Book
and simply appending Sarum ceremonies. To resume, the Anglican
Catholic movement was built in three stages: spirituality
and an ordered Christian life, serious theological study
and finally the restoration of Catholic liturgical practices.
It is ironic to see Anglicans suddenly frightened
when they see their Church on Rome's doorstep, afraid of
suffering influence from the Roman Catholic patrimony. For
years, they have been using an English translation of the
Roman rite, or the modern Roman rite, or at least the Prayer
Book on an eastward-facing altar, using candles (often a
big-six on the altar), vestments, post-Tridentine liturgical
colours and statues of saints canonised by Rome after the
Reformation. For any of these matters, a priest was sent
to prison in the 1860's for non-compliance with English
law governing Anglican worship. The English Missal and the
Anglican Missal were never legal rites in the Church of
England. Even the proposed 1928 revision of the Prayer Book
was refused by the State, and the Prayer Book of 1662 with
its mutilated Eucharistic prayer remained the official rite
until the experimental liturgies of the 1960's saw the day.
As a youth in the early 1970's, my only experience
of the Prayer Book was Mattins and Evensong. Holy Communion
was already Series II in "traditional" English, with the
old sung parts and the Prayer of Humble Access. I knew a
few churches in York using 1662, but they were almost invariably
pre-Tractarian and low-church. Surplice-and-scarf Eucharists
showed an entirely different culture from the "middle-of-the-road"
parishes doing what the extreme Ritualists of the 1860's
were doing. The extreme has become commonplace, and we were
used to it. To go back to pre-Tractarian norms: big silver
plates, flagons, leavened bread, north-end and so forth
would be quite a cold shower for not quite a few of us!
The question of Anglican identity and patrimony
can seem quite fluid, given all these developments and changes,
many of which were intended in a way as "reforms of the
reform". We take for granted today what as recently as the
1860's was extreme Ritualism. Let us remind ourselves of
the six points:
(1) the eastward position;
(2) the use of incense;
(3) the use of altar lights;
(4) the mixed chalice;
(5) the use of vestments;
(6) the use of wafer bread.
All these six points are in use in most Anglican
parishes other than strict Evangelical ones. The first point
is now frequently replaced by celebration facing the people.
All TAC parishes I know of use the eastward position. Ritualism
dates only from the mid nineteenth century, "high" theology
only from the 1830's and people considering religion as
essentially spiritual (as opposed to merely moral
or social convention) only from the late eighteenth century.
Here we see in a time span of two hundred
years a process of restoration and spiritual renewal, which
is not unique to Anglicanism. At the very time of the Oxford
Movement, France was beginning to rebuild her spiritual
patrimony after the Revolution, and Dom Guéranger in 1833
(re)founded the Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes and took an
interest in restoring the liturgical life of the Church
after an eighteenth century almost as spiritually arid as
England. This was the beginning of the liturgical movement.
Why do I tell you all these things? Simply,
the Anglican patrimony has assimilated so many characteristics
of Roman Catholicism over the past two hundred years. Even
though some of the more medievalist Victorians worked at
rediscovering the ancient and forgotten Use of Sarum and
other English dioceses of before the Reformation, more influence
came from post-Tridentine Rome. For this reason, you will
find the Roman liturgical colours, neo-baroque art and architecture.
Assimilating Roman Catholic culture is something that is
nothing new! So, at the point where we are, we have only
to accept the teaching, sanctifying and governing authority
of the Pope. We have to deepen our sense of the Universal
Church beyond the boundaries of our own parishes and missions.
In the modern Roman Catholic world, it is
significant that Bishop Elliott worked on an interpretation
of the modern Roman liturgy, the "ordinary use" as Benedict
XVI calls it, to make of it a continuation and organic development
from Tradition. This work might not have been perfect in
every way, but the good Bishop did all he could with what
he had - obeying the same constraints (observing the rites
and obeying the rubrics) as Percy Dearmer did with the 1662
Prayer Book in the 1900's. Now we find the Pope doing the
same thing in the first steps of restoring the orientation
of the altar. One begins by placing the crucifix in the
centre of an altar facing the people with the corpus facing
the priest. Two, four or six candles are arranged symmetrically,
and the effect is radically different even thought the altar
is still facing the people. The celebration is oriented
towards the crucifix as a central point. The Mass is no
longer a "closed circle" or a horizontal dialogue between
priest and people, with God to some extent marginalised.
I am convinced that we traditional Anglicans
are being invited, not in order to be saved from a shipwreck,
but to participate in a new liturgical movement of the whole
Church. I am amazed by this reflection of a traditionally-minded
cradle Roman Catholic:
One of the more interesting things I’ve
discovered (…) is how much interest I’m getting
from Roman Catholics who have no prior attachment to the
Anglican Communion. It seems there is a real hunger out
there for traditional liturgy, with all the ceremony and
solemnity, but without so much Latin. These Roman Catholics
express a desire to become part of an Anglican Use parish
for that reason.
