A Sobering Article

There is a blog on which fewer posts are put up, but when they are, they are well thought out and often profound. One is Gathering a Sense of the Lay of the Liturgical Land : The contemporary context.

I share many of these reflections, to a large extent through my own experience in the parishes of Quarré-les-Tombes and Saint Léger Vauban in the French Archdiocese of Sens-Auxerre. It was once of those badly calculated efforts to “mainstream” the Tridentine liturgy in an ordinary parish in the French countryside. The priest was hurriedly ordained in Rome as the opportunity arose. I was later sent there as a deacon to help the inexperienced priest. As time wore on, by 1995, the depressing reality became obvious. If you want to be Roman Catholic, you have to accept the Novus Ordo. That message has become that much clearer since the abdication of Benedict XVI.

True, there will remain traditionalist priestly institutes and religious communities as legislated by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Under Pope Francis, they will receive no support or encouragement – and perhaps restrictions may be on the horizon if the Argentinian Pope can be bothered. We have to face the fact that it is over in Europe. American Catholicism becomes less conservative, or at least less liturgical, and Africa is a whole different world. Even traditionalist Anglicans are using altars facing the people and probably rites close to the Novus Ordo.

We have our own choices to make, go in a different direction that may have a future, or be prepared to die with our liturgical traditionalism. I have often felt pressure in my life to conform for the sake of evangelism. They say that the page has to be turned. It seems like the eighteenth century in Lutheran Germany when the Catholic ways were abandoned in favour of Pietism and low-church services. Perhaps that is the way it has to be, and it brings me to ask very profound questions. If all we have known and loved has to go, why was it there in the first place? For some of us, the choice seems to be between going on with it for our lifetimes and let go for any consideration for what will follow our deaths. We have nothing to offer the youth, but they don’t go to any services anywhere. The old fallacy of twanging guitars to get the young people back to church is worn out and trashed. The other choice under the pressure of the sheer indifference is “if you can’t beat them join them” – give up and become non-religious people. The existential questions and the emotional scars remain…

My reaction has been to try to find inspiration in monasticism but in a way as can be honestly lived by those who don’t have a monastic vocation, who live in the modern world, are married. Perhaps we just have to cross that one out too, or try to make something of the idea. It worked quite well in nineteenth and early twentieth century French parishes. In our days, we have idealistic young men who adopt the liturgy and old religious observances as a kind of “hobby”, and acquire a degree of knowledge about liturgical history, theology and ceremonies that matches or even exceeds that of priests. Even these men are too individualistic to act in their own best interest and found some kind of community or regular celebration of the Office. That takes a lot of self-discipline, and many of those “romantics” just don’t have it.

In 2019, the Novus Ordo will be fifty years old and that is more than enough time for the Tridentine liturgy to be as forgotten as the Sarum Use that attracts liturgical historians and romantic enthusiasts. The pontificate of Benedict XVI raised expectations, but the hammer blow came with the abdication of February 2013 and the election of Cardinal Bergoglio.

Many of these things went through my mind in my many divagations between high-church Anglicanism in its London version (as I was exposed to it in the years 1978-81) and traditionalist Roman Catholicism. Exposure to the “normal” Church was cruel and bitter, since I have to admit that my being attracted to liturgical Christianity was primarily aesthetic before acquiring the theological and spiritual dimensions. I noticed that monks in monasteries were living in totalitarian societies and sacrificed their very personalities, like in a cult. Have choices to be made?

Catholicism is growing in the world outside Europe and North America, but by assimilating the externals of evangelical Protestantism and pietism in the form of charismatic pentecostalism. It is the same thing with the Anglican Communion in those countries, even when they are conservative in terms of sexual ethics and doctrine.

The great advantage of the Anglican Catholic Church and other continuing jurisdictions is the relative flexibility due to our being less institutionalised than the “official” Anglican Communion or the Roman Catholic Church. We have a vernacular liturgy. I celebrate in Latin when alone, but in the vernacular (English or French) when there are some souls at Mass from my in-laws. Most priests in my Diocese use the Anglican Missal, and I have expressed my willingness to use it in a pastoral setting with lay Anglicans accustomed to it. My choice of Sarum goes back to about 2009 when I clearly disassociated myself in my mind from the Roman Catholic traditionalists. I was at the time in the TAC and still used the Tridentine missal until early 2008. I celebrated the Novus Ordo two or three times (London Oratory style) and found there was no point in it, at least for me. It made no difference. I found the various Anglican attempts to twist around the Prayer Book rites in the old Ritualist and Dearmerite tradition unconvincing. Sarum was a liturgy I didn’t have to do anything with – just use it as in the book and be a part of the historical Church. It enabled me to settle emotionally and spiritually.

