Elite Christianity

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.

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16 Responses to Elite Christianity

  1. “The Paul VI liturgy depresses me.”

    Strangely, it does not depress me. Nowadays I see the rite of Paul VI as an attempt, botched to be sure, to revive the Roman Rite after it had become atrophied by the passing years and an apathetic clergy. Have you ever read J.B O’Connell? It’s like running your fingernails over a sieve, as you described something else recently! You have to remember all the stuff that Paul VI brought back, such as communion under both kinds, the provision for high mass without a subdeacon; the revival of old prefaces, propers, and the vastly improved Holy Week. All positive developments. What depresses me is the liturgical books of 1962! If there is too much leeway given for diversity at the parish level, and you have priests doing the absolute minimum required, is that really the fault of the rite of Paul VI itself? Or is that symptomatic of a chronic lack of integrity among the clergy? And where does that come from? Of course, I think the last time I went into a Roman Catholic church was in 2015 in Ireland and that was more for a laugh than anything else!

    What do you mean by elitist? “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

    • On the Laetare Sunday i was in Galway at a Missa Cantata which was celebrated by an ICKSP priest (“canon” – how they have no shame to apply that title to themselves is beyond me) and the music was sung by their nuns. Both sung beautifully. The sermon was given by an another priest of the Institute and it was ok, but just ok. “We’re in the middle of the Lent. If you did good, good, go on. If you didn’t, you still have time.” – that’s the message basically.

      It was a first EF in a while for me but that Mass just gave me another push away from the EF. The silent Canon threw me off the most and the whole thing seemed sterile and lifeless.

      I was in the cathedral at the Mass next Sunday and the old ladies reading and administering Communion threw me off as well (although i was sitting behind the altar to give myself an impression of ad orientem).

      The OF suffers from its own problems (the fact that just anyone can read or distribute Communion, the whole of the introductory Rites, Elevations interrupting the Eucharistic Prayer, etc.), but EF has problems of its own and using EF doesn’t help the state of the Western Liturgy.

      But if i had to choose between EF or OF, i’d choose the OF since that means that i can actually be united with the priest in that sacred action and that i can actually say the Lord’s Prayer during the Liturgy and that i can drink from the Cup of Benediction… to think that millions of Christians have been denied those right is just horrifying (even though, for example, in the beginning, the Lord’s Prayer most probably wasn’t even included in the Eucharist).

      But then if i had to chose between Western (as it is now) and Byzantine Liturgy, i’d go Byzantine. I’ve experienced it for several months every Sunday in a small provincial parish. The priest, the singer/reader and i myself was all that was enough to make it an actual experience of worship in Spirit and Truth…

      • I remember my days with the SSPX in late 1982 and early 1983 and can relate to this idea of “sterility”. As I have mentioned, when I joined the TAC, I was still using the Pius V rite in Latin and of before the Pius XII modifications to Holy Week. I went through some scruples and perhaps a time of acedia. Then came the prospect of the TAC becoming a kind of uniate church in communion with Rome, before the Ordinariates panned out. I tried the Paul VI rite in Latin with EP no. 1 a few times – and I found myself putting the Sarum offertory in. I couldn’t keep on with this mix-and-match. The liturgy is the Church’s and not of this or that priest. I decided on Sarum, bit the bullet and bought the books at quite a high price. It has given me liturgical stability.

        Sarum lacks that “stiffness” of the Roman rite. There are fewer genuflexions and the ceremonies are actually simpler. It is almost what could have been desired by Vatican II to reverse the worst of the rubricism and affected behaviour of priests. The full ceremonies of Sarum are quite complex as is the Byzantine Rite, but a priest on his own is doing something quite “monastic”.

        The French pastoral movement did quite a lot of good with parts of the Mass in the vernacular and the Canon in an audible voice. I had direct experience of this with a couple of old parish priests ordained in the 1940’s and 50’s. The monasteries had a lot of influence in bringing parishes out of the old “Classical” minimalism. The Anglican Missal as used in the ACC is in English, all audible and allows the people to sing and say the said responses. We say the Lord’s Prayer together and Communion is in both kinds. There is a problem in the RC Church which is no longer my problem, that of “all or nothing”. Our liturgy is governed by custom and common sense, not positive law.

