The Liturgy and the Anglican Ordinariates: An Evangelical Opportunity

Prayer Book Image


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.


9 responses to “The Liturgy and the Anglican Ordinariates: An Evangelical Opportunity

  1. Pingback: The Liturgy and the Anglican Ordinariates: An Evangelical Opportunity – a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest’s view | Ordinariate Expats·

  2. The Council of Trent did not suppress Sarum or any of the related French uses of the Western Rite: no more than the recent Council of the Vatican abolished the Traditional Roman Mass.

    The Bull of Saint Pius Vth which established his renewed missal as the norm for the Roman Church did not suppress Sarum, either. It is clear that any use of immemorial right (which criterion Sarum certainly fulfilled) was to be continued. Saint Pius’ intention was to get rid of recent accretions enthusiasms and abuses which might have been evaluated as “immaturely adolescent” not to impose a centralised uniformity on the Western Patriarchate nor to impose any innovative theology of the Eucharist.

    Similarly, the decree of Paul VI which imposed his novel liturgy on the Roman Church did not suppress any liturgical use of immemorial right; though I suspect that this was due to his personal incompetence (or divine providence, if you prefer) rather than any deliberate intention.

    It is on this basis that Benedict XVI noted that the missal of Pius Vth (as subsequently amended and developed) was still a legitimate option for every Roman priest and that every Roman priest had the absolute right to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice according to that liturgical use.

    It is important to recognise that (contrary to recent insinuations issuing from the Vatican) Benedict XVI did not grant an indult that allowed the celebration of the Traditional Roman Mass. He simply observed that (contrary to the policy of his predecessors) there was no need for any such indult, because the right already existed (and so could not be granted) and only needed to be acknowledged by ordinaries and exercised by priests.

    On the same basis, it is entirely clear that the Sarum (and other “Gallican” rites) were never suppressed and simply fell into disuse. Hence it is legitimate for any Roman priest with a clear association with the tradition that owns such a rite has the right to celebrate it without seeking approval to do so from any ordinary.

    Hence, the priests of the Ordinariate (and I would say any priest with a ministry within England and Wales – I know nothing of the equivalent liturgical traditions of Scotland and Ireland) have the right to celebrate the Sarum liturgy in accordance with those extant books of this use; but not (sadly) in an English translation – as no such translation has been approved.

    I hope that you will yourself soon be exercising this right so as to extend much needed pastoral provision to those Roman Catholics in Cardiff who are much disaffected with the all too-ordinary form of the Roman Mass.

  3. Thanks for the article. Of course you know me, but for those who don’t, I also come from an anglican background and was received into the Roman Catholic church ten years ago. Although I was happy to come into the fullness of the Catholic churh I have always felt a sense of loss with regard to the tradition of glorious liturgy I left behind. The embrace of the anglican tradition in the form of the ordinariate has come as a very welcome development – and is a source of great happiness and excitement for me. I am now – with all my family – becoming full members of the ordinariate.

    I really do hope that the parishes in the UK embrace the rite now available to them. I love the idea of breathing new life in the closest form we have to the Sarum rite and reinvigorating a true and historical expression of English catholicism.

    Last year I had the good fortune of attending a dear friend’s wedding in Cyprus. Despite understanding (to a degree) what the western church has faced in the reformation and the modern era, I have never understood liturgical reform or ‘progress’. I loved the idea that at my mate’s wedding his ancestors from over a thousand years ago could have walked in and recognised and participated in the liturgy. Another aspect I loved was that in this humble but nonetheless glorious Cypriot church filled with icons, sumptuous vestments, a fog of incense, constant chanting, and plenty of gold there was a tremendous comfort and ‘at-homeness’ amongst all who were gathered. OK, on the part of some it was maybe even too comfortable (many of them I knew were not regulars at liturgy) but it engendered the thought that when life threw up suffering these people would know where to go and feel comfortable going there.

  4. Can’t edit my post, but I meant to say that I will share this with my ordinariate priest!

  5. Pingback: The Liturgy and the Anglican Ordinariates: An Evangelical Opportunity | St. Joseph of Arimathea Anglican Use Society·

  6. My less than enthusiastic response to this is published in the comments at Anglican Use News; ‘an unsurpassed opportunity to meet the people where they are’ you say – not any of the people I come across either in the Ordinariate of OLW or trembling on the brink in the CofE. Like you I pray that we may all benefit from the Anglican Patrimony – but in England that is distinctly NOT the BCP. Rather it is the way we worship and exercise pastoral care rather than the words we say in church.

    • Fr., thank you for your comment. I read what you had to say on Anglican Use News, and while I certainly accept much of what you say about the 1662 BCP, I also believe that you miss my general point. I tried to distinguish very clearly between 1549 and what developed afterward, describing everything that followed in England ‘deeply flawed and wholly inadequate’. You proceed, by contrast, to base your suggestion that the BCP heritage holds little resonance for Catholics interested in the Anglican Patrimony on repeated criticism of 1662. I guess you could say that I don’t really care about the specifics of that Calvinist book, because I am trying to talk about the BCP heritage more broadly, and this extends well beyond 20th century English Anglo-Catholic dissatisfaction with the 1662 BCP. In conversations I have had with Orthodox theologians over the 1549 book, as well as the Canadian 1962 and the American 1928 books, there is little that would have required changing in their minds to make them conform to Orthodox liturgical requirements. At the same time, the intellectual and spiritual legacy of those Anglo-Catholics (such as the late Prof. Robert Crouse) that dedicated a great deal of their lives to illuminating the deeper value of the BCP treasury, means that anyone with a genuine interest in liturgical theology and history can now look beyond dismissive, polemical criticisms to more substantial meaning in both text and structure. Ultimately the position I advanced and which you take issue with, I admit, will hardly be flawless; it is laid out, after all, in a mere 800 word blog entry. I can assure you, however, that it is something more than a ‘lovely, romantick notion’. I only hope that, for the sake of our shared evangelical purpose in Britain, all things good and holy that Anglican Catholics have to give to the Church may be embraced and deployed in the most beneficial and fruitful way for all concerned.

  7. Pingback: Ordinariate Liturgy | Symposium·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s