Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Potentialities of the English Missal for the Ordinariate and the Roman Rite

Some recent events put my mind once again to the matter of the English Missal.

The English Missal, as many of you know, is essentially a hieratic English translation of the pre-conciliar Missale Romanum. It was a missal which had been used by various Anglican Catholics, or Anglo-Catholics, in the 20th century.

Fr. John Hunwicke, who himself described the English Missal as "the finest vernacular liturgical book ever produced," summarizes its contents and its use accordingly:

For most of the 20th Century, Anglican Catholic worship meant a volume called "The English Missal". It contained the whole Missale Romanum translated into English; into an English based on the style of Thomas Cranmer's liturgical dialect in the Book of Common Prayer. The "EM" took everything biblical from the translation known as the King James Bible or Authorised Version.

I have often commented on my own hope -- one which I know is shared by many others -- that we would see the English Missal (or something closely akin to it) form one of the liturgical options made available within the context of the Ordinariate. Now it will no doubt be quickly pointed out that the use of the English Missal was by no means universal even amongst Anglo-Catholics and would be generally unfamiliar to many other Anglicans; from what I have gathered from others far more familiar with the situation within Anglicanism, this is certainly true. In light of that, it perhaps would not be the right choice to make it the sole liturgical book of the Ordinariate (which should presumably include a liturgical book which is much closer to something like the Book of Common Prayer) but it surely could be made available as an additional option, a kind of "Extraordinary Form" if you will -- the analogy here is imperfect but I think it gets the basic idea across.

The benefit, from my perspective, is that this liturgical book combines some of the very things which form an important and identifiable part of the Anglican patrimony -- namely, beautiful hieratic liturgical English with correspondingly beautiful English liturgical chant and options for the use of English sacred polyphony -- with the familiar Catholic texts and ceremonies of the Roman liturgical books. In that regard, my own feeling is that it provides a very worthy synthesis which could be well suited to the Ordinariate and its mission -- taken alongside another liturgical book more akin to the BCP.

Of course, at this point I must admit to a further motivation on my part. While I do genuinely think this option could be very enriching for the Ordinariate, its clergy and its faithful, I also happen to think that this option could be enriching for the broader Latin rite, most especially within the English speaking world. Why is because it presents a tangible model for the use of a hieratic liturgical English and English chant within the specific context of the Roman liturgical texts.

Returning once again to Fr. Hunwicke:

...the English Missal is a very fine vernacular version of the classical Roman Rite, in a very fine liturgical, hieratic, dialect. When the great Christine Mohrmann lamented that modern European vernaculars did not possess a hieratic form, she had not met the English Missal.

I believe the English Missal can provide a tangible model for the use of an appropriate, dignified liturgical vernacular within the confines of the Roman liturgical books in both forms of the Roman liturgy. This latter inclusion of "both forms of the Roman liturgy" might seem shocking to some EF devotees, but by it I am not suggesting that we should not ensure or pursue the wider recovery of liturgical Latin. What I am suggesting, however, is that just as there is a continuing place for Latin there is also a place for a hieratic vernacular within the sacred liturgy. What's more, I believe we must also recognize that, broadly speaking, there is a desire for it, one which is I think perfectly legitimate and reasonable. As I have only recently commented, it seems to me that the vast majority of Catholics (including her clerics) are not interested in or drawn to an all-Latin or mostly-Latin liturgy as anything other than an occasional experience; time and again I see this confirmed, sometimes from sources I do not expect. In that regard, while the Roman liturgical books should certainly be available and available for use in their Latin editions for those who desire that, at the same time limiting the liturgical books of the usus antiquior almost exclusively to the Latin language (as they presently are, even when we consider the option that now exists for the vernacular readings) is, it seems to me, short-sighted and likely to keep the EF relegated to the sidelines of the liturgical life of the Church -- and even potentially threaten its long term existence. We would do well then, whether one has an enthusiastic or begrudging position in relation to this particular question, to focus our efforts on how this might be manifest.

Enter the English Missal which could not only provide insights into how vernacular should look and sound within the context of the Ordinary Form (for the newly revised English translation, for all its improvements over the old translation, still lacks the poetic and hieratic qualities we find here), but also provide insights into the same potentialities within the context of the Extraordinary Form -- in particular, with regard the Propers, including the proper chants.

The best way for the English Missal to make this contribution is, in my estimation, to make it an actually used and usable book within the Catholic Church, and the most logical place for that is within the context of the Ordinariate. If the powers that be within the Ordinariate could accomplish this, I think they would not only be providing themselves with a great gift within the Ordinariate, they would also be providing an important contribution to the wider Church.

The English Missal is, to paraphrase Fr. Hunwicke, one of the finest vernacular liturgical books ever produced; it brings together the genius and beauty of the Anglican liturgical dialect with the genius and sober beauty of the ancient Roman liturgical texts. As Fr. Hunwicke then suggested, so too would I say here and now, "and [it] deserves to be given a new lease of life."

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Some of our readers may be only vaguely familiar with the English Missal. Accordingly, I thought it would be useful if I took a few quick photographs of some of its pages to give you a greater sense of this liturgical text.

I would invite you to click on these images to enlarge them and read the texts. Perhaps this will also provide you with some sense of what potentialities could well exist if some of its features were to be adopted within the OF and EF.