Use of the Roman rite by Anglicans

This is the first of a short series of modest articles on the theme of Anglican Papalism. I will endeavour to refrain from polemics, but it is possible to see the real issues without treading on other people’s toes, taking the wind out of their sails or whatever metaphor we wish to use if any. I expect no nasty comments of the kind that have appeared on the English Catholic, and I too will refrain from criticism of the Roman Catholic Church.

A criticism that is often levelled against some Anglo-Catholics is their “aping” Roman Catholics yet refusing to submit to Roman Catholic authority and discipline. The less sympathetic critics would say that it is just dressing up and aesthetics without doctrine or spirituality. It may well be the case for some individuals, but I have known some very serious men with a real priestly vocation in this tendency.

At its purest, Anglo-Papalism is a movement that seeks to remove differences between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism to facilitate a movement of corporate reunion as was envisaged in the 1890’s before the fateful Apostolicae Curae came from Rome. One of the best sources for understanding this movement, its ideas and history is Michael Yelton’s Anglican Papalism (London 2005). The corporate reunion never happened, and the movement provoked large numbers of conversions to Roman Catholicism over the course of the twentieth century.

This clergy-driven Romeward movement is best understood in the light of history. The term Anglo-Papalism is a neologism of uncertain origin, but the tendency it designates can be found in the very early twentieth century. We find clergy like the Revd Spencer Jones, Vicar of Moreton-in-Marsh, author of England and the Holy See, recognising the Pope as the visible head of the Church and accepting the Council of Trent and Vatican I. They accepted the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and even the Assumption (which was not defined ex cathedra until 1950). The only thing they refused was Leo XIII’s condemnation of their Orders!

I see Anglo Papalism as the most “extreme” version and a development of the Anglo-Catholic movement. However, rather than attempt an apologia of the Reformation and how Catholicism survived in the English Church despite Protestantism and a highly repressive persecution of recusants, Anglo-Papalists consider the Anglican Church as part of the western Church that was forcibly separated by the English Monarchy. Regarding the liturgy, the Prayer Book was seen as enjoying the authority of use, but that using the Roman Missal and Breviary was also legitimate. They also used all the para-liturgical devotions in use in Catholic parishes at the time. They saw corporate reunion with the Holy See as the only logical consequence of the Catholic movement. The most prominent community representing this tendency was the Benedictine community of Nashdom, numbering the distinguished Dom Gregory Dix amongst its members. Like the parish of St Magnus the Martyr in London, they went as far as celebrating the Roman liturgy in Latin.

This movement’s heyday as a parallel to contemporary Roman Catholicism in England ran from about the beginning of the century up to the 1960’s. Less “extreme” Anglican Papalists continued the Anglican way of celebrating in English, which they did by using the English Missal, first published in 1912. They reacted against Dearmer’s Parson’s Handbook and rejected the mediaevalist tendency. Their way was resolutely Roman and Counter Reformation.

In this optic, certainly vastly simplified, the Anglo Papalists logically followed all the changes and modifications during and after Vatican II, including the adoption of Paul VI’s reformed liturgy, which they called the Missa Normativa. It was in 1979 when I found this rite used at Saint Alban’s church Holborn, with sumptuous Tridentine ceremonial and music. The most well-known Anglo-Papalist parishes in London, other than St Alban’s Holborn, are St Magnus the Martyr near London Bridge, St Mary’s Bourne Street, St Augustine’s Queens Gate, to mention only a few. Their altars and internal appointments were characteristic, and quite often in baroque French style rather than Roman, marked by very high tapering candles and tomb-shaped altars. Mass facing the people came in relatively late in the Anglican world, and the temporary altar was often brought on only for some of the Sunday Masses. Solemn Mass would continue to be celebrated on the high altar in the traditional eastward position.

Going by most recent photos (I have been away from London Anglo-Papalism since about 1980 – thirty years ago), most Masses are celebrated facing the people as in Roman Catholic parishes. The use of the modern Roman rite is thus logical and understandable by Anglicans who rejected Anglicanism by the very beginning of the twentieth century, and rejected only one piece of Catholic teaching, the bull Apostolicae Curae of 1896 by Leo XIII saying that Anglican orders are invalid.

Last November the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev’d Richard Chartres, warned London clergy, in an ad clerum letter, that adopting new Roman eucharistic rites would be a “serious canonical matter”. He emphasised the extremely significant fact that the position of Anglican clergy who do not join the Ordinariate, yet use the Roman rite, are in an illogical position. He is not wrong. From the moment a partially corporate solution for clergy who believe that communion with the Pope is of the esse and not the bene esse, being a “Roman Catholic” in the Church of England has no credible basis. It can be said that Anglicanorum coetibus has destroyed Anglo-Papalism as a phenomenon of the Anglican Church.

I am not unsympathetic to the position of the Bishop of London. I have noticed that since the Ordinariate was established, Anglican parishes and religious communities begin to return to more Anglican forms of worship like the Book of Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer. It is a matter of being logical. The Ordinariate has certainly provoked Anglicans to take a new look at their heritage and patrimony. Of course, other  problems loom causing serious problems of conscience.