There is the argument of culture and art in the question of using Latin, especially musical settings which would otherwise be confined to concerts and recordings. Few churches have choirs and competent organists, so the question is academic.

Many Roman Catholics have opted for the Society of St Pius X, but they find it is not like the parishes in the old days (for those born before 1930 or 1940). It represents traditionalism that is self-conscious. Continuing Anglicanism is also self-conscious, but perhaps a little less so. There are small sedevacantist communities, some of which have acquired some measure of stability and others that bear many vagante characteristics. I can’t help noticing that most people are not interested in religion. Most of the minority are interested for the wrong reasons (political ideology, family reasons, etc.). Many of the “elect” with the “right” reasons are too unstable to perpetuate a sustainable community.

In the end, Roman Catholicism implies the Papal ecclesiology that goes back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, codified in the nineteenth. The Roman Catholic Church will never go back to the old liturgy, and the criticisms of the new liturgy are valid but increasingly irrelevant. This brings Roman Catholics to a clear choice: go along with the mainstream wherever it goes, become Orthodox, become continuing Anglican or give up.  To be honest about the Anglican Catholic Church, it became so messed up in the 1990’s that it is very difficult to re-establish its reputation as a serious Church and its stability. We are working on it and men like Bishop Damien Mead have obtained wonderful results with very little money and little in the way of a “big picture” view among the clergy and people. We are still at a balancing point. I am aware of our fragility and the fact that western liturgical Christianity is presently on its last legs. Tridentine, Sarum or Prayer Book, we are made to feel like museum pieces with a limited shelf life. There is the Orthodox option, but conditions in that Church (or collection of churches more or less in communion with each other) seem to indicate the possibility of the kind of blow-back that happened in Roman Catholicism in the 1960’s. They are ethnical churches and are not interested in western converts with the same kind of “romantic” outlook as converts to Roman Catholicism in the nineteenth century. None of us can afford to be triumphalistic because we can so easily saw off the branch from under us.

I think the essential thing for us is to live in the world as best as we can, responding to everything with Christian love but by keeping ourselves to the Catacombs in terms of stereotypes. It was the reaction of many French priests after World War II in their desire to reach out to the people where they were – at work, at home, engaged in hobbies, sports and culture. I don’t seem to have found a better idea, except that I stay out of politics. Christianity is a religion of self-sacrifice and abnegation – some would say we have to go with the majority – others will see things more profoundly and prepare for obscurity and death, terrena despicere et amare cælestia – the formula we find in many of our prayers in the eschatological view of our faith. We care little for our own lives, following the teaching of Christ, because something better lies beyond our bodily death. That is a dimension of Christianity that is largely forgotten in the “happy-clappy” parishes with which we cannot relate without malaise and bitterness.

The Church is facing this death, to be resurrected in this life or another. To those of us attached to old liturgical forms and the theory of the liturgy expressed by Orthodox theologians and German Benedictine monks, we live another life and an anticipation of this Paschal mystery. Perhaps a few of us can go on through the dark tunnel of sadness, yet of hope, and do what we can for a better future. It isn’t without reason that I continue to refer to New Goliards, the drop outs and “hippies” of the middle ages who were marginal clerics who saw the world through humour and satire. Many of us are not made for the mainstream or for the way things are going. We can’t claim to be the only “true” ones to be “saved”, but we can continue to be ourselves as we seem to have been made. Marginal people can also be ministered to, and Christ came above all for them as for sinners and the sick. Perhaps our pain will bring us to a more radical view of the way Christ gave us, and to a deep spirituality a vision that goes beyond the usual fare. I can only hope so…

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26 Responses to A Sobering Article

  1. optina20 says:

    Father- I’ve really been enjoying your blog, it’s a breath of fresh air. Some years back I converted to the Roman Catholic Church and after being so revolted by the Pauline Mass I turned trad, only to find out that the tradworld was not much more than antiquarianism and triumphalism in a Church that had abandoned both. I tried the whole Orthodox thing but could never totally shake my Western ways, and so now I find myself sort of in limbo, a Catholic who loves Gregorian chant and the Mass in Latin but has no use for scholastic theology and the trad worldview, who prays the Benedictine Office and the Jesus Prayer and makes the sign of the cross like an old believer and who is skeptical of the papacy but who still somewhat identifies with Rome. Strange huh? I don’t know anymore what I consider myself! Somehow much of what you say resonates with me. Thanks for your somewhat off kilter way of looking at things, they make me feel like I’m not totally alone in this.

