As previous posts here will have made clear, although my spiritual home is in the Byzantine East, I am not disinterested in the life of the Western Church. In fact, quite the opposite is true. This is because over the course of Christian history, faithfulness in all things was of interest to the whole Church, and not limited to those who happened to live in particular regions. Furthermore, in a cosmopolitan world such as ours, wherein Greeks brush up against Slavs, Copts against Germans, and Syrians against Celts on a daily basis, it is hardly becoming of any Churchman to take shelter in their own corner, and ignore the affairs of those in another just because their rite is different, and their traditions lie outside his own. And as a former Anglican who was much concerned with the theological and spiritual rationale of what we did as traditional ‘Anglo-Catholics’, my interest in the current question is significant.
I feel compelled to address the issue of the Ordinariate liturgies because I have heard from certain quarters – both former Anglican and cradle Roman – that there is some dissatisfaction in England and Wales with the idea that Ordinariate Catholics should use what they regard as the ‘old’ services. This means, in terms of Anglican patrimony, that there is consternation on the part of some that the services of the Ordinariate in Britain should be based on the traditional Book of Common Prayer.
To be fair, Angl0-Catholics in England never did benefit from the 20th century revisions that made the American and Canadian Books of Common Prayer (for example) much more conducive to Catholic interpretation than the 1662 Book. By this, I am NOT referring to the 1979 American book (also called the Book of Common Prayer) or the 1985 Canadian Book of Alternative Services; I am, rather, referring to the 1928 and 1962 books proper to each country. In any case, it is almost certain that the failure of the Proposed Book of Common Prayer in England to gain Parliamentary approval in 1928 set the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican ‘mother country’ on a very different path to that of the United States and Canada.
The nature of this different path, I would argue, was most unfortunate. Whereas in Canada, Anglican Ritualists could draw on the 1962 book with pleasure, celebrating the Service of Holy Communion as if it was simply an Elizabethan English translation of the Sarum Rite, the like-minded brethren in England (at least after 1969) seemed to have little choice but to go down a path of surreptitious use of the Roman Missal. My own experience manifests this precisely. My penultimate service as a Canadian Anglican was taken at St John the Evangelist in Montreal, celebrated using nothing but the Canadian Book of Common Prayer, but done in a fashion that I can imagine our Medieval forbears would have recognised. Within weeks of moving to England, by contrast, I was using the Roman Missal for all services, while only the laity ‘in the know’ were aware that we weren’t simply giving them a permissible variant of the 1980 Alternative Services Book. I observed that from parish to parish, Anglo-Catholics in England had largely lost sight of the historically-rooted Catholic aspirations of such figures as the Caroline Divines and the Oxford Fathers, and had rather come to emulate (albeit with better taste!) much of the English-speaking post-Vatican II Roman Catholic world (in either its Irish or its faux-Mediterranean form). For the most part, it seems, what became known in England (and Wales) as Anglo-Catholicism, was really a post-Anglican imitation of the most unfortunate post-Concilliar Roman Catholic liturgical experimentation, which, other than being done with dignity, was and is both ahistorical and counter-rubrical.
I have been of the opinion for some time that one of the great weaknesses of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain is that her contemporary incarnation can appear as less than sympathetic to the indigenous spirit. It might be argued that, since the Reformation and the systematic dismantling of monasteries on these shores, together with the suppression of native rites (such as those of Sarum) by Trent, the indigenous British Catholic tradition has been, however residually, stewarded by the Protestant Church of England. This is because, in spite of the breath-taking witness of Recusants, the Roman Catholic Church has looked, in some instances, like the Italian Mission on the one hand, and the restricted spiritual domain of Irish immigrants on the other. Yet, as I have said elsewhere, if a country and a people need one thing in order to hear the Gospel, it is to be spoken to in a language of their own.
Whatever Thomas Cranmer became, at the time that he first translated the Latin Mass into English, drawing from Eastern sources as he did, he was a liturgical and linguistic genius. His pioneering creation, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, was a work of beauty, and even subject to close analysis, Catholic understanding. His principal source for this work was, of course, the Sarum Rite, combined with a Benedictine spiritual worldview that he drew from the landscape of England itself. In saying so, I am in no way apologising for the theological, political, and historical travesty that led to the Prayer Book in the first place; I am only saying that, in spite of things, the resulting work could hardly have been surpassed. And it is this Book, together with its deeply flawed and wholly inadequate successor books that – for better or worse – spoke to, and for, the British people until at least the early twentieth century: from England to Wales and, to a lesser extent, Scotland.
When Pope Benedict graciously raised up the Ordinariates in countries with substantial numbers of Anglicans wishing to enter communion with the Catholic Church, he presented them with an opportunity to consider who they were and what they brought to the Catholic table as Anglicans. I would argue that Anglicans in the United States and Canada have been more successful in undertaking this opportunity than Anglicans in Britain, by reason of their stronger attachment to the liturgies of the Prayer Book tradition than their English counterparts, and because of the fact that theirs was always a highly reflective theological position as compared to an emotional, ritual one.
It seems to me that, at this early juncture in the history of Anglicanorum Coetibus, it is incumbent on Anglicans who have entered communion with the Catholic Church to reflect on their identity as Catholic Anglicans, and to understand what distinguishes them from their more numerically significant Roman brethren. I, for one, would argue that the answer to this must be the liturgy above all: not only that it is celebrated with a certain Anglican dignity, but that it also draws on the legitimate heritage that Pope Benedict himself identified, and which resides in the services derived directly from the Book of Common Prayer. I believe that in deciding thus, the Ordinariates – but especially the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – have an unsurpassed opportunity to meet the people where they are, and represent something that truly speaks to them. The legitimate heritage of Anglicanism has been doing so on some level for generations, and that heritage has now been recognised and taken up by the Church of Rome. I pray that we may all benefit from it.