It is not because the liturgy is Anglican,
but because it represents a return to the sacred and a dimension
of the Eucharist they perceived as missing in the standard
"ordinary use" of the Roman rite. I would almost be willing
to wager that the Pope needs our help for some of the groundwork
of a reform of the reform. Experience has shown that
one does not bring about liturgical renewal by writing clever
archaeological reconstructions or tomorrow's masses.
I am brought to think of a wonderful quote from Adrian Fortescue:
I think the habit of making up new liturgies
could easily grow on a man, like dram drinking. It must
be quite fun to spread out before one translations of
all the best liturgies, and then to pick out and string
together the prettiest snippets from each. Orchard has
not the ghost of a sense of liturgical style; he understands
nothing about the historic development or the inherent
build of the rites he plunders. He just takes the pretty
bits and strings them together anyhow. Lots of people
have done this sort of thing. The Irvingite Liturgy is
another famous example; so are all the High Anglican combinations
of their Prayer book with the juiciest morsels from the
Roman Mass. To me all this is silly and ugly. It is like
a man with no sense of construction or style who tries
to make a new architecture by jamming together all the
pretty details of all the buildings he has seen. I admire
the dome of St Peter’s and the windows of Chartres
and the Propylaia at Athens and the columns of Karnack;
but I should not like to see them all jammed together.
It is done by the kind of gruelling hands-on
ministry of the 1860's slum priests and Ritualists in the
poorest districts of Victorian England's cities. I can understand
how priests were bound by the laws of their Churches and
sought to go beyond conformity to an ever-higher spiritual
vision. Churches are often as dreary and as conventional
as the Civil Service or the Armed Forces, but they are a
fact of life. Sometimes things have to be stretched, institutional
inertia resisted and overcome, so that progress can be made
for the future.
There is much to be learned from the pastoral
liturgical movement of the twentieth century, especially
men like Romano Guardini and Pius Parsch. It is unfortunate
that very few were critical of the fad of Mass facing the
people that began to be experimented with from the 1920's
in Germany, France and Belgium. The research of Msgr Klaus
Gamber has established that Mass facing the people was never
a practice of the early church – see my earlier article
on the eastward position. However, there was much wisdom
and sound pastoral sense in respecting the traditional rites,
and helping ordinary lay people to participate spiritually
and by means of singing and serving. In the years following
World War II there were some secularising tendencies in
the Liturgical Movement, but on the whole, the pastoral
orientations were sound and admirable.
As the little quote above mentioned, we cannot
expect people to flock to Latin Masses, however much the
Latin liturgy (Roman, Sarum, Ambrosian and others) must
be preserved and regularly celebrated for posterity and
for the worship of God. The people in the parishes need
good vernacular liturgy that they can understand, but also
which brings them into the presence of God and a sense of
sacred transcendence. We Anglicans have generally been good
at that, and the Pope knows that.
This is why we do not become any less Anglican
and Christian by moving into communion with the Holy See.
Almost all the assimilation has been done for decades, and
we take the ritual and our belief in seven
Sacraments for granted. Most Anglo Catholics have only paid
lip service to the 39 Articles also for decades. Any "betrayal"
was done long ago.
After a short spell of writing quite polemical
material to teach and educate our own people, I would like
to go into a calmer, more serene and more spiritual tone
in my writings. There is so much to be said about devotion
to Our Lady, the Mother of God. Also, we have everything
to learn about the liturgy in order to contribute to this
holy work of a New
Liturgical Movement (not only the excellent Catholic
blog by that name, but also a real movement on and off line.
I think the first resource we should read
is the magnificent Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum
Concilium, containing the principles of liturgical
renewal, especially the respect of organic development,
a hermeneutic of continuity and not rupture.
A pastoral liturgy should not shock or offend, but should
bring people to adoration and Christian fellowship and communion.
English-speaking people will certainly appreciate the sonorous
prose of Cranmer, even if some words need a little updating
and expressions ironed out in places. Those are problems
of translations, and can be solved.
Since the 1960's the new liturgy has undoubtedly
produced good effects where it has been implemented with
a Catholic spirit. The most important element is the vernacular
language, which has been desired in the Latin Church
since the middle-ages and used in some countries from that
period. The new liturgy has underlined the Paschal Mystery
which was weaker in the old rite and almost non-existing
in scholastic theology. The modern liturgy has softened
the spirit of rubricism, though the reaction went to the
other extreme. There needs to be a middle ground between
following the rite, obeying the instructions, and being
a little more relaxed than a soldier or a robot. Everything
is in a pastoral and priestly attitude.
The Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgical
reforms, separated by four centuries, shed light on each
other. In the Roman Catholic Church, the principles given
by Sacrosanctum Concilium are sound, but they were
never properly implemented and their meaning was twisted
by men with an agenda. On the other hand, the Anglican reform
was excessively radical and also based more on ideology
than detached scholarship. Again, we need to look at what
was sought by the Reformers despite their lack of historical
knowledge. Victorian ritualism went a long way towards rediscovering
an authentic Anglican liturgy, and many of its inspirations
and methods could well guide a future Roman Catholic reform
of the reform.
Roll up your sleeves, gentlemen, and let's
get to work!
The Organic Development of the Liturgy
2004, p. 78.
 See the Affirmation
of Saint Louis.