    • There seems to be lots of you about. We’re probably too individualistic and flighty to get together for an Office or the Mass. In any case, we live on different continents. You might find a home in Continuing Anglicanism if you don’t express yourself too much and keep your hidden garden quiet. Above all, it is important to relax and spend time in natural surroundings. The Gnostics once classified people as spirituals, psychics and hylics. The “hylics” were in the teaching of Valentinus the basest type of person, attracted to neither intellectual (psychic) nor spiritual (pneumatic) reality. Churches, at least the mainstream ones, seem to be made for “hylics”. I don’t know if you or I could claim to be spiritual or any better than anyone else, but we are aware of the issue. Most people aren’t.

    • You might consider the Anglican Ordinariate. I would have recommended the Greek Catholics (my choice) but if you are too attached to the Western praxis for that then its not an option.

      My limited experience with the Ordinariate was extremely positive. It was an excellent mix of liturgical good sense and normal human beings, which are two things that are very rarely found in the same place.

      • Indeed he might consider this possibility, if there is a parish in his part of the world. Yes, there are also the Greek Catholics. It depends on the degree to which optina20 wishes to stay in communion with Rome. That’s up to him and his conscience.

    • JV says:

      It’s not strange at all. In fact, it is becoming increasingly common in the States. This is the context we are in – a period of great, perhaps epochal, change. Where Western Christianity ends up is anyone’s guess.

      • I see parallels with Christianity under the Soviet regime. The moral and spiritual persecution we suffer should bring us to a loving and contemplative life, and purge our faith from all ideology and bigotry (“left” or “right”). The way religious people all too often behave invites atheists to debunk Christianity and other religions and be convincing to the general population. We are not going to rebuild Christendom, just keep a catacomb or two alive.

  2. Patricius says:

    In many ways, this transition period from liturgical Christianity to something else was inevitable. Sometimes I see it as the “real-life” long-defeat as spoken of in The Lord of the Rings. We liturgical folk are fighting a losing battle. If Liturgy is the waking memory of the Church then we are done for. Salvation comes only through Christ and in Heaven there is more than memory.

    The liturgy in the West is now to be found only in old service books in academic libraries or private collections, such as mine or yours. I say the pre-Pius X office (when I can be bothered), and 1662 Mattins if I feel like it, but I don’t go to any church for Sundays or feasts and this kind of privatization of liturgy is almost as aliturgical as the happy-clappies themselves. Where on earth would I go for Sunday services anyway? I had thought of going to my grandmother’s old parish in Chislehurst. They have 1662 Mattins once a month and at least that would be some kind of community…

    • I thought you would come in here.

      An interesting subject to study would be the transition of high-church Lutheranism in the 18th century to pietism and rationalism.
      On Incarnational Theology and High Church Pietism by Rolf Preus
      Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism
      Liturgy and Pietism: Then and Now

      I found these by looking in Google for “liturgical lutheranism and pietism”

      It seems a precedent to what happened in the Roman Catholic Church, when you think of the charismatics and the attraction of the present Pope to the Evangelicals in South America. It was an odd chemical reaction in the 18th century between pietism (Wesley was of this tendency) and rationalism that brought disbelief in anything miraculous. I see many parallels now. We know how the 18th century ended, at least in France – and there was a fresh start in the early 19th century with Romanticism. Will such a thing happen again?

      The only thing I could think of would be some kind of “Benedictine Oblate” idea without swanning around dressed as monks. Another is to get some medieval and plainsong men’s choir going and sing together, and see if that leads to some wanting to sing more or less regular Offices together. I sympathise with you saying the Office alone. I say Mass alone and it can be heavy-going, but if I didn’t say it alone, I wouldn’t say it at all. I don’t blame people for not being interested, because it is too far from their culture and they haven’t the foggiest idea what it means. If they do, they are Roman Catholics and go to their church. I suppose it’s like us and the traditions of Buddhist monasticism or Japanese Shinto – we don’t know anything unless we take the trouble of finding out because there is a reason to do so.

