Again, I go into a subject from which there is little to conclude definitively. I do so because there have been a few exchanges between one blog and another. The real issue I read in these various posts is one of rubricism. The articles in question are The Traditional Roman Liturgy Question and Eastern Liturgics and the heads-up I got from a surprising reaction from my old friend in Kent, Fred Phelps… The latter article gives a link to the former, which contains a considerable amount of finesse and a more theological view of the liturgy.
On this subject, I have always been fascinated by the work on the Christliche Kultmysterium notions of Dom Odo Casel, Louis Bouyer, Joseph Ratzinger, Klaus Gamber and a German priest I knew well as a student at Fribourg, Fr Martin Reinecke. There is a whole school, mostly Germans, that has influenced my way of thinking and make me sympathetic to an approach that compared the spirit of the liturgy in the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, not forgetting the Non-Chalcedonians. It is also a view of the liturgy formed by the spirit of Benedictine monasticism, of which I acquired a taste during my six months at Triors Abbey in 1997.
Gabriel Sanchez writes in a very interesting way. If I recall, I had occasional exchanges of e-mails with him in the early 2000’s, and then we lost contact. In his blog, he mentions being Greek Catholic, but there is no mention of his being a priest or not. In his first paragraphs, he comments on the issue of the process of liturgical reform from about 1950, which affected the Holy Week ceremonies in the Roman rite. I remember my days at Gricigliano and our MC, the late Fr Frank Quöex. Many of my fellow seminarians had been in the Society of St Pius X and sought a more liturgical than political view of Catholicism. Though we officially followed 1962, we did a lot of tweaking like the use of folded chasubles and the old Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday. I would agree, from the experience of more than two years in that seminary with lots of lace, pom-poms, buckled shoes and all the tat you could imagine, that most of the time, 1962 is hardly different from previous editions of the Roman missal since 1570. Many commemorations were dropped. We still had the “third Confiteor” after the priest’s Communion at Gricigliano. Nobody minded, whether in our community or in Rome. There is also the French spirit in contrast with Anglo-Saxon rubricism – a small amount of sloppiness isn’t such a bad thing!
I can understand a Roman Catholic point of view wanting to put aside unessential differences in order to make progress with a traditional liturgy rather than the Novus Ordo. One would have the impression that everyone following 1962 would bring about strength in unity, and then go about some careful twisting, just like our Anglo-Catholic clergy in London in the first years of the twentieth century. With the experience I have had, I understand the issue – but I am no longer a part of it. I am deeply alienated spiritually and emotionally, profoundly marked and this has had its effect on my priestly calling. The Anglicanism I now embody as a priest in the ACC is not quite the same as when I was a church organist in the 1970’s and a chorister before then. Nothing is quite right, but I have to live with imperfections and discrepancies, first of all within myself.
I joined the TAC directly under Archbishop Hepworth (Patrimony of the Primate was my canonical title) in 2005 and continued to use the Roman rite to which I had been fully accustomed for many years. I still have the small format altar missal I was given to me by the German priest I mentioned above, a missal dating from the early 1940’s. As the years went by, I was aware of an enormous discrepancy between using the post-Counter-Reformation Roman missal and being an Anglican of sorts. Yes, we officially used the English Missal and the Anglican Missal, two translations of the Tridentine missal adapted to absorb the content of the Prayer Book Communion Service and thus justify its existence. In the ACC, we have the Anglican Missal, and most of our praxis in England is very similar to the Roman Catholics in the Society of St Pius X and the Latin Mass Society. To this day, I still use my late baroque French chalice and the Latin vestments I made when I was a student on my old Bernina sewing machine. As we moved into 2008, I became quite restless and considered Sarum. I knew the arguments against it: that it was totally obsolete, no longer a part of “living tradition”, eccentric, you name it. I felt I had to break with the Roman rite to finish off the chapter in my life from about 1981 until the time when I left the Institute of Christ the King in the 1990’s. The chapter could have closed in one of many ways, but I continued to pursue the priesthood. I began by using the Warren translation of the Sarum Use, which I still do occasionally, but I usually use the nineteenth-century Latin edition by Dickinson. It makes no difference to my wife or anyone else, but it has made the difference for me.
