Saturday, July 14, 2012


C S Lewis had a great interest in the cultural values, folklore, and traditions of the various northern European peoples, and he asserted that there were some basic qualities that united the folks of the North. He referred to this as 'northernness.' However, I want to talk about a different sort of 'Northernness' - the 'High church Lutheran' liturgical tradition that prevailed throughout northern Germany, Denmark-Norway, and Sweden-Finland until the third quarter of the eighteenth century when the prevailing rationalism of the age began to erode traditional liturgical uses.

Luther was the quintessential conservative radical. Although his return to St Paul, St Augustine and the Early Father's marked him out as a radical - in the best sense of the word - his liturgical ideas were conservative. Firstly, he retained much of the old Mass either in Latin in the Formula Missae; or in metrical German paraphrases in the Deutsche Messe of 1526. Also he allowed a certain amount of freedom over liturgical forms, so although some churches stuck very close to the Wittenburg norms, others veered in a more or less traditional direction. Generally they tended to be more conservative in Northern Germany, and less so in the Southwest - Wurttemburg, etc..

Luther also encouraged the retention of the traditional vestments, the Eastward position, and chanting. He also sought to simplify, not eliminate, the ceremonial of the Mass. The typical North German Lutheran Mass tended to be made up of the following elements

Prayer for the Church
Lord's Prayer
Agnus Dei and Communion
Final Collect
Aaronic Blessing

The German language version omitted the Preface and the Sanctus, and usually the Introit and Gradual were only sung where there were choristers used to singing in Latin. As time passed the service was increasingly prefaced with a general confession and absolution. This type of service was also the common service of the Church in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and their possessions, though in Scandanavia the Formula was the usual model for divine service even for vernacular liturgies where one would have expected the Deutsche Messe to be the pattern.

Gunther Stiller in his book "J S Bach and the Liturgical Tradition in Leipzig" has compiled a huge amount of material about the orthodox Lutheran liturgy in Saxony in the 1730s. It is clear that Leipzig enjoyed public worship on the grand scale. Though usually there were only two or three ordained ministers taking part, the setting was splendid. Mass vestments in the form of cassock surplice and chasuble were worn, Latin was used for the ordinary of the Mass, the Collect, the Proper Preface, and the Sanctus. On great feasts there were two cantatas sung; one before the Creed, the other during Communion - and there were often several hundred communicants who had made their private confession to one of the clergy when supplying their names to the curate as intending communicants for the next Eucharist. Even the Sanctus Bell was in use! It also points to the vitality of the orthodox Lutheran tradition in Saxony, presenting a picture far removed from that presented by Pietist and Rationalist propagandists.

The Thomaskirche in Leipzig represented the Lutheran liturgy at its most splendid, but cities like Lubeck, Hamburg, Roskilde, Copenhagen, Trondheim, Stockholm, Uppsala had similar large scale "high church" liturgies which survived late in the 18th century. Although Rationalism was ultimately triumphant in Germany, the Danes, Nowegians and Swedes all resisted its encroachments preserving the orthodox Lutheran liturgy into the modern age. This "High Church" Lutheranism presented the Lutheran version of the Cathedral tradition found in England, and like England, the parish church service was much simpler. However, the Deutsche Messe of Luther, and the Agendas used in other local Lutheran Churches retained the Mass as the main service, and in principle that Mass was to be a Sung service. England due to the Puritan aggression had lost much of it sunging tradition in its parish churches, but it is evident from the Rubrics of the 1559 and 1662 Books of Common Prayer that that had not been the intent of the Reformation and Restoration Convocations and Parliaments. They intended to preserve something of the solemnity of the old forms, whilst embrace a thorough reform of the Church Service.