I understand how theological and ecclesiological Anglo-Papalism came about. Some resorted to using the Roman rite simply because they were disillusioned with the range of Anglican rites on offer designed to please both Evangelicals and Catholics and needing interpolations from pre-Reformation or Roman sources. The Book of Common Worship has traditional language and modern language versions and options. The English idiom of the latter is the old “lame duck” language that has now become obsolete in the English-speaking Roman Catholic Church. It is not easy to consider returning to a messy loose-ends liturgy after having used something that is more or less clear and admitting of fewer variations like the modern Roman rite.

It is possible that the Eucharistic liturgy of the Book of Common worship is so flexible with its system of options and tolerance for the importing of outside material that it is possible to use any liturgy of the Western Church and claim with sincerity that one is using the Book of Common Worship! What seems to me to be important is not to be using the Roman rite. At least, where the English Missal is in use, it is something that has never been used in the Roman Catholic Church for the pre-Pauline liturgy is in Latin. My own option is the Sarum Use as it stood in the early sixteenth century, but so few know anything about it or would consider using it.

Many aspects other than liturgy will mark Anglican identity in the next few years and perhaps its very existence as an imperfect continuation of medieval Catholicism having undergone a good bath and scrub behind the ears! Anglicans have bread on their plates as the French say. Many of us need to give more serious thought to studying the Divines of classical Anglicanism as well as recent theologians. We need also to learn to appreciate the “English” style of churches and their furnishings. What is trashed and scrapped will never be recovered, but what is planted and watered may have a chance of growing and revealing its beauty in time. Whatever can be said of Anglicanism, it is the Church of my country. It conferred my Baptism and gave me the basis of Christian beliefs and values – as it did also to millions of my country-folk.

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14 Responses to Use of the Roman rite by Anglicans

  1. Alan Robinson says:

    I think that we need to distinguish between those Baroque-style Anglo-Catholics who followed the spirit of Society of Ss Peter & Paul, but kept a strong anglican practice, yet dressed in baroque raiment, like S.Mary’s Bourne [Grah’m Street] and All Ss Margaret St. These and others kept the Prayer Book-Re-arranged rite. Music by Mozart, Choreography by Fortescue but Libretto by Cranmer. These sort of places had dressed up versions of Mattins and Evensong, indeed the SSPP produced a Mattins & Evensong version of Tenebrae. Others followed the whole Roman system and rites, I think of St Saviour’s Hoxton, where they had Westminster Hymnal,Simple P.B. (CTS) and Missale Romanum. These were the real Papalist/Catholic Leaguers.Michael Yelton’s book makes this small but important point.

    • I totally agree with you. This distinction needs to be made.

      The real crux is not so much the aesthetics or even the rites but the underlying theology and ecclesiology. I say this carefully lest I should attract the kind of comments I was getting on the English Catholic, and I think this subject is best avoided.

      In my reckoning, and I have said this before, the Roman Catholic Church does not represent the whole truth or embody the universal Church, nor does Anglicanism or Orthodoxy. I have read many theories of ecclesiology, all of which are attempts at an analogy, none of which are satisfying. The best thing is to stick with the tradition we were born into or at least the Church in which we were baptised, and then participate in the ecumenical movement to bring about reconciliation between all churches – and avoid breakaway groups.

      • fatherian1 says:

        Father, I totally agree with you and that is why I have returned to the Church of my baptism after a year long prayerful approach the question of ‘unity and reconciliation’ for which I believe our unity as Christians lies within the beginnings of our baptismal promises.

    • frjeromeosjv says:

      Even now there are those who “Romanise” the Anglican liturgy and those who adopt the Roman wholesale including the mindset and culture. Its rather more difficult these days to “spot the difference” ref the Romanisers from the Romanistas but there is certainly a difference. The Catholic League was particularly representative of Romanistas, proved now by its broad acceptance of the Ordinariate, whereas the SSC was always more of a mixed bag…

  2. Stephen K says:

    This is an interesting topic. I first had an insight into the degrees by which Anglicanism reflected or cultivated the degrees (pre and post Tridentine) of Catholicism, and perhaps more superficially “Romanism”, when I read, as a teenager a wonderful religious autobiography by Rupert Croft-Cooke called “The Altar In the Loft”. Has anyone read this? He describes his gradual procession from his family’s ‘broad’ Anglicanism through ritualism to Roman Catholicism.

    The second book I read, in recent years, was an old copy of “Abbot Extraordinary”. This was the story by Peter Anson of the flawed dream and saga of Aelred Carlyle who dreamed of being a Benedictine abbot. He began by frequenting St Alban’s Holborn and St Saviour’s, Ealing too. A fascinating story of the problematic man and his equally eccentric and problematic community on Caldey Island. I recommend both these books to those interested in the subject of Anglo-Papalism (especially the latter book) and perhaps what I think is, in the end, able to be characterised as a relationship between family members (Anglicanism and Romanism) who are clearly related but don’t know quite how to speak to each other!

