Fr Hunwicke has come up with some interesting articles about the use of Scripture at the daily Offices:
- Whatever happened to Genesis? (1)
- Whatever happened to Genesis? (2)
- Whatever happened to Genesis? (3)
There is quite a lot in common between the Prayer Book Office and the radically simplified breviary of the Spanish Cardinal Quiñones. When I was doing my university work on the Tridentine missal, I remember reading this by Louis Bouyer (Life and Liturgy, London 1956, pp. 45-47).
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There is nothing, after all, very startling in the fact that some Anglicans could see the way out of the chaos of the Reformation and out of a merely negative and superficial Counter-Reformation even sooner than most Catholics. Such a fact is easily explained by historical causes. For Richard Hooker and his disciples, the Caroline Divines, were reacting from within Protestantism itself against its own excesses. They naturally possessed, therefore, both a clearer and a deeper perception of its root fallacy than most Catholics could have, since Catholics could only see the final effects of this fallacy from outside Protestantism, but could not have learned from the same personal experience what were the fundamental failures from which these final effects had flowed. On the other side, these same Anglican Divines were not prevented in the least by their position from maintaining what had been good in the original surge of Protestantism and what had been good in the general movement of Christian humanism from which it had proceeded. To defend their allegiance to their own church against the Puritans, these men were actually led on to emphasize the best tendencies in the primitive Reformation, — and to emphasize them the more as the Caroline Divines wanted to discard the evils of the Reformation as it appeared in its full development.
Such a desire, of course, often succeeded in making up a Via Media that was merely an illogical and ineffective compromise between yes and no. But in some superior minds and loftier souls, it produced at least a few beautiful sparks, potential beginnings of something far better than a compromise. Not only Hooker, but Andrewes, Laud, and later Cosin and many others of that school saw clearly wherein lay the great failures of Protestantism: — that its pretence of going back to the Church of antiquity was unsound, and that it was in itself as much of a novelty with no precedent as was that state of affairs against which it was rebelling. And these same men saw clearly that in order to answer the Protestant rebellion it was hopeless to treasure, along with practices that were truly traditional, the merely medieval corruptions out of which the errors of Protestantism had previously developed. In these ways, and to this extent, the Caroline Divines rediscovered something of what Christian humanism might have become in the midst of Catholicism itself, had men like Cardinal Quignonez in Spain or Cardinal Pole in England and Italy been in the forefront rather than Luther and Calvin.
How, then, can we best sum up these primary intuitions of what the liturgy should be which the Caroline Divines exhibit both in their written works and in practices that were actually carried out for a time in the Church of England? These men felt, first, that the liturgy should be the common and effective worship of the Christian people. They were opposed, therefore, to any re-building of those screens between the sanctuary and the nave which some modern Anglo-Catholics were later to make so fashionable. The services were not to be performed by some specialists instead of the people, but actually by the people. And this desire did not imply anything anarchic or out of order, for these men had suffered from the Puritans’ recklessness in such matters and abhorred it. On the contrary, they understood that the Christian people as such was to constitute a Church only with due reverence paid to the hierarchy as instituted by Christ and His apostles, and to the institutions which had been received from authentic Christian antiquity.
According to the Caroline Divines, this Christian tradition was not to be received as a dead letter to be carried out only materially, in the exact shape in which they had received it from its most recent and more or less untrustworthy transmitters. The true tradition was rather to be disengaged from all spurious and unhealthy additions, and thus renewed in its primitive freshness, in order to be re-expressed in a frame which should make it accessible to the people of that day. Hence the insistence on the use of the vernacular, and on a systematic educational effort to make the people understand not only the letter but the spirit of the liturgy. Hence also the attempt to have the whole Bible read during the course of the ecclesiastical year, but read in its traditional context of praise and prayer, in constant reference to the mysteries of Christ’s life and Passion seen as permanently actual and living, in and for the Church.
However, what was the actual success of the Caroline Divines, and what was best in their thought and in their lives? The limitations of that success are no less instructive for us today than are their first principles themselves.
We must say, first of all, that in everything done by these men there was too great an element of intellectual aloofness, of a refined but unpopular aristocracy of the mind, to make their efforts successful except among the very few. We cannot admire too much the personal piety which is exhibited in the Preces Privatae of Lancelot Andrewes, or the familial way of worship and of Christian living shown by the community of Little Gidding with Nicholas Ferrar. But we must realize that these beautiful achievements were appreciated by very few people, and had no power of widespread influence, for they had too many of the qualities of the scholar and of the highbrow English gentleman to appeal to more than a very small elite.
Secondly, and in close connection with this first defect, we must realize that although their reconstruction of antiquity was much more successful than that which was so unjustifiably the boast of Protestantism, still it was an artificial reconstruction and not a true revival. They acknowledged occasionally that good qualities were to be found in many aspects of the Middle Ages or even in the Roman Catholicism of their times against which they struggled ceaselessly; yet these men were, in their deepest hearts, antiquarians. To recapture the past—a very beautiful past, it is true—and to make it stand immobile was their ideal. And such an ideal separated them from the living Church no less than from the living world.
But the most striking failure of their work arose directly from their being out of communion with the Church. What was admirable about their work, and what had such a measure of success that it has endured even until our days in the larger Anglican churches, and, especially, in the cathedrals, is a Divine Office which is not a devotion of specialists but a truly public Office of the whole Christian people. This Office has some defects:—an exaggerated brevity in the psalmody, a too easy acceptance of the contemporary fashion for elaborate polyphony which tended to make the Office once more something heard rather than sung by the people themselves; and, finally, too lengthy prayers of intercession (along the lines of those preces feriales and litanies of all kinds which were a legacy from the Medieval period). But, in spite of these defects, we must admit frankly that the Offices of Morning Prayer and of Evensong, as they are performed even today in St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, York Minster, or Canterbury Cathedral, are not only one of the most impressive, but also one of the purest forms of Christian common prayer to be found anywhere in the world. This success makes even more striking the almost complete failure of the work of the Caroline Divines with the very core of the Christian liturgy, that is, the Eucharistic celebration.
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Fr Hunwicke makes this observation:
However, Cranmer was obsessed by the need for simplicity. Medieval clerics did not have an ORDO; they had to work things out for themselves. The raw materials were to be found in a Directorium called Pie. Cranmer, notoriously, observd that “the number and harshness of the Rules called the Pie, and the manifold changings of the Service, was [sic] the cause, that to turn the Book only was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out”. So, lamentably, in his other draft Cranmer went instead for a lectionary based entirely on the civil year’s Calendar; Genesis started at the beginning of January and marched inexorably on, ignoring
the Ecclesiastical year. And this was the model which he followed in his first English Prayer Book of 1549.
These days, we can be thankful for a Sarum calendar. The Sarum Office is quite a handful, but really no more complicated than the 1568 Roman Breviary or the traditional Benedictine Office – provided you have the books. Personally I use the monastic office, in spite of its occasional incompatibilities with the Sarum missal. The books are easy to find – and read when travelling.
Here’s a convenient Monastic Diurnal (book of day hours without Matins) in Prayer Book English, which is in print and can be ordered.
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Sorry these links are in French, but are indispensable for knowledge on the Breviary.