        I feel a lot of empathy with Roman Catholics caught in this trap. Had I not been an Anglican and had I known nothing but Roman Catholicism, I would certainly not have become a priest and I would probably be a “none” now. I can’t be certain about that, but it is a hell of a prison to bust out of! Wherever you turn, you are confronted with cognitive dissonence and the play of authority and a liturgical life that is regulated to the gills.

        There is the possibility of the Byzantine Rite (uniate or Orthodox) or Continuing Anglicanism once you can get over the issue of validity of Orders. Failing that, there is always atheism – but that creates more problems than it solves! You will have to be daring…

    • Elitist? I don’t mean crusty old gents coughing behind newspapers in the East India Club. I don’t mean people with lots of money or position in society. I mean the formation of a group of friends around an idea, like the philosophers of Jena or the Oxford Movement or what I am trying to do. It is something like the old Gnostic distinction between “spirituals”, “pneumatics” and “hylics” based on capacity for knowledge rather than social standing or wealth.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        But then the orthodox ‘Gnostic’ tradition of St. Clement of Alexandria through St. Maximus the Confessor, et al. – what accommodates and unites Monasticism, the Eremitic, and the sincere ‘secular’ Clergy and Laity, I take it – ascesis as a great good, but the ‘common’ Baptized folk rightly looking to deification.

  2. nordiccatholic says:

    This morning following Morning Prayer, I stood fully vested before the small altar I have in my flat, and offered Holy Mass according to the rite of Pope Paul VI. This done facing liturgical East, and apart from the angels – no congregation. There are icons of the Holy Trinity, the Crucifixion, Our Lady, and St John Chrysostom. Apart from the Antimension, two candlesticks and a Missal dated 1974.

    Intercessions were for a couple who recently lost their mother, a very sick lady, the homeless, the persecuted in Syria and Egypt, and a local Anglican Church that has stopped us from using their building.

    I always commemorate Francis, and my Bishop.

    Alone or with a congregation, I never rush the liturgy. It is after all a sacred mystery. Plenty of silence to reflect on the Gospel – John 8:51-59. And pray for the needy and God’s Kingdom.

    I thought you might like to know that I follow the liturgical ways of Rome, partly because I know no other, and It works just fine. Perhaps it could be improved.

    I have written this especially for all you fine and learned priests with your English Missal and Sarum Rite – and yes I nearly forgot to mention this Mass starts with the “Collect of Purity”, intended as both a reminder and recognition of our rich liturgical inheritance.

    From a poor priest trying to do his best to serve God and fulfill his Orders.
    In Domino


  3. Dale says:

    The novus ordo also does not depress me, it simply bores me.

    Both of the observations of how the traditional liturgy is celebrated by the Roman Catholic traditionalists is correct. But it does not really apply to the Anglo-Catholic tradition at all. The traditional Mass in English is far more participatory and the silent canon is, thank God very, rare.

    My own take on the Byzantine liturgy, as celebrated by the Russians, from whence I have my own theological education, is that usually it is not too much more than a non-participatory sport with everyone standing around listening, to usually very badly sung, opera music. The canon is also traditionally silent as well, with only the Words of Institution sung aloud, but in Orthodox theology this is not the Consecration. The Consecration, which is the epiclesis, is always, except amongst those Orthodox influenced by modern Rome, said silently (as are huge amounts of priestly private prayers, and the whole of the offertory, which takes place before the Liturgy, is said silently behind the ikonostasis).

    I know live in the United States, the Masses (which is all they offer, even vespers has long ago died out) in the local Roman parishes is horrendous, and the congregations composed of usually only geriatrics; I fail to see how the new mass has generated much interest amongst a modern audience. If it were not for massive Latin and Central American immigration to the United States, the Roman Church, much like its modernist cousin, the Episcopal Church, would be in its death throes.

    Culturally, the novus ordo is stuck in the 60’s of the last century. Perhaps it is time to trash it and make something truly up-to-date and modern? Nude dancing and free beer might be just the ticket.

    “[S]crapped like old cars”: I drive a 1959 Morris Minor, one suspects that that says it all.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I came to a regular experience of a sung solemn Latin Novus Ordo Mass (most often) ad orientem (with Lessons and sermon in the vernacular) from Slavonic, (Cypriot) Greek, and vernacular Byzantine Liturgy, so while I see what Fr, John Hunwicke sensibly says about the sort of ‘translated’ Byzantine character of the OF (to summarize with clunky paraphrasis by memory), that does not bother me or seem inappropriate or ‘too archaeological’ – but I have too little (and therewith too disappointing) experience of solemn EF Mass, to talk knowledgeably about that (while loving reading whatever books by Pius Parsch I have managed to get copies of).