      My dream is a Church small enough to be a community of friends. That is something I found with the ACC, with the wonderful feeling of togetherness at the last Council of Advice meeting we held in London. There need to be new and small beginnings.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        With apologies if it is too lazy or puppy-headed a request, but could you also recommend anything to read (online) about what seems a curious Eighteenth- & early Nineteenth-century phenomenon of the rise and promotion of German vernacular liturgical texts in the Latin world? Schubert’s “Deutsche Messe” (1827) is a widely known example, but I’ve run into German Mass Ordinary settings by Conrad Franz Xaver Gruber, too. And then there is Beethoven’s suggestion to his publisher, Härtel, in July 1808 about the possible appeal of a performable German translation of the Latin ordinary text as he set it in his Mass in C. Härtel took him up on this, and commissioned Christian Schreiber to do it, and Beethoven’s detailed comments on the result survive in a letter of 16 January 1811.

        (Speaking of Beethoven on this 144th anniversary of his birth, did you happen to following the attention two years ago to Beethoven’s sketches from c. 1820 for a ‘Tantum ergo’/’pange lingua’ setting? The “University of Manchester” account on YouTube has a reconstructed performance under the title “Lost Beethoven hymn – Pange lingua”.)

      • This might set you on track. The vernacular has a long tradition in Germany, especially from around the Council of Constance.

      • Dale says:

        The Latin Mass in vernaculars is far more widespread than most people know. The Roman rite, before the changes of Vatican II was celebrated in both Greek as well as Church Slavonic, and other languages, actually the oldest form of Church Slavonic, Glagolithic, is only found in the Roman rite tradition.

        Personally, I think that what will kill the return of the older mass, at least in the Roman communion, is the fixation that so many of its supporters have for using exclusively Latin; a very, very odd fixation actually. But those of us of the Anglo-Catholic tradition are quite used to the full Roman rite, in the English Missal, being celebrated in real English and not the Americanese (or what ever language it is supposed to be, regardless, it is certainly not English, and the new translation is really not too much better) now found in the novus ordo.

      • I don’t think it’s only the language. It’s the whole ethos of our liturgy as opposed to something “inculturated” to modern pop culture and TV entertainment. “Official” and continuing Anglicans use the English / Anglican missals, and we don’t draw the crowds. It’s a nice idea, but it won’t wash with most people. To most people, religion is what the atheists say – and that’s it. As I have already commented, we just need to keep going and be loving and open. The doors are open even if no one is interested. We carry on all the same.

      • Dale says:

        Yes, Fr Anthony, you are completely correct. The old mass and the supposed reform of the reform is never going to happen in the Roman Communion. It will continue to travel down the road of liturgical mediocrity and cultural leveling.

        Soon the only thing Catholic about Rome will be a type of Pope worship, not too much more; and that will be viable only so long as the Pope continues to be one of the glitterati. If he disappears from off the front page, he is finished.

      • I do the most I can to avoid being gratuitously insulting to any Church, but I try to see things finely. The question of “Pope worship” will depend on who is Pope, and it seems to me to be increasingly moot. The tendency will, I think, be conditioned by the enormous losses the RC Church is sustaining in South America to Evangelical communities and missions. The RC Church has to adapt to the market and compete with Evangelical Protestantism as with TV entertainment and the rest. I remember a conversation with a friend shortly before the death of John Paul II, in March 2005 – and we spoke of the next Papal election indicating whether or not Europe is finished or whether it still has a chance. My friend spoke about Ratzinger and Bergoglio, and this was a few weeks before John Paul II died. With the abdication of Benedict XVI, Vatican policy is no longer interested in Europe. If the market is Africa and South America, the RC Church has to be a stronger and richer church than the American mega-church missions. That seems to be what it comes down to.

        I have the impression the successor of Francis will be in a suit rather than a white cassock. Peu importe!

      • Dale says:

        I don’t know Fr Anthony. With the now quickie canonizations of recent Popes, there does seem to be whiff of worship in the air. The follow article, well for one whose background is Anglo-Catholic, seems indeed odd:


        I do not think that this is insulting in anyway, but it appears that more and more Roman Catholicism is simply defined by the person and personality of its leader.

  3. Timothy Graham says:

    Dear Fr, I like the idea of an oblate community, to help with my own struggle to pray through the pre-Pian Breviary, and try to sing some of Compline daily with a small family. There must be plenty of people who are willing to give each other a hand with this kind of thing – chant, observance of kalendar etc. – but need some kind of community to keep them going.

