Monday, June 29, 2009

Tractarian Worship

I think a lot of folks confuse Tractarian with Anglo-Catholic. The two are certainly related but they are not identical, but Anglo-Catholicism represents a further radicalization of the High Church Tradition that the Tractarians had themselves tweeked.

In the UK, where I grew up, Tractarianism was generally regarded as having split into two schools in the mid-nineteenth century. These later gave rise to the two dominant twentieth century strains of High Churchmanship - Prayer Book Catholicism and Ritualism/Anglo-Catholicism. Around where I grew up there were far more parishes that took the Prayer Book Catholic approach than the Anglo-Catholic, and the parish that I grew up in was one of them.

The basic principle of Tractarian liturgical theology was that one "took the Book of Common Prayer seriously." This meant, among other things, that

1. Holy Communion should be celebrated every Sunday and Holyday
2. Morning and Evening Prayer should be said every day - publically in church if at all possible.
3. That opportunity for private/auricular confession should be given to those whose consciences demanded it
4. That the rubrics (instructions) in the Book of Common Prayer be followed.
5. That the occasional offices - baptism, marriage, etc. - be performed in a dignified manner and in accordance with Canon (Church) Law.

It does not sound a very ambitious programme, but for parish churches of the time it was almost revolutionary. Indeed, it would be a bit of a stretch for a lot of our parishes today - for example, how many have daily Mattins and Evensong? I know my parish does not manage it! This simple programme of reform soon produced its own worship schedule, as exemplified by my home parish. In 1890, the services were as follows:

Sundays -
8.00am Holy Communion
10.30am Morning Prayer, Litany and Sermon
12noon Holy Communion (1st and 3rd)
2.15pm Sunday School/Catechism
6.30pm Evensong

Weekdays:
8.00am Holy Communion (Holydays)
10.00am Morning Prayer
10.30am Holy Communion (Thursdays)
5.30pm Evening Prayer (6.30pm Evensong on Fridays)

Later (1925) this changed a little:

Sundays:
8.00am Holy Communion
10.30am Sung Holy Communion (1st and 3rd) 10.30am Morning Prayer (2nd, 4th and 5th)
2.15pm Sunday School/Catechism
6.30pm Evensong

Weekdays:
7.30am Morning Prayer
8.00am Holy Communion (Holydays)
10.30am Holy Communion (Thursdays)
5.30pm Evening Prayer
6.00pm Confessions (Saturdays Only)

You will notice from both schedules that the accustomed Morning Prayer and sermon was allowed to remain in place unchallenged as the main service, whilst the missing elements of the Prayer Book schedule were slowly introduced.

Finally when I was a kid, the parish briefly attained something close to the Tractarian ideal:

8.00am Holy Communion
9.30am Sung Communion
10.30am Mattins
6.30am Evensong

On weekdays MP was at 9.00am and EP at 5.30am. There were to additional Eucharists on Tuesdays at 7.30am and Wednesday 9.30am.

Strictly speaking, the Sung Communion should have followed Mattins, but MP had ben at 10.30am since the eighteeenth century, but otherwise all was as it should be.

The ceremonial was pretty simple. Eucharistic vestments were used for the Holy Communion, but there was no elevation or ringing of bells at the consecration, and reverences ere confined to bows. A couple of Readers assisted at the main Sunday Eucharist as Chalice Bearers, Epistoller, and server. Incense was reserved for the three great feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday. Mattins and Evensong saw the officiant in traditional Anglican choir dress - cassock, surplice, tippet and hood. Everything from "O Lord, open thou our lips" to the end of the third Collect except for the lessons was sung or chanted with the sermon rounding off the service before the blessing. Sometimes these services would be left to the Readers, with the priest giving just the absolution and the blessing.

Tractarian worship focussed on faithful adherence to the provisions of the BCP. Complicated ceremonial and sacristy histronics were not part of the tradition. However, no-one had any doubt about the fact that the Church exists first and foremost to worship God, celebrate the sacraments and preach the Gospel, and not as a source of entertainment.

3 comments:

  1. +Robinson,

    Thanks for the lesson. AS the assistant of a parish that is half Catholic and the other half Low Church Anglican, its sometimes a juggling match to please them all. I love doing the Prayer Book Mass because its simplicity is beautiful. I can then contrast that with the rich Mass of the Missal that our Rector insists on us saying on Sundays. The silence that is prominent when there are no bells speaks to me, having heard the bells for the last several years straight.

    I had the honor of saying Mass on Monday and Tuesday of this past week to celebrate Sts. Peter and Paul. I used the Prayer Book, and when it came time for the bells, their silence actually spoke to me. It was my first time celebrating alone, without any server to help me.

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  2. I know about the juggling match! I have a little of that here. Arizona was traditionally a Low Church diocese, but with the migration of folks from traditionally High Church areas such as New York and Chicago one has to mix it up a bit these days.

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  3. Bells are only necessary in dumb masses, a/k/a the three ring circus of the pre-Reformation Mass in which the choir, laity, and clergy went about their respective and utterly uncoordinated ways until the elevation, which required bells to signify momentary coordination of worship. Oddly, that coordination comprised not communion but a brief moment of "artodolatry." Noncommunicating masses still go on in a few anachronistic Anglo-Catholic shrine churches -- e.g., Smokey Mary's New York & St. Clement's Philadelphia -- but at least the (admittedly excellent) music is coordination with the clergy's vocalizations and the congregations occassional responses.

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