I mention this because it colours my way of seeing the problems with the Roman rite. I turned my back to it, both in its pre-Pius XII form and 1962 and 1965. I had exposure to the 1965 liturgy at Triors, a daughter house of Fontgombault Abbey, itself a daughter of Solesmes. The looseness of the 1965 liturgy would suit the sobriety and asceticism of the monastic liturgy. The processions in the cloister and Salve Sancte Dies on Easter morning made me think of Sarum. Something now only done by monks used to be done also by cathedral canons and secular clergy. We were close at Gricigliano, but we were a seminary and had to curtail the liturgical routine to some extent for the sake of academic work and other aspects of our community life. We had Lauds, Sext, Vespers and Compline each day, of which the latter two were sung in full. I was the regular organist from 1990 until 1992.
During the dark months of early 1997 when I was at Triors, I went through a period of near-depression. I had long talks with the Abbot about acedia (a subject on which I have written). I experienced suffering from suffering from the liturgy! Matins went on and on and on… I knew I did not have a monastic vocation, for that reason and others. One thing that struck in particular me was the notion in Dom Delatte’s commentary on the Rule of St Benedict about the way of forming novices à vase clos, à l’étouffée, like food in a pressure cooker. The layers of the soul are peeled away as the novice relinquishes his own being to give himself entirely to God. The monastic commitment is total. You own nothing, not even your own mind. It is that radical! Is it wrong? I don’t think so, but the idea and the suffering from their liturgical asceticism pierced me to the core. I would never be a monk!
Is it possible to have liturgy without that level of asceticism? Parish liturgy for ordinary folk has always been “Catholicism Lite“. It had to be. The diocesan cathedral would have given a much fuller liturgy, but still, offices like Matins would be said in private except for major occasions like Holy Week and Christmas. This is the compromise we have all had to learn to make, some of us very painfully.
I have very little experience of the Byzantine tradition. I once went to Liturgy at the Greek cathedral in London, but I remember very little of the experience. The Russian cathedral at Ennismore Gardens made more of an impression. I heard Metropolitan Anthony preach a couple of times, and I discerned his profound monastic spirituality. I once attended a Coptic Liturgy, which I found thoroughly confusing.
What would have been done in medieval England? The late Dr Ray Winch conjectured a comparison between a fifteenth century country parish with Cyprus and Crete in our own day. Is this still so, or do those people also have television and smartphones? The emerging ideal would be what some trendy Anglicans would call “messy church”, being sloppy and making concessions to the “old religion” (pre-Christian paganism). I think old Fr Montgomery-Wright reproduced it fairly well in his parish in Normandy until his death in 1996. He had been an Anglo-Catholic priest in London, became a Roman Catholic and preferred French sloppiness to English priggishness and rubricism. My own life had its parallels with his, but we lived at different times and I had to be myself. Normandy was once quite “Sarum”, which is hardly surprising since Sarum is essentially the Use of Rouen with a few bits from the Mozarabic tradition. My priestly life is now one of a “Goliard”, essentially the secular life of an “ordinary guy” with the gift of the priesthood.
What do I make of “Pray as you can, not as you wish you could”, the question from an old Russian priest quoted in the article? We have no choice. I can only ever celebrate Low Mass – for the simple reason that I am alone. It is that or nothing. On feasts, I will make the effort to sing and incense the Oblata at the Offertory. It can be done with the thurible stand near the altar. Already, doing things like that would be taking big liberties in the Roman rite. Sarum is much less codified, though the canons of Salisbury were the most exacting and rigorous of England. I believe in following rules wherever possible. Today, I celebrated St Michael of Mount Tumba. The proper specifies that the Creed is said. I was tempted to omit it, but dutifully obeyed the rubric. At the same time, I was celebrating alone and playing fast and loose in many ways. The Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The French sloppiness has rubbed off on me, but not completely.
