Friday, September 02, 2005

The Anglican Liturgical Revival

And Its Relevance to Today's Catholic

Shawn's last post has gotten me thinking. Even more curious, while we're on the subject, is the Anglican Society of SS. Peter and Paul's attempt to provide a fully Romanized version of the Church of England service seen in Travers's Pictures of the English Liturgy. The logic of the early twentieth-century Society was that, while the Anglican Church had split away from Rome, the only functioning rubrical authority during all that time had been the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and if the Anglicans expected to get anywhere with their project of joining Rome, they had to go for Baroque when it came to liturgical style. Indeed, Some of this (quite delightful) fussiness still persists in some quarters of the Anglican communion: St. Clement's in Philly goes as far as to call its intriguing if somewhat mongrel mixture of Common Prayer, polyphony and Roman rubrics "Tridentine." Sadly, if some of my conservative Anglican friends are to be believed, this pseudo-Pian strain has partially degenerated into liturgical performance art in parishes distinguished by praxis without belief. There are exceptions to the rule, as evident in the growth of the Catholic Anglican Use, though these parishes seem to descend from the more medievalizing, Alcuin Club school of liturgy.

The post-Oxford Movement trends in Church of England liturgy are particularly instructive to study today as they mirror our own liturgical controversies in the Catholic Church through a glass darkly. Sometimes our words echo theirs with weird exactitude, and other times we see the good and bad that branched off of paths we have not taken. While it would be inappropriate to compare the Missa Normativa with The Book of Common Prayer (Common Prayer is far more poetic than ICEL's work, but the New Mass is valid and retains much more of the Tridentine rite in its outline if not in many of the details), the circumstances in which liturgy languished in Newman's day are similar to our own. Vestments, lights and ceremonies theoretically permitted under the rubrics of 1549 Ornaments Rubric in Common Prayer had been forgotten or were wrongly thought banned, the toys of a Popish mind.

Men like Newman and Pusey slowly moved to go back to the sources and produce a re-Catholicization of the Anglican usage. This proceeded very slowly and cautiously at first in some areas: surplices and cassocks were used to serve at the altar, rather than the vague "vestment" (in all likelyhood, a medievalism referring to the set of chasuble, maniple, and stole) prescribed by Common Prayer. Glorious Gothic churches came out almost in full bloom, though, after the groundwork set by the Catholic A.W.N. Pugin. In time, altar lights, vestments, and a vested choir placed in the chancel in imitation of monastic practices were added. Sometimes the results were more than a little odd: medievalists automatically assumed modern Catholic forms of vesture and praxis to be identical to those of the English Sarum Rite, and sometimes oddities simply got pulled from the air with extravagant flamboyance. Eight candles showed up on an altar rather than six, or the beloved two of medieval imitators; Anglican parsons made bizarre imitations of Eastern Orthodox vestments or, knowing he'd get in trouble no matter what, one vicar took to saying the whole Roman Rite in Latin.

By the turn of the century, the two camps were clearly defined, represented by the baroque and Romanzing Society of Saints Peter and Paul and the medievalizing Alcuin Club. The medievalists claimed that the medieval modes of the old English Sarum Rite were best suited to the rubrics of the Prayerbook, whose Ornaments Rubric effectively froze all liturgical development to the appurtanences in use at some obscure date in the sixteenth century during the reign of Edward VI. The high-point of this ethos came in the brilliant Parson's Manual of Percy Dearmer, advocating a simple, gracious and aesthetically beautiful adaptation of medieval practice in support of the services of The Book of Common Prayer. Alcuinists, though, often looked down haughtily on Catholics and Romanizing tendencies in their own church, considering their archaeological approach as preserving the purity of their ancient use. Certainly in the vestments and posture and praxis, they had come remarkably close to their medieval models, but as the famous liturgist Adrian Fortescue complained, the beautiful Prayerbook liturgy they took at their text was still Protestant at heart. There was also a certain reconstructive deadness to their designs: their methods were a "British Museum" religion frozen in amber.

