Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Importance of Liturgy

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.


  1. I don't know if you are aware of the Verona Fragment which was once the oldest complete Eucharistic canon known. It is about the same length in Latin as the Canon of 1552. It is almost entirely about citing our Lord's words and asking the Spirit to bless the bread and cup that they may be His body and blood. Indeed it is so much like the second English canon that one could almost wonder if Cramner or some other English scholar was somehow aware of it.

    The Gregorian canon was the work of the fifth century amd was a break from an earlier tradition.

    In my opinion the best thing the Continuum can do is to keep the 1028 book as fully and completely as possible in the spirit of the rubrics of the English books of 1559 and 1662.

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  3. Excellent post!

    One my pet peeves about the Continuum is the alarming number of parishes that advertise themselves as adhering to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, but that actually use one of the so-called Anglican Missals. This all to common misrepresentation tends to allow outside observers too simply write off the Continuum as but one more example of the Anglican fudge.

    BTW, I must agree with Canon Tallis that the Scots tradition of the American 1928 BCP along with generally English (not Roman) ceremonial usages is the logical norm for the United States. This approach is further supported by the fact that the last traditional liturgical pronouncement of the C of E is the very much similar 1928 "deposited" book.

  4. It is one of my pet peeves too. I cannot see why parishes cannot advertise themselves as being "1928 BCP/Anglican Missal" when that is what they do. That said, I do not mind when I priest imports the Introit; Gradual-Alleluia; or Tract into an otherwise BCP Mass; or, for that matter, quarries the American Missal for additional propers. What irritates is the impression of "bait and switch" left when a church advertises one liturgy and uses another.

  5. I am very much for using the Sarum propers as found in The English Hymnal or the books published by Wantage. I only wish that we could have them sung.

    My greatest peeve with the missal parishes is that their use of what is essentially Roman ceremonial invented in the 16th century along with Pius V's scheme of liturgical colours invented to indicate submission to the Roman See without fail creates in the mind of both priest and parish that Rome provides a much superior authority to anything which Anglicanism has to offer. This in the end always seems to result in departures from Rome when the individuals can't quite realize all of their liturgical and other fantasys at home.

    Personally I quarry my additional propers from the English and Scots books of 1928 and 1929 followed by Frere's Black Letter Holy Days or The English Liturgy which he and Dearmer cooperated upon. My need for them is the result of already having appropriated the calendar's of those books as well as the prayer book of the Church in Wales.

  6. I remember the days when the usual liturgy was BCP enriched with hymns and minor propers from the English Hymnal. I still have the attitude that the Missals are basically unnecessary, and that one should stick to the official liturgy of the Church - that is unless one's real goal is to repudiate the Reformation.

  7. As someone who was raised in post-1976 ECUSA I can't participate in the 1928-vs.-1979 comparison. 1928 is a foreign country to me and whatever the merits of it versus the current book, I understand the shape of the latter, and it forms the rhythm of the liturgy for me. The words, of course, are another story. The lack of loyalty to the 1979 words is part of the larger problem of the ECUSA's hierarchy's lack of loyalty even to itself, much less to anyone else who calls themselves Anglican.

  8. When it was first published 1979 did eliminate a lot of the "disloyalty" to the BCP simply because the moderate Anglo-Catholics got a more "catholic" order for the Eucharist, and a section of the new book was devoted to modern versions of the traditional Holy Week ceremonies. For the moderate majority of A-Cs this was enough.

    Unfortunately, most of the disobedience today comes from the revisionist wing of TEC which regards the 1979 BCP as "exclusive, patriarchal and oppressive" because it uses the traditional Christian vocabulary about God. This sort of thinking is what informed "Enriching Our Worship" and informs the various on-the-fly adaptions made of 1979 BCP texts my friends in TEC complain about. Of course, even Revisionists understand that liturgy influences belief.

  9. A great posting and some great comments! I use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The Altar Service Edition of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is on the Altar. The bulletin is such that any visitor can follow the order of the Holy Eucharist. There is about a 15 minute break between Morning Prayer and the Holy Eucharist. I have no problem with those who do a Missal Mass. In fact I enjoy attending one once in awhile. I only request that copies of the Anglican Missal be placed in the pews and not the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

  10. A truly excellent article, and after reading it twice I cannot find anything I disagree with. But then I am one of the few remaining clergymen who use the Altar Service Book.

    We do say the Roman "Prayers at the Foot of the Altar" in the sacristy, move the Gloria up its its 1549 position, add the Orate fratres after the Preparation of the Altar and the Ecce Agnus Dei before the People's Communion. We sing the Agnus Dei AFTER the Prayer of Humble Access, as the BCP rubric directs. I do not use the "minor propers" but would if I had a competent cantor. The most objectionable thing in the Missals is those superfluous additional collects which say nothing, have no literary merit and express dubious theology.

    My biggest beef with the Missals is that those who insist most strongly on it are priests who have never been trained to follow its rubrics with any intelligence, You see these people loudly reading offertory prayers which are to be said silently, gesticulating wildly, and generally confusing the people and disrupting God's worship. The worst I have experienced was a Gospel procession at the "Last Gospel," complete with thurifer and torches.