One thing that often makes me uncomfortable is the fact that a sizeable minority of the clergy seem to think that the liturgy is a drag, or worse still, their play thing. This attitude seems to communicate itself to the "professional laity," and before you know it, the parish has degenerated into the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Innovation, or St Mildred Wassupnow.
Much of this attitude was encouraged by the liturgical "reforms" of the 1960s and 70s, which made liturgy a moving target. Unfortunately, much of what was thought to be "ancient" in the 1960s has been debunked by further improvements in liturgical scholar in the 1980s and 90s. Unfortunately, the sixties version of liturgical good pactice has been canonized in many seminaries and parishes, and even in the Continuing Churches, the chief liturgical texts are Dix's "Shape of the Liturgy" and Jungmann's "Mass of the Roman Rite."
Neither Dix, nor Jungmann were friends to the accustomed way of doing things, and their seminal works laid the foundation for the deconstruction of the liturgy in the 1960s. However, whilst I think they both would have approved of the reformed Anglican and Roman liturgies, I do not think that either of them would have approved of the horizontal emphasis of so much modern worship. The unarticulated focus of much modern Eucharistic liturgy is that the community gathers around the altar and celebrates itself. The tendancy of the 1960s liturgical reform was to remove the mysterious and the beautiful in favour of the didachtic. The eastward position was ditched in favour of facing the people; traditional language was replaced by often banal modern language; and there was a massive simplification of the ceremony that accompanied the Eucharist. Add to this the inevitable burlap banners and polyester vestments in exchange for the embroidery and brocade of former times, and there is a visible "cheapening" of the setting of the liturgy.
The major problem with the modern liturgies is their artificiality. They are not the products of organic development, but of a very deliberate pruning and reshaping of our worshipping tradition to conform to an academic theory. Of course, that criticism could also be levelled at the BCP, but after four hundred years of use it had developed its own organic tradition. I really should say traditions, as Anglican liturgy was divided between those who followed Cranmer's 1552 BCP and those who followed the Scottish Tradition. The major criticism of Cranmer's 1552 BCP from a Patristic point of view has usually been the dismantling of the Canon. Cranmer undoubtedly did this to get rid of the mediaeval notion of the Sacrifice of the Mass, but it was a change that undoubtedly had served its purpose after a couple of generations. As early as the 1610s, some of the "English Arminians" - the proto-High Church party that gave birth to the later Caroline Divines, Non-Jurors, and "Orthodox" - were reasembling the Canon by saying the Prayer of Oblation after that of Consecration. This change, along with others, was incorporated not just into the Scottish BCP of 1637 but also into the "Durham Book" of 1661. It was only the immoveable conservatism of Clarendon and Juxon that prevented the English Church from adopting the Scottish type of Communion service in 1662.
Dissatisfaction with the Cranmer Eucharistic liturgy was expressed from time to time throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but it was generally muted. High Churchmen feared what the forces of liturgical rationalism might unleash, and parliament was far too busy financing fighting the French to worry about the Church. As a result it was not until 1928 that a serious attempt was made to reform the English BCP, and this was again along Scottish lines. Inspite of twice being defeated in Parliament, the English 1928 BCP did in fact enter use in many parishes and remained in use until the 1960s and 70s when it was gradually replaced by the Alternative Services. During this long period of time, the various BCPs had built up a sort of performing tradition that had reconnected them to the historic line of liturgical development. There the reforms of the 1960s were as much of a break in continuity for Anglicans as for Roman Catholics.
Dix's "Shape of the Liturgy," in common with its RC counterparts, advocated reshaping the Anglican liturgy to conform to the model of the sixth century Roman Liturgy. However, this reshaping incorporated a host of later developments, so that the whole thing ended up being a mish-mash. This process was made all the more messy by the stripping of revived ceremonies of their traditional forms, and a reform of the liturgical calendar that can only be described as crass vandalism.
