Friday, July 02, 2010

Review of "Heaven and Earth in Little Space: The Re-Enchantment of Liturgy"

In this week's print edition of The Catholic Herald, the following review by Dr. Alcuin Reid of the diocese of Frejus-Toulon appears, and it relates to a book that is of some interest, particularly in the light of Anglicanorum Coetibus. In fact, I was also sent a review copy of this particular title (which sadly, I haven't had an opportunity to get to as of yet), which was written by the Anglican bishop of Ebbsfleet, and which contains a preface by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P.. The title, Heaven and Earth in Little Space: The Re-enchantment of Liturgy, looks quite interesting.

Here is the review.

Andrew Burnham, Heaven and Earth in Little Space: The Re-Enchantment of the Liturgy
The Canterbury Press 2010

Review by Dr. Alcuin Reid

When Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus appeared last year, it spoke of Anglicans ‘coming over’ as being able to “maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith...and as a treasure to be shared.” This raised not a few eyebrows, for it is by no means clear what it meant: an acceptance of Thomas Cramner’s Prayerbook, of the ‘Alternative Services Book’ compiled during the liturgically turbulent 1970s, or of ‘Common Worship’ published at the dawn of the new millennium? Precisely what is the “precious gift” which the Holy Father saw not only as something worth preserving in the soon-to-be-formed Ordinariates, but indeed as “a treasure to be shared”?

Those of us “born and raised in captivity” as it were, but who have perhaps more than occasionally peered over the wall at the delights of Cathedral evensong or who have admired the innate Anglican ability just to ‘do liturgy’ in a godly manner—and we are not few—may not be able to sketch or delineate the contours of this gift, but we certainly know its reality. And we also know only too well that on our own patch—in the words of John Paul II— “dark clouds of unacceptable doctrine and practice” have eclipsed the liturgical reform initiated by the Second Vatican Council.

Enter Heaven and Earth in a Little Space, where a Andrew Burnham, “presently...a bishop outside the Roman communion,” wades into the deep and sometimes turbulent waters of contemporary Catholic liturgical debate.

Almost by way of an apologia pro vita sua, he opens with an informative, critical and realistic chapter on the Anglican liturgy (or liturgies). Burnham neither denies that there is “a maddening ambiguity at the heart of Anglican eucharistic theology,” nor indeed that those Anglicans who come to the conclusion that they need to join the Catholic Church “should take heart that they do not journey empty-handed.” His outline of “Anglican liturgical patrimony” is measured and well-grounded and will be of interest.

Burnham brings this same standard to his discussion of the burning issues in Catholic worship: the sometimes belligerent ‘dialogue’ underway between supporters of the older and more recent forms of the liturgy; the scandal of our current lack of fasting and, interestingly, the related impoverishment of our feasting through the relegation of our Holy Days; what should or could be done to improve church music; and what on earth we are to do about the divine office which, in the twentieth century, seems in some ways to have been reformed beyond an inch of its life.

All of these considerations deserve detailed attention. However a constant refrain is that of the need for “re-enchantment,” of the need to recover “something of the mysterium tremens et fascinans” of the sacred liturgy. Yes, there is talk of the need for a “reform of the reform” and of “mutual enrichment” between old and new rites, as well as an appreciation of the pastoral reality that the modern liturgical rites have established themselves in the affections of many of their users. But there is also a ruthless insight, articulated in the principle Burnham advances in his discussion of feasts and fasting, which is applicable far beyond that context: “If less and less is asked of those who practice the faith,” Burnham opines, “fewer and fewer people will practice it, and the faith that they practice will also gradually diminish.”

This is a scholarly book, well noted and with an excellent bibliography. It is also a spiritual work, as the final chapter—on the role of Marian piety in the liturgical life of the Church— displays. As a scholar, I may not agree with every observation or suggestion Burnham makes, but as a fellow Christian—please God soon to be joined in the one communion—I would certainly relish the opportunity to discuss them with, and to learn from a man of such learning and liturgical piety.

Heaven and Earth in a Little Space is an intelligent and remarkably dispassionate work which defies the categorisation so customary in contemporary liturgical debate. It offers a fresh approach to the issues Catholics face in seeking to realise that liturgical reform so desired by Pope Benedict. This in itself is a gift to be treasured, perhaps one of the first fruits of Anglicanorum Coetibus?

Dr Alcuin Reid is a liturgical scholar and a cleric of the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France.

Originally published in The Catholic Herald, 2010/05/07

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