I suppose this is yet another variation on the old theme. I am occasionally confronted with the view according to which I must relate to the “masses” and adapt my religion as a priest in order to minister to all these people. For this, it would no longer be possible to use something like the Anglican Missal or the archaic English translation of the Sarum Use, but rather use something like the Paul VI Roman rite with the 1970’s translation.
It is easy to criticise modern liturgies as some by-product of our machine and consumer age where everything can be bought, is used for as long as it operates, and is then thrown away to be replaced by a new one, or even the improved model. It is more difficult to reflect on one’s own position and reasons for a different way of seeing things. Should I be “out there”, preaching in the market square and making converts for Christ according to the Great Commission? It is not my vocation, because I don’t have the charisma or social skills for it. I think some priests and lay missionaries can and should in the way they do best, but it is not me. I do believe in the Pauline vision of the Church that proposes a single body in Christ but consisting of different talents and gifts like the different limbs and organs of the body.
I come across these arguments about the modern liturgy being able to draw the crowds and that the old liturgies are only good to be put in a museum or scrapped like old cars. The other argument is returning to the norms of a “pristine” period in the history of the Church. Such a “pristine” period never existed, and Christians were squabbling and fighting against each other in the time of St Paul. Sometimes, the argument for modern liturgy comes from the traditionalist criticism that it come from Protestant sources. Rather the other way round. I would conjecture that most Protestantism with anything resembling a Eucharist imitated what developed in the Roman Catholic Church from about the 1930’s in France and Germany. Roman Catholics were the first to experiment with Mass facing the people from the idea that it was the norm of the “primitive” Church. In fact, I would refer my readers to Monsignor Klaus Gamber’s Zum Herrn hin (turned to the Lord) in German or any available translation. The same German liturgical scholar also wrote the excellent book Die Reform des Römischen Liturgie. Then another monument came out, Dom Alcuin Reid’s The Organic Development of the Liturgy and the T&T Clark Companion to Liturgy which contains my modest chapter on the Tridentine missal. The election of Cardinal Ratzinger to the Papacy in 2005 was a double-edged sword in many ways, but encouraged scholarship and honesty about these liturgical questions. Thus, I approach the issue from a frankly elitist point of view. I leave pastoral considerations and claims to other priests. Both “sides” are too simplistic.
My own life and the way I am brought me to a highly critical position about the world I live in. I once had to answer the question of my own family – why I was so traditionalist and “conventional” in many ways whilst at the same time a rebel, an anti-authoritarian, a dreamer. Many of my Boomer generation took drugs and stopped washing, went to India and Mongolia in search of their particular holy grails. I retreated into a pre-modern world where I have remained ever since. I discovered that this is what some Aspergers people do, what the Romantics did in a time that was a close analogy of our own. My own brother said to me in quite a chilling way You don’t relate to ordinary people. I have discussed this many times when examining my own conscience and my calling as a priest.
If this appeal to modernity is an imperative, and if the Paul VI rite appeals to the masses, I am unmoved. I am not part of any mass, and my blog tends to accumulate persons who feel the same way. I would go further in the pastoral argument usque ad absurdam: most people, about 70% in England have absolutely no experience of churchgoing. For a smaller proportion, the world is as Richard Dawkins says - brute matter and we are no more than biological machines. That kind of world has no time for anything other than money and what money can buy. Why would people relate to any liturgy? Liturgies don’t draw crowds but Billy Graham did as do the money-and-bling mega-churches in America. That vision of things fills me with anxiety, until I take stock and have the courage to say that this is not an imperative for me.
I return to my Mystery School idea. In the 18th century, it was Freemasonry or the Rosicrucians. I see no need for funny handshakes or secrets, but I think the future of Christianity is behind closed doors where we know each other. I have thought of the possibility of ordinary people, if they feel attracted to Christianity, being something like the Quakers until they are ready to be initiated into a liturgical life that is higher in ideal than any of us. I have the highest esteem for the Quakers. They go and quietly pray, and if someone is moved to say a word to edify his brethren, he gets up and does so. They are terrific and noble souls. The silence is as challenging as Gregorian chant to someone coming from the consumer world!
The Paul VI liturgy depresses me. I tried it a few times in about 2007, in Latin from the nice little brown books published in Rome in the early 1970’s. It was the time when I was in the TAC and believed that I was in some kind of uniate movement. Could I celebrate the rite of the Church my communion was desirous of embracing? It felt like a chore, a duty, and as bleak as setting out for a boring job on a Monday morning. I returned to the Pius V Roman rite in Latin, and went over to Sarum about a year later, which I now do mostly in English but sometimes in Latin. I use the Anglican Missal if I have any ministry with any of our local missions in England.
My Christianity is unashamedly elitist, but fortunately our Church follows St Paul in the diversity of gifts that make up the Church. Many of our priests are outgoing and pastoral, though they use the Anglican Missal. We are Anglicans and the old-style English is a part of our culture. I and a few other priests, together with weary lay intellectuals are preparing a new initiative for the elite. That is not to say we are any better than anyone else, but we just have different needs and gifts. I do think the Church (the universal sacramental communion) can exist at different levels. I also believe that modernity cannot be evangelised until persons begin to see through the leaden cloak, the cave of Plato, and seek the transcendent. Their thirst will then be unquenchable. I am unashamedly un-pastoral because I believe that people should be Christians because they yearned for it and not because some clever priest was able to sell his clockwork toys convincingly.
I am over-sensitive to criticism, because I really wonder if they could be right, and that my whole world view has to be overhauled and revised, but like a self-righting keel boat, I always seem to come back up the same way. I thank God for this sensitivity, because it protects me from thinking I am always right and committing the sin of Pride. I see no alternative to my way of seeing things unless I want to become someone else and annihilate everything I am and represent. I am thankful for being challenged because of the experience of being purified and made ever stronger.
At least I am not alone, and many readers of this blog have some sympathy with my thoughts and experience and form a part of this “Mystery School” and the Church as a universal communion in the Neo-Platonist understanding. Duc in altum was an expression I heard constantly at seminary. It can be given many meanings, but the one I understand most is leading to the heights of sublimity, leading those capable of seeking the transcendent and their own Ubermensch. Only a few have the self-knowledge to make this possible.