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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Shape of the Liturgy

I hesitate to try to summarise Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy; I am well through it now, and can say that it is a very rare thing. It is a book that is primarily scholarly, and brilliant, written without prejudice, but with a mind and heart full of faith. To read it is to wonder if the distinction - between a docile faith and a agile mind - is a rather silly one. What Dix communicates in his writing is that the man whose heart is opened, and is taught by Christ, will also have an expanded, fair and no-nonsense feeling and intellect.

I understand that his conclusions have been picked over; but I am not sure if the broad lines of his thesis can be assailed. His evidence and conclusions are, at times, as surprising as they are fascinating. It is redrawing my mental map. I hadn't realised the weight of evidence for a very early date for the form of the Eucharistic rite, nor had I ever been confronted with the writings that put the popular and stubbornly conserved Roman rite back to a very primitive date indeed. Dix brings one to within touching distance of the Apostles themselves.

I wonder if any Christian, having examined the evidence presented in Dix's book, could fairly maintain an anti-sacramental theology, rail against episcopacy and Apostolic succession, and claim that they were thereby "getting back to the New Testament Church"?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors & Teachers

A matter of no little concern is the list that forms the title of this post, taken from St. Paul's letter to the Christians of Ephesus, in which he describes the various charisms given to people within the Church to equip it, bring it to maturity and to enable it to know Jesus properly. In a pregnant phrase, St. Paul says that these "offices" - functions as we would say in our horrid bureaucratic jargon - are to bring us "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ": the Church needs to grow up as big and as tall as Christ himself.

I sometimes wonder about the relative lack of people performing these roles outside those in Holy Orders in churches with a strongly developed sacramental theology. Churches with little sacramental theology are bursting with evangelical zeal, attract converts, run discipleship classes, Sunday School for children, Bible studies - all as a matter of course. The charismatics among them have a practice of the gifts, including prophecy. On the other hand, Apostolic churches with bishops and a strongly developed sacramental life seem to expect an overworked priest to combine all these offices in one person while they sit back and watch.

Several questions come to mind, the first of which is about women. With all the fixation on Holy Orders and their exclusion from the same, one could forget that there are many other offices in the Church - catechesis, evangelism, prophecy, care of the sick and needy - which they perform, in some places almost exclusively.

Prophets: whilst there are currents within Catholicism that are not averse to a living movement of the Spirit, speaking and prompting people, one senses that this makes a lot of people very jittery. (I am here using the term prophecy as a shorthand for charismata generally.) Secrets of Fatima are fine as the visionaries are safely dead; but seers who still claim ongoing revelations in a certain corner of Bosnia, not so much. I am not expressing an opinion on the Medjugorje business myself, simply picking up on a sense that for some the whole idea is a bit unnerving. Is there not, however, strong evidence for a tripartite liturgy in the early Church - the Word and the Eucharist (corresponding to our Liturgy of the Word and then the Communion rite), and the Gifts of the Spirit? Why is the third not regularly practised in more sacramental settings - prayers for healing, prophetic words and the like? Are we worried that (a) it would get out of hand, and (b) that the Holy Spirit wouldn't do anything and it would be a sham? I don't see any excuse for (b), and don't see that (a) is an insuperable problem. St. Paul had to tell everyone to calm down and do things decently, but it isn't an argument for not doing it at all: quench the Spirit, and you will find that the International Ministries of the Church of Pentecost down the road have no such qualms. They will not integrate the practice of the gifts within the context of the Eucharist, Apostolic tradition, etc. But what if the gifts were so practised and integrated?

Evangelists: one sometimes notes that the free churches' evangelism is of a very different kind to that practised by more catholic Christians. It does not go along with a detailed apologetic for the notion of the hierarchical Church, explanations about sacraments in general, and some vague stuff about spirituality and being close to God and inner fulfilment. It is pointed, direct, and uncomplicated. Jesus is God Incarnate, he died for you; and you are a sinner in danger who needs a Saviour. One can quite agree that the sin and the danger is theologically distorted by some evangelical presentations, but the complete absence of this vital matter from some Catholic efforts makes the whole thing look a bit airy-fairy: not so much Repent and Believe the Gospel, but rather do come along to church, God is so nice. My question is therefore - shouldn't evangelism be done by evangelists rather than bad theologians? By people of single heart, who have been gripped by the central and tremendous message of the Faith, and by its urgency? There is a time for explaining the sacraments, and initiation into Christian life, but there is a more immediate need. Someone to state simply the lucid words of Jesus to Nicodemus: that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have life everlasting.