Most traditionalists and nearly all introverts detest the Peace, and rightly so. Although the Peace is an ancient liturgical ceremony, the authentic form of which - a stylized and orderly passing of the Pax Domine through the clergy and congregation - had been preserved in the monastic tradition. Unfortunately, rather than restore that orderly use to parochial liturgy, the liturgical professionals (a.k.a. "Litniks") gave us the dreaded gab and grab-fest that passes for the peace in so many parishes today. This perhaps shows us why the passing of the Peace was replaced by the use of the pax-bede, or banned altogether in parish churches by the 13th century.
However, far more serious than my time honoured gripe about the Peace are the following two criticisms. The reform of the liturgical year, and the "removal" of the Canon.
The Liturgical Year as given in the Tridentine Mass and the 1662/1928 BCP had survived little altered from the seventh and eighth centuries. The one major change, the addition of the feast of the Holy Trinity on the Octave of Pentecost had affected the Curial and Sarum Uses differently, but otherwise, the two were closely related as they passed through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, the 'Gesimas, and so forth. Both Anglicans and Roman Catholic observed Octaves, quite a few of which were common to both traditions, so that the calendar as mch as anything else demnstrated the essential continuity between the Catholic Church of Rome, and the reformed catholic Church of England. In spite of the fact that it went back to the Golden Age of the seventh century to which the Litniks often appealled, it was swept away and replaced by a scheme which usurped one of the traditional functions of the daily office, that of the orderly reading of Scripture. However, the first victims of the Reform were some of the ancient octaves of the Church, so that during the 1960s Anglicans were observing more Octaves than Roman Catholics, and then with the new Missal of 1969, and the Series Three lectionary whole seasons, such as the 'Gesimas and Passiontide went missing, or were remodelled. Also the traditional series of Sunday lections was replaced/reorganised. The effect was another radical discontinuity.
Another ancient principle which went by the wayside in the 1960s was that of each liturgy should have a single fixed Eucharistic Prayer, called the Canon (rule). I express it this way because the Eastern Orthodox have three liturgies, but each has but one Canon. Furthermore the Liturgies of St Basil and St John Chrysostom are used at stated times of the year, so in no sense can they be called alternative liturgies. By contrast, the modern concept of liturgical variety led to the Roman Catholic Church introducing three alternative Eucharistic Prayers in 1968; and the Episcopal Church included multiple Eucharistic Prayers with the Zebra Book in 1973. The Church of England maintained the idea of one Eucharistic to each liturgy until the late 1970s.
The trouble with the reform of the 1960s and 1970s was not only that it introduced clergy to the idea of perpetual liturgical innovation, but that it led to the dismantling of the ancent liturgical tradition of the Western Church - both Roman and Anglican. Rome has been trying to call a halt to this process for the last thirty years - since soon after John-Paul II's election. Benedict XVI's liberalisation of the conditions under which the 1962 Roman Missal can be used has to be seen as part of an attempt to reconnect Roman Catholicism to its ancient liturgical tradition. Some call this "reform of the reform." On the other hand, mainstream Anglicanism continues to churn out alternative and new liturgies - many of them of little merit, and even less use.
Continuing Anglicans have largely resisted the temptation to indulge in the liturgical fidgets, and continue to regard the last traditional BCP of their former Province, as their liturgical norm. Unfortunately, we have had to suffer through the liturgy wars between those who use the Altar Service Book and those who refer the Missal. A process which I am sure has turned many people off Continuing Anglicanism. I would have thought that after thirty years of banging our heads against that particular brickwall we might agree to disagree and move on.
However, the real point of this point is to reiterate Alcuin's old adage that "the law of prayer is the law of belief." The theological and liturgical turmoil of the last fifty years have to some extent fed off one another. In order to move forward as Continuing Anglicans we need to maintain our liturgical stability because it is a sign of our theological orthodoxy. I would also note that we should always celebrate the liturgy with dignity and reverence, preferring a modest service done well to an elaborate one done badly. Reverence is caught not taught. If our services are slovenly; then we should not be surprised if the people do not value the liturgy as they should.