Liturgy, Saint Agatha and Fr Hunwicke

I’m really happy that Fr Hunwicke is in back in full production. I really do appreciate his erudition and vast experience as a parish priest. I certainly would not like to cause him any pain in this blog, still less quote him out of context. His blog is there for the reader to examine the articles fully and draw his or her own conclusions.

Fr Hunwicke has his own experience and I don’t know the guys in Brentwood. However, this article reminds me of some of my old liturgy classes at Fribourg University. Liturgical history and liturgical theology are matters you can’t do too much harm to. When it comes to learning to compose your own Eucharistic Prayers, I have to admit it goes rather too far. I had the impression of being in a cookery class with the meat, vegetables, spices and herbs and all the various pots you use to turn the ingredients into a dish! We had the anamnesis, the epiclesis, the words of institution, the diptychs – and I wonder if we were any the wiser at the end of it all. There was a religious sister in my class who always said how things made her feel. Perhaps it would have been kind to give the poor lady a fine silk blouse and tell her to enjoy wearing it!

As the old joke goes, you can negotiate with a terrorist, not with a liturgist.

I too have my memories of St Agatha’s church in Portsmouth. The big “do” there was the TAC College of Bishops meeting in October 2007, where the big item on the agenda was the movement towards the Ordinariates. Those few days were quite electrifying as we had Mass and Office in that fine church and heard rousing addresses and speeches by Archbishop Hepworth. This Letter was signed by the TAC College of Bishops in this church on 5th October 2007.

What did I think of such prospects? Certainly, it was all exciting as things seemed then. I really believed that the legalistic and bureaucratic underpinning of the Roman Curia was in some ways being dismantled by Benedict XVI in a kind of Catholic perestroika and glasnost. It would have been the only way the TAC could have become some kind of “uniate church” of Anglican tradition. Surely, the Church could dispense from canonical irregularities for the sake of a noble objective. Furious Curial and Papal backpedalling combined with the wishful thinking of Archbishop Hepworth, who one moment was leading a respectable-sized international ecclesial body, and was nobody the next moment. I was present at the meeting, but as a humble priest with no say in anything or decision-making power.

I returned to St Agatha’s in October 2010 for the Diocesan Synod presided over by Archbishop Hepworth and Bishop Moyer. I still have recordings of the speeches, which I have not had the stomach to listen to since then. Fr Maunder allowed me to celebrate an early morning Mass at the Lady altar, which I did in Latin according to the Use of Sarum. It was the feast of Saints Simon and Jude, and there was an elderly Church of England priest from Oxford in attendance. I remember the peace of those moments in that lovely church. Such a privilege would be denied me now if I asked for it, since I am not in communion with Rome as they are now.

St Agatha’s to me is a little like the Victorian house in which I spent my childhood. I would never go back, because I could not face the changes that have happened, either physical or moral. I am happy for the priests of the Ordinariate, but I suffered in those years 2010 to 2012. I did what I believed to be my duty by blogging the way I did. I was bitterly disappointed by Archbishop Hepworth when his impassioned words come to nothing, at least for him and many who stayed in the TAC. I will not return to St Agatha’s, ever.

St Agatha, the Virgin and Martyr who was horribly mutilated and killed for keeping her virtue, is one I now associate with my late mother. They share the same dies natalis, at least symbolically (I think of the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian in 1752). May they be together in singing the Liturgy of Heaven!

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8 Responses to Liturgy, Saint Agatha and Fr Hunwicke

  1. Stephen K says:

    I remember many years ago being told a joke by a fellow seminarian (now, I gather, an Anglo-Catholic priest in England) that the difference between a liturgist and a rubricist is that a liturgist would say that no death could be so sublime as to expire at the conclusion of the Exsultet; but that a rubricist would interject that he would would have to extinguish the Paschal candle first!