The message that I am trying to get across here is that there is nothing against the Prayer Book, or unprotestant about having a beautiful Church service with fine music and colourful traditional vestments. However it is uncatholic to use a liturgy not allowed by the Church. I hope that over the next few years an increasing number of Anglican clergy will quit fooling around with the Missals and return to the Book of Common Prayer. I also hope that when they do so, they will return to the ornaments and the ceremonial of 'the second year of King Edward the Sixt' and put into effect the liturgical intentions of our Reformation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bridging the Gap

One of the advantages that conservative like myself have is that we usually get to sit back and work out how something is going to develop before we throw ourselves into a situation. We tend not to be 'blow about by every vain blast of doctrine' but at our best we work for continuity and stability in the Church as it preaches the Gospel to every generation. I also think it is very important for those in leadership positions in the Church to have an overview not just of what is going on in the here and now, but also the trends leading to where we are now, and we also need a certain ability to 'read the runes' of where the church is going.

Well, what I am trying to say is that Traditional Anglicans have a major problem right now. Put in simple terms we have married the spirit of the age - in our case, the 1950s - and we are very close to finding ourselves widows in the next. Increasingly we look like 'the Museum Church' not 'the Living Church' which is precisely the same problem that the Episcopal Church, which is married to the Seventies. Neither approach is bring folks to the Church, though it has to be conceeded that the Continuum is loosing people at a far slower rate than TEC. At least it seems that fifty years out of date is far enough to be somewhat timeless, not just old.

Now I am sure that by this point you are expecting a sales pitch for music groups, drum kits, "Rite 3," burlap banners, name tags, and charismatic carryings-on. Well, not quite! For a start, name tags and burlap banners are so 90s, man! Rite 3 is pretty old hat as well. That was 'happening' when I was a student in the late 1980s. No, what I am getting at is that Continuing Anglicans need to build a bridge to the culture, not that of the secular left, but that of wider Christianity in the USA. We need to have a bridge in place so that some of those who are semi-churched, the unchurched, and those who attend 'shallow churches' can cross into a fuller and deeper expression of Christianity, and in many ways, the path to doing this is through music.

I have to be honest and say that I am as apt to reach for the garlic and a crucifix when someone mentions 'praise and worship music' to me as the most rigid of Spikes. The other thing that I have realised is that the 1928 Prayer Book is not a stumbling block, but some of the music that we use - well, let us just say "Oh Dear!" We have moade the mistake - at least in the USA where we have an official hymnal - of Canonizing a Hymn Book. To an Englishman - where we have never had an official hymnal - I have to say this seems a little - erm - odd. I think we need to remind ourselves of an eighteenth century Evangelical Anglican (Whitefield? Newton? One of the Wesleys?) who said, "why should the devil have all the best tunes?" so why have we chosen to freeze our selection at one point in history omitting not just many good new songs, but many old and valuable hymns?

At University I heard and sang a lot of the then current P&W music, however I remember only two or three of them twenty years later. There is a sense in which they are musical ephemera. On the other hand, I do remember the old Wesleyan standards such as 'O for a thousand tongues to sing' ,"And can it be" and so forth, which I learned alongside the P&W music. I think you can see the case I am making - that we need to bridge the gap.

However, bridging that gap is an exercise that needs a little bit of thought. I honestly think we had it right so far as Anglicanism was concerned, when I was a student. The church I attended did P&W music until the beginning for the formal liturgy, then we had a very simple formal liturgy - with not too many men in funny frocks, and during this formal liturgy traditional hymns were used; then during Communion and after the service they used P&W music again. It seemed to bridge the gap. However, I do know one way of really fouling up the sort of bridge approach that I am taking about and that is to use the Praise Music that was current when I was a student in the late 1980s - which is precisely what so many churches do!

One interesting phenomomen that I have observed in churches that offer both traditional and more contemporary is that as folks become more committed and more comfortable with "the Church thing" they tend to move across to more traditional services. I really do not see why continuing Anglicans have such a block with letting the musical side of worship evolve while the liturgy, which does have enduring value, remains fixed. It seems to me that where there is a real need for it, many churches could benefit from having a traditional service and a slightly more contemporary one to reach out and make a new generation of Anglicans. We all know that the old ones are dying off fast enough.

At the end of the day we belong to the Church, not the Hymnal and Prayer Book Preservation Society. Our function, our great commission is to "Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them whatsoever things I commanded you..." Are we achieving that by clinging so firmly to everything from the past? Or do we need to build that bridge? I believe that we need to build that bridge before it is too late, and we become just another footnote in religious history.