    • Little Black Sambo says:

      Your car must be quite a talking-point in the USA. I used to drive a Morris Traveller, basically the same, with the extra feature of thick moss growing on the wooden bits. It was tracker-action, bicycle-like in the directness of the contact I enjoyed with both the engine and the surrounding landscape. It was never too much trouble to stop to talk to somebody I knew whom I had spotted by the roadside. Long journeys in that tip-up bucket seat were, however, back-breaking; it was hours before I could stand upright.
      Eventually (many years ago) our garage man said, “We’ve been discussing your car, and we think you want rid of it. It’s getting what we call ripe underneath”.
      Congratulations on keeping yours going.

      • I spent time with a priest in Manchester in 1984, and he had a Morris Minor. They are such reliable cars and easy to repair (if you can get the spare parts) – no electronic gizmos like in modern cars. “Tracker action” – as an organist / organ builder, I appreciate that analogy. My van is most cable-controlled “tracker”, but the steering is “tubular hydraulic” on high pressure. Dale, do you repair your car yourself? I’m not sure there are too many “old-school” mechanics around these days!

  4. Hugh Allen says:

    The main problem with the Paul VI Mass and Office is that they are the fruit of revolution, not of evolution. “Traditional” liturgy is just that — something that’s been handed down over centuries, at different times and in different places acquiring additional features and losing others, but never suffering major rupture. The idea behind Vatican II was of a modest revision of the Roman rite but it was hijacked by “progressives” (how old-fashioned Gelineau and co seem today!); small wonder that Orthodoxy (to which I belong) fights shy of liturgical revision, however desirable a very modest measure of it might be.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I still have not read Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), but the Preface as readable online (in English and partially in German) is interesting in the context of your comment. Among other things, it seems (if I do not extrapolate too wildly) to entail seeing the Paul VI Mass as not, in itself, and as intended (in Latin, ad orientem, as the usual form in which to be celebrated), as a “major rupture” or “the fruit of revolution” in an un- or anti-traditional sense, yet as seeing the Tridentine/Pian Mass as “laid bare”, restored, and made more properly celebratable, as well – and both as subsequently endangered “by various restorations and reconstructions” such that “rediscovery” could even “become the first stage of irreparable loss”(!).

      A salutary glimpse of why it might indeed be better for the Orthodox not to embark on modest liturgical revision in current “climatic conditions”.

      • I am mindful of some of the recent comments here expressing frustration at the stiffness and rigidity of the Roman rite of up to 1962 or 65. I too have tried to read a “medieval” interpretation into the Paul VI rite, but it just doesn’t work, especially when it is done in the “usual” way – facing the people. There are some lovely simple offertories in the Sarum, Dominican, Carthusian and other missals. Sarum also lacks the genuflections and most of the altar kissings of the 1570-62 rite, but the construction and spirit are totally different. The stumbling block about the Paul VI rite is that is is an artificial corporate creation rather than a pre-Tridentine rite. It would have been better to “de-regulate” the liturgy and return to the pre-Tridentine status quo and deal with abuses on a case-by-case basis. If I could revive Sarum, anyone can revive the old local rites and uses. Indeed, the Orthodox Churches do well to wait for another era before thinking about any modifications to the Byzantine Liturgy!

  5. nordiccatholic says:

    Well true to my word, I finally abandoned the Mass of Pope Paul VI, and have made a determined start to offer the Ordinariate Mass – Roman Canon on a regular basis.

    At the Oxford Conference I attended this Mass at St Stephen’s House, and despite the absence of a homily and intercessions – I was impressed. The dignity of the traditional English. The marriage of traditional BCP with the original Roman Canon is impressive. But the real joy is that nothing is rushed, it is deeply devotional, and the worship is God centered. Sorry its not Sarum, but then in a way it is, and the published Missal makes liturgical arrangements convenient. Of course the real test comes on Wednesday when I introduce this Mass to our community.

    Fr Nathan

    • I think this is a great step you have taken. I have never attended an Ordinariate Mass, but I hear it is quite similar to the English Missal with some stuff taken from the N.O. lectionary. With good explanation, I’m sure your folk will get used to it quickly. I find it sad that the Ordinariate books are under such heavy copyright protection, especially when there are other options (Sarum in English, Anglican Missal, English Missal) that are out of copyright or are easily available in print.

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