    I don’t recall whether the Paschal Candle is already lit by the time of the Exsultet, but perhaps I misheard him (it was 40 years ago). But you get the drift. I’ve just been listening to “Songs of Praise” and this week’s episode featured two wonderful choirs from Wales, with my favourite hymns Cwym Rhonnda (Guide me O thou great Jehovah), For All the saints, Abide with me etc. When liturgy becomes an argument, it has, in today’s Gospel imagery, lost its savour.

    • In the Roman rite before 1950 (Use of Sarum too), the Exultet is sung by the deacon followed by a long preface-like chant. The Paschal Candle receives its grains of incense during this long “preface”. Prior to that, the deacon brings a triple candle into church from the New Fire. The Paschal Candle, not lit, is on its candlestick and doesn’t move anywhere.

      In the Roman rite since 1950 and the Paul VI rite. The Pachal Candle receives its grains of incense and is lit with a short and special ceremony at the New Fire outside the church. It is then carried by the deacon and put on the candlestick before singing the Exultet.

      Here is a criticism of the 1950’s Holy Week.

  2. Stephen K says:

    Dear Father Chadwick, I’ve read your link to Gromier’s critique. Thank you. I must admit that I was not impressed by the tone of his essay, notwithstanding any merits the ‘logic’ of the former practices might have on the various points. Nothing, it seemed, in the 1955 reform met with his approval, or escaped his contempt.

    I found a link to a traditionalist RC site [] whose host wrote : To summarize though, nothing heterodox was introduced via the Holy Week reform which even Msgr. Gromier’s critique (which I have read multiple time) bears – his critiques concern rubrical/praxis points. This type of critique is in fact, very typical of those with a Gallican temperament, and one can critique such points of any liturgical reform made by the Church (including that of Trent – Quo Primum) if one really wants too! Also, it should be noted that he was one of several papal MCs, but never the main one, who was Msgr. Enrico Dante .

    So, it seems there is not unanimity in traditionalist ranks on this. I turned, to a source I trust for both deep spirit and balance, namely, the 1953 (Liturgical Press, St John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minn) “The Church’s Year of Grace” by Dr Pius Parsch. Amongst other things, he writes, of Holy Saturday:
    The day is and should be the quietest of the entire Church year; no services were held on Holy Saturday until the Middle Ages. The rites performed at the present time early Saturday morning actually belong to Easter eve, between Saturday and Sunday; for the whole liturgy of Holy Saturday is Easter liturgy. It is one of the great objectives of the liturgical movement to restore to the Catholic world the Easter vigil service, the “mother of all vigils”, as St Augustine called it. The unliturgical spirit and mentality of the last centuries has deprived us of the holiest of all nights; the liturgical spirit of our day will correct this error.

    Parsch is clearly one of the “pastorals” attracting Gromier’s ire. But the whole work in five volumes is a wonderful and comprehensive exposition of the liturgical year, and it is hard for a layman such as myself to prefer the latter to the former.

    Oh well, I don’t wish to provoke a rubrical dispute; my view is that we all see and value different liturgical logics and my purpose is to register that the Gromier critique is simply a point of view.

    • Dear Stephen,

      My intention was not to affront. The value of Msgr Gromier is that he was “pre traditionalist ideology”, but of course he was a Frenchman. The French make defying authority a national sport, among other things! French people can sometimes be awfully condescending and sometimes outright contemptuous – I am well placed to know it. Louis Bouyer, great theologian though he was, had even more acid ink in his pen.

      Dr Pius Parsch was writing about the times at which services were held during the old Holy Week, and I would fully agree with him. I personally use the Use of Sarum, and the rest of my Diocese (ACC) uses the Anglican Missal which happens to contain the Roman Holy Week of the time that missal was compiled – 1921. We use the times as became customary, namely: Maundy Thursday about 8 pm, Good Friday Mass of the Presanctified around 3 pm and Holy Saturday ideally at about 11 pm but with the possibility of doing it a little sooner in the evening but after dark. I find the Paschal Vigil on Holy Saturday morning absurd.

