As Alice said: “It’s curiouser and curiouser”

The New Curiosity Shop. To misquote Thomas Edward Brown: "A Chancery is a lovesome thing, God wot!"

The New Curiosity Shop. To misquote Thomas Edward Brown: “A Chancery is a lovesome thing, God wot!”

In the late Fall of 1979, when I had just been appointed Pastor of what was then St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church (now Saint Mary the Virgin Catholic Church), Arlington, Texas, the then-interim pastor asked me what I would want him to do, over the next several months, to prepare for my arrival. I told him that it would be most helpful to me if he could move the parish’s liturgical life away from the 16th century English rites of the (American) 1979 Book of Common Prayer to the modern-English rites which that book also provided. After years of the liturgical turmoil and the associated pastoral stresses – un-renewed 1662, the legal ambiguity surrounding any use of the attempted revision of 1928/9, the so-called “Interim Rite”, the trial rites known as Series One, Two and Three – none of which were easily and obviously patent of a Catholic interpretation, and which had been part of my experience in the Church of England, the prospect of a settled contemporary but fairly conservative liturgy was welcome indeed.

Nothing, over the last 35 years, has given me any reason to regret that decision; and the Ordinariate Mass Rite comes to me therefore as a substantial disappointment.

The name and genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer is indelibly linked with the Anglican liturgical tradition. The Rite Two liturgies of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer unmistakably reflected their Cranmerian roots, but with a sensitive and gentle transition into contemporary language – of which the Collects (both Cranmer’s translations of ancient Latin prayers as well as those few which are his own compositions) are the preeminent example.

But for Anglo-Catholics the name of Cranmer has also a sinister connotation. In Cranmer’s name, with varying degrees of intensity, the bishops threatened and bludgeoned successive generations of Tractarians, Anglo-Catholics, Ritualists, with Cranmer’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, even as recently as the 1960s when, in a very minor way, I experienced it myself. It is therefore difficult to embrace with much enthusiasm the merely literary work of this heretic and schismatic occupant of the Chair of St Augustine.

The sidelining and denial of preferment, and less subtle forms of persecution of Anglo-Catholics, were to be found in the Church of England as recently as – to take one widely publicized example – the action in 1959 of the late Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood , who, in a bitter slanging match, forced the resignation of Fr. Rice Harris (the “Martyr of Carshalton” for many, an “inflexible bigot” according to Stockwood, who had been fired from his first curacy for his devotion to Our Lady) and the closing of St Andrew’s, Carshalton. These events led Fr. S. J. Forrest to write this verse:

So call the bobbies*, bar the door,
Raise high the churchyard wall,
For those who won’t be C of E
Shan’t worship God at all.

* “bobby” is an English nickname for a policeman.

I must apologize for this apparent digression, occasioned by my perplexity on reading in Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson’s Christmas Letter 2014 the assertion that the Oxford Movement “was perhaps to have its greatest impact on these [American] shores”.

More than on the shores of the “scepter’d isle”? Really?

I think of Edward King, the saintly Bishop of Lincoln, continually harassed, and then condemned in the Lincoln Judgment for his infringement of the 1874 Public Worship Regulation Act .

The sufferings of Fr. Alexander Heriot Mackonichie, the prosecution and imprisonment of Fr. Arthur Tooth and other priests (“of whom the world is not worthy”) who were “guilty” of such crimes as using incense, wearing Eucharistic vestments, and placing lighted candles on their altars.

To promote and protect all that the Oxford Movement had achieved, the (English) Church Union was founded in 1859 to challenge the authority of the English civil courts to determine questions of doctrine. It was active in defending Anglo-Catholic priests against legal action brought under the Public Worship Regulation Act, with London offices for its publishing, theological and legal departments.

The priestly Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) was founded in London in 1855 by a small group of Anglo-Catholic priests led by Father Charles Lowder, for support, mutual prayer and encouragement. And the Catholic Movement prompted great enthusiasm for overseas missions, to which very many priests gave their lives.

The Society of Mary was formed in England in 1931 by the union of its parent societies, the Confraternity of Our Lady (founded in England 1880) and the League of Our Lady (founded in England in 1902). The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament is the oldest Anglican devotional society and was founded in England in 1862 by Fr T. T. Carter. The Guild of All Souls was founded in England in March 1873 with Father Arthur Tooth (see above) as the first president.

In England, the Oxford Movement in its successive phases – Tractarian, Ritualist, Anglo-Catholic –recovered the religious life among Anglicans, founding many communities for men and women, including the Order of St Benedict.