    • frjeromeosjv says:

      Peter Anson always struck me as somewhat of an uncharitable man who had no right generally to be so dismissive or derogatory about some of those he wrote about. Though I concede he has an attractive writing style that draws one in! If one really looks into the background of some of the most notable characters he generally assassinates, one discovers that they weren’t quite as mad as he presents them but were often well educated, sincere and often pioneers. Aelred Carlyle’s dream was not a complete disaster, he did found the first monastic community in the CofE since the Reformation with acknowledgement of the then Archbishop of Canterbury and he did achieve later something of a coup for that time in successfully having himself and some of his community received corporately into communion with Rome. Its also noteworthy that the Anglican community he founded and which continued after he and some of the monks became Roman Catholics, went on to establish further communities, all relatively successful. One dares to suggest that many of us have potted histories and have gone through various phases of ecclesiastical preference whether it be Rite, Liturgy, theology or even jurisdiction and if someone wanted to, they could probably paint a similar picture of anyone of us as Peter Anson did on Dom Aelred and others… after we’re dead and unable to reply!

      • Stephen K says:

        All too true, Father Jerome, as to vulnerable potted histories, without a doubt. Although, to be fair on the other side, I did not myself detect any malice in Peter Anson’s account. After all, he was one of those who went Rome-wards along with Aelred. And he recounts Aelred’s ultimate apostolate in what I thought were sympathetic terms. I did not come away from the book without considerable sympathy for Aelred myself. Though I have to admit that I though I thought his transfer to Rome inevitable after-the-fact, I thought it regrettable and the outcome more reflective of his personality rather than of strict theological logic. But perhaps that is what you are alluding to in characterising Peter Anson’s perspective. I’m so glad someone is familiar with the story!

  3. ed pacht says:

    Thank you, that puts into words thoughts I’ve long had family members who don’t know how to talk to each other. That’s been the tragedy of Christianity at least since the Great Schism between East and West.

  4. Stephen K says:

    Further on this subject of Anglican Papalism, I have in front of me a little volume I once found called “This Our Sacrifice”, published 1949 by The Church Union, Church Literature Association, written by L.A.E.Horsfield and H.Riley. It has photographs of each stage of Low Mass, with an English translation of the Mass Prayers and a brief commentary on each. To a casual reader it would seem a Roman Catholic publication, although the Preface makes clear that the order of the English Prayer Book (the BCP) is preserved for purposes of explanation, and the supplementary prayers are taken from The Anglican Missal.

    It is a delightful book, although I found it a little disconcerting to see Roman vestments worn. I kind of guessed that it represented a very Romanist outlook, so much so as to make any Anglican reference incongruous. I can’t help feeling that the adoption of Roman and Italianate appurtenances sat very awkwardly within an Anglican, English tradition.

  5. Little Black Sambo says:

    However we dress up we must assert our right to use the Roman Canon. Its authority is greater than that of any bishop who might wish to ban it.

    • I absolutely agree with you. The Roman Canon is exactly the same in the Use of Sarum as in the Roman rite, and there are some very nice translations in English, Coverdale to begin with.

      • Dale says:

        Yes, this is indeed true. The Roman Canon is simply catholic; be it utilised by Anglicans, Roman Catholics or even the Orthodox. It is our, western, common Catholic heritage. One could also mention that the more Anglo-Papalist deserted this canon for more modern forms, so the use of the Roman Canon does not necessarily equate to Anglican papalism.

      • I have a degree of sympathy with the view expressed by Bishop Chartres, although his reference to the RC view of transubstantiation in the letter in question was remarkably off-the-board. I do think that for some of those who hold to the more radical Anglo-Catholic position (whom I assume are what you describe as Anglo-Papalists), they have had their bluff called. That doesn’t preclude there being an Anglo-Catholic future in the CoE, which is an important part of Anglicanism. I hope that the Catholic belief and practise continues to be influential in the CoE as without it, the common language of liturgy, sacramentality and faith will be undermined in wider ecumenical dialogue.

  6. However Anglo-Papalism looks on paper to some, having first-hand experience of many days staying at Nashdom Abbey in the mid-seventies, I was enrapt as a prodigal son returned to Holy Church at the warmth, gentleness – the grace of the most charitable monks I would find anywhere in the world. Anyone who visited at that time – how can I forget the charity of Dom Patrick, lover of Irish Catholic things, the irrepressibly unique Dom Cuthbert with his enduring love of all things in Holy Orthodoxy, or the calm and peaceful reasoning of Dom Robert Petitpierre. If you could come to Christ’s Kingdom as the child He commends, these monks will be forever etched upon my memory with their humble wisdom, and that over-arching charity I have looked for in 50 other monasteries, and haven’t found its like yet! Last beyond theological perspectives, favourite theologies or prayer books, when i finally swam the Tiber in 1995, it was in the Spirit that even beyond the liturgy used, I was in a greater catholic fullness and a closer fellowship with all that is universal. I truly had come home and I cannot but commend it to each and every one of you, not for the outward dress of liturgy, but for the inner assurance that I had responded in child-like wonder, coming to Mother Mary’s house, where Christ was gathering and not scattering!

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