    • I have thought of the idea many times, but I am not the one with organisational abilities or resources, or even with particularly good social skills. The problem is people living far apart, organising a place for people to get together at times and dates when people are free from work and family duties – and can spare money for travelling. I have never found a way to make the idea a reality. I tried an e-mail list but it got drowned out by trolls. We seem to be individually responsible for what we do, and we already help each other by making printed material available on the internet, like liturgical calendars. There are classes where it is possible to learn Gregorian chant, at least the notes, rhythm and neumes for those unable to read modern musical notation.

      I am always open to ideas, and am still thinking about some kind of Sarum gathering (for talks and seminars and liturgical celebrations).

  4. Timothy Graham says:

    I wonder if it would be possible to set up a site, with links to existing resources? A place for people to meet who have want to live the life of an oblate, where they can pick things up at their own pace, but also with some kind of forum for people to meet, or to e-mail privately. If a meeting in the flesh came about, so much the better.

    • This was partly the idea of this blog and the New Goliards theme as being more adaptable than strict monastic oblatism. My philosophy of life is essentially anarchist and informal. I am open to ideas for some kind of meeting, but conflicts have to be anticipated and managed. It needs a lot of thought and the right person to do the organising.

  5. Rubricarius says:

    A sobering article indeed, but a very good one too. I think it is easy to forget that society at large has changed along with liturgical rites. Last weekend there was a news report about illegal immigrants clinging on to the undersides of HGVs at Calais and falling off – probably due to the freezing conditions – on the M25. One man ran off but another was crushed by the wheels of the HGV. Apparently the driver of the car behind the HGV got out of his car, moved the crushed body of the immigrant out of the way and then just drove off. If that behaviour is typical of modern western society I would suggest liturgy is not going to have much of a chance.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      “A sobering article indeed, but a very good one too”: I agree!

      “I think it is easy to forget that society at large has changed along with liturgical rites.” If it is not too presumptious a suggestion, there seems very weighty matter here upon which I would be grateful for the reflections of Fr. Anthony Chadwick, and other knowledgeable and thoughtful frequent commenters here.

      About all I’ve read is Dix for outline and Daniélou for details (and some Parsch for a bit of both), as far as liturgy and liturgical history is concerned, but what times and circumstances, ‘inhumanly all too human’, the developments and continuities of ‘the shape of the liturgy’ in its various manifestations has survived! What government and mission-field murderousness, and what ecclesiastical politics!

      My immediate impression is that both ‘liturgy’ and ‘liturgical communities’ considered pretty generally and abstractly, have often been robust enough to survive/been sustained despite tremendous horrors.

      If the general Christian situation today is different (apart from the technical sophistication of persecutors) – as C.S. Lewis often seemed intent on arguing, a half-century and more ago – what differences, whether seemingly obvious or not, peculiarly may indeed “suggest liturgy is not going to have much of a chance”?

    • Indeed, the more I drive on the road, the more I hate it!

      You ought to take up sailing and dinghy cruising. We have boats propelled only by sail and oar. Some of the delightful people I have met in Brittany show another side of human nature and the “sparks of divinity”. We help each other with practical things and we share our philosophy of freedom at sea. I have had some wonderful experiences, and I’m sure the Church would be reborn with these people if it ever became possible to detach liturgy and beauty from the “Machine”.

  6. Martin Hartley says:

    Fr Antony

    An idea, which I don’t know whether is practical or not. I have little or no knowledge about IT and its possibilities so maybe my suggestion would simply not work

    Could an online facility be set up whereby those who wish could log in at an appropriate time and join in with an Office or Mass, with the intention of each of us being able to hear each other and become a virtual congregation. Naturally we would have to know what rite was going to be used, and have suitable books available,but that is a detail. One can often listen to liturgy from various places, but joining in does not seem possible with that set up, although if it was a Mass, and the listener was in orders, a ‘co-celebration’ would seem possible.

    Perhaps someone who has the technical knowledge could think about this and then we could see what was possible

  7. JV says:

    Thank you for your kind words regarding my post.
    I realize I am fairly infrequent with writing. The “off-line” world is a bit busy; rarely do I have enough in me to look at a computer screen at the end of the day. So, posting tends to come about in fits and starts. There is much to chew on in your response. Hopefully I will have something more substantial to contribute to the conversation later.

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