The foundation of the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham was yet another of the ultimate fruits of the Assize Sermon – and, given the dedication of the North American Ordinariate, at least, it could certainly be held that it did have some “impact on these shores”.

The incarnational theology and spirituality of Anglo-Catholicism brought about a huge effort of church-building and pastoral zeal in the huge new industrial cities of the age.

You can still find on-line newsreel footage the great Anglo-Catholic Congresses of the 1920s, events that brought tens of thousands together in London to hear such magnificent things as the sermon by Bishop Frank Weston, the Bishop of Zanzibar, on “Our Present Duty”.

The effects of all this, and the extension of them, were transmitted far beyond “the precious stone set in the silver sea” – and not least, of course, to the American expression of Anglicanism.

Nevertheless, on the western side of the Atlantic the effect and outcome of the Assize Sermon seems to have been more conservative than Catholic. Indeed, what was the raison d’etre of Anglicanism on these shores: a chaplaincy to Anglophiles? Or was it possessed of some unique grasp of eternal Truth that justified its resistance to that unity that is the Dominical imperative? The late Bishop Clarence Pope used to say that Anglicanism was the most “gracious” expression of the Faith: but, amidst its disintegration and corruption in recent years, one must question whether it was the most “grace-giving”.

The end of this lengthy digression brings us to a question: how is that, given this history of often-costly Anglo-Catholic initiative in the land of its birth, we have arrived (via the Book of Divine Worship) at a rite and a liturgy in pseudo-Cranmerian clothing? Monsignor Edwin Barnes, in his blog entry of November 29, 2014, refers to what he calls the American “God-wottery” of the Ordinariate Use. (Helpfully, he adds an explanation: “God-wottery” is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘an affected quality of archaism, excessive fussiness and sentimentality’.” And Father Barnes adds that these are the very things that many English members of the Ordinariate, who have grown up with contemporary rites over a couple of generations now, find so unhelpful.

He refers to what he calls the excessive fussiness of the three-fold repetition of “Lord, I am not worthy …”. And why, Fr. Barnes asks, has the Ordinariate rite (re)-introduced the celebrant’s multiple kissings of the altar? The 1964 (final) edition of Ritual Notes raised the question fifty years ago, and, in so doing, it referred back to Fr. Adrian Fortescue’s remarks in his magisterial The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, first published in 1917. Referring to two points “which one would hope that the authorities would simplify. One is the constant kissing … and, in the same way, have we not rather too much genuflection?”

“The ‘wots’ and ‘peradventures’ of King James can become wearisome”, says Francesca Aran Murphy in her The Comedy of Revelation: Paradise Lost and Regained in Biblical Narrative. And she points to the Anglican verbosity of the 17th century “where petition is apt to turn into a theological lecture: ‘O God, who … etc. etc.’”

Martin Thornton, in the preface to the 1986 edition of his English Spirituality, speaks of spiritual health “expressed by evolution, not stagnation, by development through cross-fertilization, not by conservative insularity”. He describes how that principle was vividly brought home to him by his experiences in Transkei. “My first such experience was in the cathedral at Umtata: Book of Common Prayer in English, Victorian hymns, Merbecke, and so on. It was supremely dreadful.”

My principle concern, however, in all this is not a mere matter of taste or æsthetics. Rather, it is to do with the primary reason for which the Ordinariates and their liturgy exist. There will surely be only few more Anglicans still looking for a congenial home in communion with Peter. Thus there is, I am convinced, a real danger that it could swiftly become nothing more than a liturgical museum – of interest only to a dwindling esoteric band. If that indeed were to happen than we would have lost the providential opportunity provided by Anglicanorum Coetibus to bring back into the fullness of Catholic life and practice a spirituality (neither merely or mainly liturgical) which is not so much Anglican as English and which for historic reasons has been pushed to the periphery of the Church’s awareness.

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One Response to As Alice said: “It’s curiouser and curiouser”

  1. Matthew the Wayfarer says:

    O.K. Father, you don’t like the Ordinariate Liturgy and you preferred the Rite 2 of the 1979 ABoCP. I found Rite 2 BARELY acceptable as far as its ‘vulgar’ English goes. As with the modern Roman Rite proper befor Pope Benedict’s changes it lacked aesthetics plain and simple. This will continue to be argued from now until the cows come home with no resolution until one or the other group dies out. (me thinks your are out numbered!)
    Now, the question I have for you is about church architecture. Are you responsible for the ‘modernist’ design of St. Mary the Virgin or was it your predecessor? Love the inside but what was the outside suppose to convey? Really would like to know.

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