Pastors: can a parish priest in a huge parish visit all his parishioners individually, and know what their spiritual and bodily needs are? What about more deacons, and also an office of deaconess, not with a liturgical but a pastoral function (which was presumably the original New Testament function of the office?)

Teachers: the limits of sermons being what they are, would it be possible to have, as some suggest, a yearly catechesis for adult Christians every Lent at least? Or perhaps even once a week, to follow up on a weekly catechesis for children and teenagers?

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Anglican Missal

As per Wikipedia, "The Anglican Missal was first produced in England in 1921 by the Society of Saints Peter and Paul. The book reflected a particular way, drawn from the traditional Roman Rite, of celebrating the Eucharist according to Anglican liturgical use." Apparently the subsequent editions, in the shape of its offspring The English Missal, became more and more Roman, setting aside the Cranmerian Collects where these were overly interpretative of their Latin originals, and replacing them with more correct versions; the Roman Canon was much more strictly translated and followed; and the Sundays were denominated "After Pentecost", instead of "After Trinity" as in the Book of Common Prayer.

I have never been defrauded on the internet: books that I order have arrived thus far in my experience of online shopping. I wasn't particularly hopeful this time, though. I went looking for the Anglican Missal, to find some expensive £40 dodgy computerised reproductions with terrible reviews ("misprints everywhere! I've been fooled!" said one review). And then, lo! I found a sole copy for sale but without a photograph of the book, said to be an ex-library copy, and to have seen better days. It was a mere £11. I half expected - if anything turned up at all - to have a plastic bag arrive with loose leaves of paper inside along with a free-floating battered cover. I found a Sorry You Weren't At Home card from Royal Mail on my return from work yesterday, so I went early this morning and in trepidation to the Woking postal depot.

"Joy cometh in the morning", says the Psalm...

Alright, maybe it was a little beaten up, but with the nice embossed leather cover with the Agnus Dei, and also a title page to prove it was the original 1921 edition printed by the Society of SS. Peter and Paul, I wasn't going to complain about a few D.I.Y additions to the tabs in yellowed sellotape, nor frown at the perished coloured ribbons tied together in a matted dreadlock.

Here is the view of tomorrow's (Passion Sunday) Propers. I can see why Anglo-Catholics weren't quite happy with it and tried to standardise it: the central part of the Missal, with the Canon and so on, looks a bit experimental and probably needed a bit of tidying up, as it is so much tied to the BCP Communion rite that one ends up with two Glorias (or Gloriae?) in the Eucharistic Rite, including one at the end before the Last Gospel. But I suppose it is easy to be critical of a first step; it is still a lot more Catholic looking - in the sense of faithful to immemorial and Apostolic tradition - than the Novus Ordo. Here in this volume are the complete set of traditional Mass lections in sacral English, along with Propers, Prefaces and the like, with a full Easter Vigil with the Twelve Prophecies, and a section containing the plainchant for Holy Week, and a Pentecost Vigil with Six Prophecies, and... oh, it makes me too happy. But - one asks - why, oh why, when the CDF were, it seems, very encouraging towards a maximally Anglican and BCP influenced Ordinariate liturgy, was this excellent piece of patrimony not carried into the Ordinariate almost in a piece? Why try to mix and match a traditional Rite of Mass with a non-traditional triennial lectionary, when all the hard work of translation has already been done here?

I am immensely thankful for the Ordinariate Use, a fact that comes home to me sharply every time I hear the Novus Ordo said with one of the non-traditional alternative Eucharistic prayers: I give thanks for it every time I kneel and hear the words "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open..." or "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us". However, I suppose that for everything one gets, one wants more. Perfectionism is a bit of an unforgiving trait. I have been thinking today, inspired by a browse in the Anglican Missal, and - relative to the current Ordinariate Rite - this is what I would wish were kept intact, and what I wish were changed:

(1) The Decalogue kept as an option instead of the Kyrie - perhaps for Sundays in Lent and Advent, Ash Wednesday and Ember Days, with Christ's summary of the Law as a Lenten Ferial option.

