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

Friday, 3 April 2015

Easter Vigil: the Anglican Missal

There cannot have been a much more emphatic pronouncement of the new order - liturgically and therefore theologically - in England in 1549, than the revised Easter rites. Leave to one side the revolution of the vernacular, and the liturgy of Cranmer's new rite of Holy Communion: imagine the difference when one came to Maundy Thursday. No reservation of the Sacrament; no special ceremony; a few extra Collects on Good Friday; and then - to cap it all - Holy Saturday with a regular rite of Holy Communion, with its own Epistle and Gospel, and (several centuries later, perhaps penned by Laud) its own Collect. One can argue as to whether Cranmer favoured Calvin's or Zwingli's theology of the sacraments, but the clear message of a regular and unexceptional rite of Holy Communion on Easter Even was a loosening of the Eucharist itself from the events that were being commemorated. The Passion and Cross, Death and Entombment, the Resurrection: these were all events in Christ's life whose effects were applied, morally and spiritually, through communion. But - if one now celebrates the Eucharist on Holy Saturday as well as on any other day of the liturgical year - they were not present actions that were enacted in very life, in the symbols upon the Altar.

The Anglican Missal, Anglo-Catholicism's first (illegal) attempt to reverse this liturgical message, printed in 1921, has a fascinating way of dealing with the Book of Common Prayer. It is Cranmer in reverse. Cranmer set about to reset the traditional words of the Mass so that much of it would sound and look the same - at least in 1549 - but in a new piece of craftmanship that as a whole subverted Catholic teaching. It was politic at the time, of course. No need to upset people too much: better to take things gradually. The Anglican Missal does the same (in reverse) for the Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer: it takes the well-worn Cranmerian phrases and turns them to a Catholic purpose. One could see this as the revenge of irony, but I don't think it was meant like that: it was an attempt (like Cranmer's) to smuggle in a complete theology by using a familiar set of words and actions. And what the framers of the Missal did with the Easter Even Epistle and Gospel is quite brilliant.

Remember that the Good Friday Passion Gospel from John normally ends with Jesus' entombment. Except that in the Book of Common Prayer, it doesn't: that particular section about the deposition of Jesus' remains in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb is reserved for the Easter Even Gospel. The Book of Common Prayer also - as mentioned - has an Epistle for Easter Even, from chapter three of the first Epistle of Peter. I suspect that this was chosen because of the reference to the "Harrowing of Hell", Christ's going to preach to the "spirits in prison" during the period between his death and resurrection. The notion is that all those redeemed by Christ's suffering were still under the power of death, in Hades, until Christ had actually suffered: at His rising He then brought them into eternal light, Adam and all the rest of them. There are a lot of colourful medieval depictions of the Harrowing, and it tended to figure graphically in mystery plays. If I am right, then the bit about baptism (in the same Epistle) crept in almost by accident, not because that was the primary link that those who chose the Epistle wished to make. The main point of the Epistle, however, is baptismal: it is to draw a link between the Christ's death and resurrection, the Ark of Noah (with the death of the Old World of sin and the rebirth of the New World of the covenant) and the washing of baptism. Thus, in an interesting twist, it is possible that Cranmer's wish to escape from a Catholic past meant that he plumped for a particularly medieval piece of Catholic imagery (the Harrowing) for Easter Even, rather than trying to preserve the ancient Christian significance of the Easter Vigil as the night of baptism. Perhaps I am being unfair, and perhaps Cranmer did mean to reference the ancient custom of baptism on the Vigil with this text. As it was, he ended up with both the Harrowing of Hell, and the baptismal theology, in the Epistle. (It would not be the only example of Protestantism in peril of embracing a truncated sixteenth century Catholicism, in its rush to escape Catholic superstition.)

What did the Anglican Missal do with the Easter Even texts for Holy Communion? It couldn't preserve them completely, if it wanted to have a Good Friday Mass of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, and an Easter Vigil with Twelve Prophecies and all the rest. One couldn't also have a rite of Holy Communion on Holy Saturday. Instead, the framers of the Missal did something very clever indeed.

The solemn blessing of the palms on Palm Sunday begins with an Epistle and Gospel: so now the Epistle and Gospel of Easter Even will precede the blessing of Paschal Fire.

Here is the ritual from the Anglican Missal: the Priest and Ministers vested without chasuble, but with a purple (Lenten) cope proceed to the Altar without lights or incense. They go to the Epistle corner and the choir sings the Introit from Psalm 88, "My soul is full of trouble: and my life draweth nigh unto hell. O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee. My soul etc. repeated". And here Laud's Collect (no doubt written quite deliberately to draw the connection between the Easter Vigil, baptism, and the Epistle from St Peter) comes into its own:

GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Following which there is read the Epistle from St Peter: "After which the Subdeacon does not ask a blessing, nor does he kiss the Priest's hand." Then is sung for the Gradual: Psalm 18, "The sorrows of death compassed me: and the snares of death overtook me" and Psalm 4, "I will lay me down in peave, and take my rest". Then, without lights, incense, or blessing for the Deacon, the Gospel is sung: just that portion of St John that deals with the interment of Jesus. "After which the Priest shall not be censed, nor shall he kiss the Book, but having made the due reverence to the Holy Table, he shall depart with his Ministers. And going to the door of the Church, he shall proceed to bless the new fire and do that which followeth..." i.e. the traditional Easter Vigil, which starts from here.

It is to my mind quite simply a wonderful, typologically rich, apposite addition to the beginning of the Easter Vigil, with its foretaste of what is to come (the baptismal rite) in the Petrine Epistle and Laudian Collect, to which the Gospel provides the narrative and Christological underpinning. The power and virtue of baptism in the Easter Vigil is the passage between Christ's Atoning Death and His Resurrection: between the darkness and emptiness of the Altar at the Gospel lesson of Christ's burial, and the blaze of light at the Alleluia to greet His resurrection.

Well, thank you, Cranmer; thank you very much, Laud; and bravissimo! Anglican Missal. Now wouldn't that be a fine piece of Patrimony for the Ordinariate?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Full, Supreme and Universal