Thursday, November 3, 2016

Well, Your Grace, How Should It Be Done?

That question appeared recently in the comments to a recent article on this Blog, and I have to say that I do not have a simplistic answer. The main thing is to assert an honestly Anglican identity, which means we look firstly to the Book of Common Prayer in its entirety, then to the Canon Law of the Church, and lastly to the preferences of the congregation that we serve. Unfortunately, we cannot do this without both a certain amount of historical knowledge, and a certain amount of unlearning of common custom which has often grown up as 'window dressing' rather than meaningful ceremonial incorporating elements at variance with the genius of the BCP.

For my own part, I would have to say that Anglican ceremonial has to fall between two poles. On the Protestant end one has to acknowledge the authority of the 1604 Canons, and that whilst they are no longer binding in the USA, they do provide us with a brief summary of what was considered the minimum in the Church during the days of what some authors call 'The Puritan Aggression.' Although much was allowed to fall by the wayside, it has to be remembered that the Communion Table was to be covered with a frontal that went down to the ground - hence the Laudian fall which envelops the altar - and covered with a fair white linen cloth for the Communion. Surplice, tippet, and hood were required in parish churches, and the use of the Cope was not to be omitted in cathedrals for the Eucharist. A proper pulpit and font were to be provided, along with service books, a chalice and paten, and registers. As for ceremonial, the sign of the cross, and the ring are explained, and bowing at the Holy Name of Jesus is required. The result ceremonial is austere, but reverent. On the Catholic end is the Ornaments Rubric of the 1559 BCP which was reiterated in 1662. This particular rubric is a bit of a mystery wrapped inside of a riddle, but the Royal Commission of 1906 seems, for very good reasons, seems to have concluded that the 1559 BCP's rubric was intended to reinstate the vestments used under the 1549 BCP, though if you take its wording literally, you will discover that the 1549 BCP was actually introduced in the third year of King Edward the Sixt. However, in addition items mentioned above, the alb, chasuble, and cope are legal, along with the bishop's crozier, mitre and almuce.

Whilst I tend to prefer a simple liturgy, I have no quarrel with those who prefer the Alcuin Club, and Percy Dearmer, called the 'English Use.' This adapted late mediaeval ceremonial to the Book of Common Prayer (note order of priority) taking into account the decisions of the competent courts. In some respects, the most enthusiastic adherents of this approach were the cathedrals, and the greater parish churches simply because it stood for ENGLISH or Prayer Book Catholicism against the values of that eccentric communion with its headquarters on the Vatican Hill. Certainly, in places like Lincoln Minster in the 1980s, the ceremonial used had a certain massive dignity, but it was not fussy. The altar party entered in albs, and apparelled amices, with the celebrant, deacon, and sub-deacon in copes. Other cathedrals used chasubles, dalmatics, and tunicles, but at Lincoln it was the cope. On arrival at the altar all bowed with the celebrant going to north side of the altar, and the deacon going to north side, and subdeacon to the south side of the broad step now inhabited by the Novus Ordo coffee table of more recent usage! The celebrant would read the service at the altar facing East, first at the north side, then from the middle; with the subdeacon and deacon stepping out to read their own particular elements of the liturgy, the Gospel being accompanied with lights and cross. Little more was done in the Prayer of Consecration than to do the manual acts prescribed by the BCP, and everyone retired again at the end of the service in good order. Matins and Evensong appeared rather more austere - I used to refer to the 'off duty' clergy as the 'Black Pudding Club' as they would attend in cassock and gown, not cassock, surplice, and tippet - and the officiating clergy kept their movements to a minimum. The overall impression was one of the BCP being done decently, and in order.

On the other hand, I do tend to think that Low Churchmen can drop into sloppiness if they do not watch it. I tend to prefer "Central Churchmanship" in parish churches, even though I think something a bit more elaborate is appropriate for cathedrals. Surplice and stole or a simple set of Eucharistic vestments for the Communion service, and surplice and tippet for Matins and Evensong is my usual comfort level, but I am not really that hung up on ceremonial, except that my "Anglo-Irish" ancestry gives me a hearty aversion to ceremonial exuberance. What I am hung up on is loyalty to the Book of Common Prayer as written. Unless one's bishop has authorized additions such as the Benedictus qui venit, they really should not be used, and even then, there is a lot to be said for following the BCP as written, not least of which is that it cuts one free from the liturgical fidgets. Certainly, when I encounter an (over) elaborate service where the former Congregation of Rites has as much, if not more, influence than the BCP, I am inclined to want to cross the threshold again. We had a Reformation, and the rite which was reformed was in many respects much simpler than that of 16th century, never mind 19th century, Rome, to which some folks spend so much time and energy trying to approximate the reformed rite of the BCP.

I really do not want to be prescriptive about ceremonial, but I do think we need to keep two ideas before us. Firstly, we are Anglicans, not wannabe anything elses. Secondly, the function of worship is to offer glory and praise to God, so every time we approach the altar or the reading desk we need to remember "I must decrease; He must increase!" That means that the church's ceremonial should minimize the individuality of the priest, and take him into the liturgy as an integral part thereof as the 'minister' and not the focus of public worship. For this reason I object in the strongest terms to the westward facing position at communion, and to the practice of individualizing or omitting the accustomed vestments. The minister should stand at the Lord's Table or the reading desk not as Pastor Bob or Fr. Jim, but as just another minister of Word and Sacrament.