(2) Change from a twofold to a threefold Kyrie.

(3) The Cranmerian Collects (not the BDW Collects) with minor alterations and replacement where necessary: there seems no reason why one couldn't simply have two collects - one a faithful translation of the Roman, one Cranmer - where Cranmer simply made up a new Collect. It wouldn't be as drastic as the cut and paste - nay, let us say shredder and furnace - approach of the Novus Ordo to the old Collects, for goodness' sake.

(4) The Lessons: switch simply to the lesson scheme as set out in the Anglican Missal, with approval of these particular lections for the KJV for liturgical purposes. (The KJV usage has already been done for the Last Gospel.) Don't try to splice in a Novus Ordo lectionary where it doesn't belong: and on that theme, the traditional Introits etc. are all there in ready made and appropriate English in the Anglican Missal too. Import them.

(5) The Kalendar of the Saints: why can't a pragmatic approach be taken, instead of an all or nothing, one or t'other, new vs. old opposition? Traditional calendar until c. 1930, then for any canonisations since then, add them in around the existing feasts where possible? In that way, one could keep traditional dates that carry a good deal of meaning in their calendar placement e.g. St. Thomas the Apostle on 21st December, without ignoring the raising to the altars of, say, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein and Sister Faustina.

(6) Encourage Bidding Prayers rather than Prayers of the Faithful: exhortation of the faithful to prayer and to include the Church, the weak and the Saints in their sacrifice rather than a series of intercessory petitions. Should the Penitential Rite be understood as leading on naturally from these exhortations, as the next on a series of steps (rather than something essentially different from the Bidding Prayers) that lead up the mountain of the Lord towards Holy Communion, the next step being the Offertory? Perhaps a brief prayer could be inserted to connect the two to get this idea across, making one's Confession an extension of the Bidding Prayer; and maybe Monsignor Barnes is right about the Prayer of Humble Access being in the wrong place (see the Ordinariate Portal magazine, February edition). Should it be after the Penitential Rite, and before the Offertory, as the final prayer of preparation before one starts on the final ascent to the Holy Temple and the Altar of Mercy, impressing on those who intend to communicate their unworthiness and the fact that they stand on the threshold of the Holy of Holies?

(6) The Offertory prayers and the Eucharistic Prayer: keep it simple and traditional. One option (you know which one), not many: and encourage a conversational volume of recitation, not a volume and style to project to the people. It is being said to God; and, incidentally, can be said more briskly but still carefully at a lower pitch.

(7) For the reply to "Pray brethren and sisters...", I would prefer the Sarum response over the traditional Roman for meaning and beauty, and for the theologically subtle and profound comment on the unified action of the Trinity, priest and people in the Eucharist: "May the grace of the Holy Spirit illuminate thy heart and thy lips, and the Lord accept worthily this sacrifice of praise from thy hands for our sins and offences".

(8) Change the Thanksgiving After Communion prayer, "Almighty and everlasting God, we most heartily thank thee...", from a prayer for the people to say, to a prayer for the priest only, said (like the Canon) in an audible but not projected tone. It is just right in what it says, but too long, I think, for recitation in unison. Perhaps it could even be allowed sotto voce for High Mass celebrations where it might jar after a choral work during Holy Communion.

(9) Keep the Last Gospel, with a bit of freedom about its usage, e.g. allowing the Gospel of a major feast to be read where there is a clash - a occurrence I think it is called - in the Kalendar.

I finish this post with a photo the rather splendid final page of the Anglican Missal, to which I return with unsatiated satisfaction, if that makes sense. Maybe it wasn't a bargain - I'm really not sure, but I suspect I've been very blessed. But if you, dear reader, would like this copy, I am heartily sorry, but I am unmoveable. Come with cheques, come even with guns if you wish. Like Solomon, who said when speaking of another matter in his Canticle of Canticles, I say, "if a man would give all the substance of his house... it would utterly be contemned".

P.S. I almost forgot: this book was presented to (and it gives signs of having been used at the altar) Fr. Alec Vidler in 1923, who started life as an Anglo-Catholic and then went a bit wobbly about miracles: his favourite theologian was said to be a certain Mr. Paul Tillich. All the same, it is a Provenance I am pleased about: he was a correspondent of an honoured fellow Ulsterman, C.S. Lewis.