      I have long ago ceased to “trash” the current usages in the Roman Catholic Church, because I am unconcerned. There ought to be diversity in the question of rites and local or “personal” usages, unity in diversity. I have myself been under the influence of the “pastorals” like Fr Jacques Pecha (1920-2002), parish priest of Bouloire, who was quite loose with things rubricists get uptight about (readings in French and facing the people, not saying at the altar what was being sung by the choir and / or the people, etc.). We in the Anglican Catholic Church usually use the language of the people for the liturgy, a clearly Anglican principle. Some pastoral adaptation is necessary, and there I differ from Msgr Gromier.

      I offered Gromier’s essay as a “point of view”, and I thank you for sending us that of Parsch. That makes for the wealth of this blog.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Father, I was not affronted, but was simply taken aback somewhat by the unforgiving character of the critique. I think liturgy is an area in which, truly, the spirit must precede the letter whenever the pax Christi is threatened. As I write my reply, I am listening to the choir of Salisbury Cathedral singing Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus, and they are being very sublime about it. (I have myself sung the tenor part in not only that motet but also his Mass for Three Voices and appreciate deeply what they are doing). I love the Latin repertoire, but also the finest Anglican cathedral music which also speaks to me. A truly ‘catholic’ liturgy would be one enriched by both, and by both the liturgical spiritualities that underpin each. When I hear either, though, in their best and most unselfconscious settings, I find myself in that state of mind that realises that there is no reason whatsoever why a Roman or an Anglican should change affiliation: it is like the choice between an apple and a peach. And much as I love Latin however, I do fully embrace and endorse the vernacular liturgy and reading the Gospel facing the people. I think these are profoundly important to a balanced and wholesome service. I think the Anglican liturgies are integral and whole unto themselves.

        If I may, I will conclude with a little more Parsch, speaking of the Exsultet:

        Beneath the inspired word of this ancient Christian composition lies a spiritual world which makes us feel intuitively the nobility of Christianity. Words are bodies that have a soul; this soul must be known if the words are to be fully understood. What does the Exsultet tell us about the Easter mystery?

        …….the hymn speaks of Easter night as a sacrament. This is an extremely important observation for we have become so accustomed to evaluate feasts in terms of emotion or spiritual edification that is moral in nature. We assume that we have celebrated Easter worthily if we have been thrilled spiritually and have made a few good resolutions……..The essential effect of the Easter mystery cannot be senses, for it is sacramental in nature. Something happens deep within the spiritual recesses of our souls: Christ enters to bring His saving grace. Of this we must be utterly convinced.

        The Exsultet stresses this point and we must take its words literally: “This is the very night which delivers all who believe in Christ………” Spiritual elevation to union with God through the power of Christ is what this holy night accomplishes, even though we experience the very opposite in and around ourselves.

        There seems so much to contemplate here!

      • Mozart once said that the Exultet is the most beautiful music ever written and that he would have given all his works to be able to say that he had written it.

        Here is my little article on Holy Saturday for nearly two years ago – Simplified Easter Vigil (I was not yet in the ACC).

    • Francis says:

      Dear Stephen K,

      It seems to me that while Gromier’s tone can offend delicate natures, yet the points he was making as to the internal coherence of the Holy Week are surely more important than the quirks of his personality. Similarly, Saint Chrysostom and countless Church Fathers do no eschew strong language – which does not constitute a reason either to disregard the points they make by relativising them. The truth of an argument is surely what matters more than its garb. Indeed, I prefer the wit of Msgr Gromier to the solemn arrogance and pompous tone of the Pastorals claiming to know everything and to restore everything.

      But I must here reveal my true colours as favouring the pre-Pian Holy Week rite. And I find Dom Gueranger and some Cistercian meditations on the Liturgical Year far superior to Parsch whom I have read as well – but that’s a matter of taste.

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