Finally, the problems in the RC Church are not mine. My Bishop lets me do what I do, something he and I have always understood. The different groups of Roman Catholics can do what they want, and I am unconcerned. At the same time, I relate something of my own experience. I do think it is unfair to be hard on boys in their twenties writing intemperately on their blogs. I didn’t even have a computer at his age, let alone internet or a blog, but I think I might have been worse. Thank heaven for small mercies… Lay people got “into” liturgy because they felt betrayed by their clergy. It is easy for clergy to be – – – clerical, and look down their noses at the “ignorant” laity. Many liturgical problems come from there.
We continuing Anglicans and the RC traditionalists have dreamt for many years about unity and strength coming from unity. I don’t think we are meant to be strong and bring about model and ideal parishes and cathedrals. It is another point I have discussed, the idea of “weak” Christianity that gives strength at a different and spiritual level. It is a point of view the right-wing reactionaries despise.
I see little point in liturgical discussions on the internet. In an anecdotal vein, I am subscribed to a couple of e-mail lists on dinghy sailing, also a couple of groups on Facebook. For me, sailing is something you do in your boat when it is floating on the water. Of course, we can learn from each other about navigation, safety, ways of dealing with different conditions at sea, also about the boat itself and the technical stuff – but there too, people get pedantic and out of proportion with their self-expression. I found the same thing with musicians – and indeed with all groupings based on interests in common. We can only share so much with other people.
In the end of the day, if we are priests, we can say Mass. If we are on our own, we can do pretty well what we want or believe to be best. If we are in a parish, we have to take notice of what the Bishop says and what the people are used to. That is simply pastoral common sense. When you’re at the ball, you are expected to dance. Whether or not we are priests, we can say the Office. It is good to sing the Office together – that’s what it is designed for – but we just do it alone when a common celebration isn’t possible. We need to be more interior, more detached, and more humble in the knowledge that our treasures are other people’s trash. The world is like that, and indeed what we have made it into.
Young people are keen and passionate. When we get older, our priorities change. I used to dream about the possibility of getting people together for celebrations of the Sarum liturgy. It has been done in Oxford and Toronto in Canada. There are young fellows in England who have staged liturgical reconstructions, and may have others planned for the future. We English have more contagious hobbies than in other countries where such eccentricities would fall flat on their faces. No attempt to found a stable community on the basis of a particular rite has ever been successful, only when some other theological or political ideology was the focal point. No attempt to set up a “Sarum parish” will ever succeed, nor even one based on the pre-1962 Roman liturgy. There are of course the sedevacantists who are something of a western equivalent of the Поповцы and Безпоповцы Old Believers in seventeenth-century Russia.
It is human nature to fix onto “things” because they give us security. Christian asceticism has always preached detachment from things that console and give security, like the Benedictine novice in the “cooking pot”. We will always live in this dilemma, since our religious practices, like the Jewish Sabbath, were made to help us on our way. One real problem is that the Churches talk of “inculturation”, but we are “exculturated”, a sacrificed generation. We have now to re-discover Christianity, but in a different way. The dream is broken, but we still try to salvage a few bits and pieces.
Have a look at the sites I mentioned. Try to get behind the façades and the kind of expression that can remind us of our own brash and youthful passion. I had to find my own way out of the morass, a little corner of Christianity to which I could hope to relate full-heartedly and with both faith and humanity. Our young friend has dabbled quite a lot in London Anglicanism, but it was not for him. Foxes have holes… but the Son of Man? Do we still have anywhere we can call home spiritually?
Our treasure is other people’s trash. That is just something we have to accept, and then we get on with life. I would like to recommend a wonderful book I read many years ago by the French author Pierre de Calan, Cosmas or the Love of God. Brief review. It is an excellent parable for us all.