Reconstructionism of this kind came easily to English liturgical enthusiasts. The Caroline divines of the mid-seventeenth century attempted, with varying levels of success, to imitate the early churches of Syria when it came to housing their worship, though an ethos still strongly Protestant led architects such as Christopher Wren to place more emphasis on accoustics and sermons than liturgy and transcendence. Sometimes the results were simply odd, like William Laud's famous chapel where incense was burnt in an enormous brazier before the altar, or in the case of the much-later sect of Irvingites. The Irvingites, originally renegade Scots Presbyterians, confected an ornate synthetic liturgy attempting to imitate the practices of Paleo-Christianity and resulting in an exotic, beautiful and very weird form of worship equal parts Alcuin Club Gothic-cum-Burne-Jones Pre-Raphaelite in its art, Greek Orthodox Byzantine in the sheer number of servers and attendants required for mass, and Tridentine in its mind-boggling exactitude. This beautiful if artificial flower has since withered and died, and the few scattered Irvingites who remain as the "Catholic Apostolic Church" practice a-liturgical devotions in obscure meeting-houses.

The self-baptized Anglo-Catholics of the Romanizing rite went the other way and threw caution to the wind with extravagant roccoco flamboyance. Elaborately justified books were printed with suggestions of how to jam scraps of the Tridentine Rite into the minute loopholes of Common Prayer, often bending over backwards with their exuberant attempts to rubrically justify ceremonies which simply could not be admitted into the still-Protestant ethos of Prayerbook religion. In some cases, the liturgy-loving Anglo-Catholics tried to out-Catholicize the Pope with a baroque floridity which pushed past the grandeur of Borromini to outright Borgia tawdriness. Many preferred their comfortable spot inside the Church of England, where they could get away with just about anything and be left alone, to the rigors of Rome. One recently-deceased Anglo-Catholic said he wore thirty-nine buttons on his cassock for all the Articles he did not subscribe to. Furthermore, while many self-described Anglo-Catholics remain good practicing Christians even today, a disconcerting stereotype of aestheticism and moral laxity hung over some quarters of the faction.

The Anglo-Catholics are no longer a monolithic block; some have become Catholics, others retain an elaborate super-Tridentine form of ritual that to this day gilds over the perfect balance of Pian forms with a certain theatricality, others quietly attempt to practice the faith of their ancestors with love and devotion and bridge the gap between Canterbury and Rome, and still others, prizing their at-a-distance fealty to the Vatican, have adopted Vatican II as their own while still remaining hesitant to swim the Tiber.

To a Catholic, the ultimate destinations of the Anglo-Catholic and Sarum factions within Anglicanism remain instructive. While Episcopalianism stands at a crossroads at present, that which remains of their traditional liturgy has become almost unconsciously Catholicized in the past century. Items that stirred enormous controversies, such as Eucharistic Canons or the place of the Gloria, have quietly been inserted into their liturgies along Catholic lines. The Sarum "look" still persists, as does the ritual extravagance of Anglo-Catholicism. Vestments--unknown two centuries ago--are ubiquitous. Real change was affected.

There are also several cautionary tales here. While Baroque is the authentic heritage of the Catholic Church, its casual and often careless adoption--for aesthetic or political reasons--by Anglicans resulted in a beauty more notable for its outre outlandishness rather than piety, even if piety was there.

This is in part due to their adoption of the form but not the substance, and an inclination to its frilly exceptions rather than strong rules: the manly glories of the Roman Baroque or the strong, almost virile femininity of Bavarian roccoco, all oak and gilded rocaille, where architecture imitates the sexes at their unique best. The most important lesson for Catholics in this instance is to keep to their own tradition, and adapt what works best within the rite. This is especially instructive if one considers the Byzantinizing trend within much modern liturgy, and very evident in some formularies of the Novus Ordo. While Byzantine liturgy is glorious, and we should breathe with both lungs, it is just as important not to over-Byzantinize the Roman liturgy as it is to undue the unfortunate Romanization of Byzantine rites insensitively urged in the past. Roman practice allows more of this--Westminster Cathedral stands as a testament to Romano-Byzantine beauty--but it is best to let each rite be what it was meant to be in the general outline.

Certainly Anglo-Catholic emphasis on sacrifice and the Real Presence remain inspiring--whether It was there or not, given the tangled lines of apostolic succession that have come on the heels of Apostolicae Curae. While their orders were not valid in 1886, the troublesome inclusion of Old Catholic and Orthodox bishops as co-consecrators in some instances since then has considerably muddied the waters.

The wholesale importation of Tridentine elements into the New Rite--while often done in good faith and without some of the theatricality evident in Anglo-Catholic worship--must be carefully considered. Certainly the Vatican, in the person of Cardinal Arinze, has shown himself more amenable to such practices, but congregations must be slowly and systematically introduced to such pieties that are selected both for their beauty and their ability to gild the New Mass without too much apparent contradiction. Polyphony, good vestments both Gothic and fiddleback, birettas and other appurtanences are good examples of where to begin. In time, one hopes that with the Reform of the Reform, more and more will be able to be included with less and less contradiction.

I say this less for reasons of liturgical aesthetics, but for obedience. I have a great respect for the silent Canon, for instance, but am somewhat leery of its importation into the Novus Ordo in a few exceptional parishes, if only because I don't want the bishop coming down on someone's head. The Anglo-Catholic flexibility and exuberance, if coupled with the right reasons and the right ethos, could certainly be inspiring.

The Alcuin Club is also not without its lessons. Dearmer's rubrics are the epitome of true noble simplicity, and his work is an exemplar of adapting high liturgy to the small parish. More so than Anglo-Catholicism, the Sarum mode of Anglican liturgy shows us a calm, restrained and dignified ethos in keeping with the continued fascination that the Gothic exerts on young minds today. Dearmer's work also work within the system to bring about a synthesis which combined the best of Sarum with the best of Prayerbook poetry. Considering such Gothic beauty persists in the few Catholic churches of the converted Anglican Use, the Alcuin Club remains an example of how to adapt the best of Trent and Sarum to a modern parish environment.

The great problem with the Alcuin Club's mode is, due to the strictures of the Ornaments Rubric, they are stuck precisely at 1549 in terms of liturgical development. The archaeological exactitude in debates about the number of candles on a high altar or the cut of a chasuble betrays a certain lifeless antiquarianism. The Mass, especially the Tridentine Rite, should not be seen as a period piece. The singling out of one era--palaeo-Christian, Byzantine, high medieval, Roccoco, or the oft-touted (and perhaps imaginary) glories of the 1950s--is the kiss of death to liturgy, as it freezes us in an unfeeling antiquarianism. Today, some degree of deliberate reconstruction is required, as much was lost in the experiments of the 1970s, but it must be guided by flexibility, prudence and a selective borrowing from all the eras of the Church.

One prime example of this flexibility which mingles Anglo-Catholic, Alcuinist, Tridentine and modern without contradiction in a mode within the grasp of an ordinary parish is the Catholic Anglican Use as practiced in such places as Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, Texas. The Anglican Use is a Catholicized form of Prayerbook liturgy permitted by John Paul II to Catholic converts from Episcopalianism. Ritually, it combines the simplicity of Sarum without its taxing antiquarianism, the aesthetic perfection of Anglo-Catholicism without its offputting flamboyance, and the reverence of Trent in a mode adaptable to the congregational participation so emphasized by the Council Fathers of Vatican II. It is strangely appropriate that the ultimate fruit of the liturgical revival of Anglicanism should stand under the banner of the Pope as a beacon to all Catholics today.

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