Romantic Reconstruction or Intellectual Prestige

The question keeps nagging away in my mind. A little handful of people in the past and today keep producing books and articles about the Rite / Use of Sarum but cannot get through the barrier represented by the fact that it is irrelevant in today’s churches. As I did a couple of Google searches, I came across this horribly expensive anthology written by a number of distinguished authors connected with the Ordinariate in some way – Newman and the Intellectual Tradition, in: Portsmouth Review, Sheed & Ward 2013. I was able to copy the following extract from a facsimile on the internet:

Newman was actually repulsed by much of what passed for prayer in the churches of his early years and said that the thought of the Anglican service made him “shiver.” The services in his own university church of St. Mary in Oxford were “intensely dreary.” The Tractarians spent little time on the liturgical romanticism of the ritual movement which was to follow. But that movement was a recovery of a patrimony not unique to the English church. Perhaps in recognition of this, ii has been suggested that the new personal ordinariates should revive the Sarum Rite to be distinct. In my Anglican days. I knew no one who had ever seen the Sarum Rite. That would just be a home-made historicism, which in part is why a proposed revival of the Sarum Rite for the new Westminster Cathedral was rejected in the nineteenth century. The personal ordinariates will fail if their concept of preserving a cultural patrimony is the creation of an Anglo-Saxon Theme Park, or an ecclesiastical Williamsburg. It would lack the spiritual dynamic the Church needs for revitalizing a dispirited segment of our anemic culture. Pope Benedict’s focus has always been on Newman rather than on Anglicanism, but in the foreword to a book Turning Towards the Lord by the Oratorian priest Father Lang, he commended the “ad orientem” position of the celebrant at the altar and described “the contribution made by the Church of England to this question and in giving, also, due consideration to the part played by the Oxford movement in the nineteenth century….” Many of the present Anglican clergy were not reared in the Anglican tradition themselves, and this adds a difficulty if the “patrimony” which the Constitution .seeks to encourage is in no small part an “ethos” which comes by a long lived experience; of a cultural heritage.

This paragraph enables me to understand the mindset of many priests and lay intellectuals in the Ordinariates in spite of the initial support of Sarum or “bits of Sarum” by Bishop Peter Elliott and Msgr Andrew Burnham among a few others. To be honest, it represents a general turn in the Anglican world towards the early twentieth century from the heritage of the Romantic movement to aping Rome in view of a corporate reunion between Canterbury and Rome. This union would not be on the basis of liturgical life but theological scholarship and a ressourcement alternative to neo-scholasticism.

Indeed, any attempt to found a liturgical revival, whether neo-medieval or neo-baroque in appearance, on the spirit of reconstruction and “play-acting” would alienate most Christians. The alternative is to accept modern forms of service. The ironic thing is the intense dreariness of modern rites, just like the 1662 Prayer Book at Oxford University in, say, the 1820’s. History comes round full circle. I have had experience with the “Bishop Elliott” type of modern Roman liturgy, from the baroque splendour of the London Oratory to the French Benedictines and a small American community in Rome where I was a seminarian in the mid 1980’s. It was all generally about the authority of the Pope and obedience, obedience and obedience. It took away my joy and conviction about being a convert. It took another ten years to have the courage to come to terms with my own reality and the limits of my own romanticism.

I am not in the Ordinariate, nor do I come from the old Forward in Faith milieux. As an Anglican in the Church of England, my role was with church music and not the liturgy. I remained blissfully ignorant for a very long time, except that I was repelled by the casual modern-language eucharists celebrated facing the people from the early 1970’s.

I am realistic enough to come to terms with the fact that the parish in the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church or even the Anglican Catholic Church is not the place to introduce a medieval liturgy. The eccentricities of St George’s Sudbury and Chamblac in the Eure were possible, but as those priests died, the churches were closed down, absorbed into the diocesan parish ways or given over to the Fraternity of St Peter or the Institute of Christ the King for a more standard Tridentine fare and the authoritarian spirit those priests exude.

Perhaps, the Continuing Anglican world with its tolerance of liturgical diversity (mostly the 1928 American Prayer Book, the English Missal and the Anglican Missal) would be favourable ground for medieval liturgies, but outside the parish context. It would seem to be precisely the fogies and the Romantics who would be interested and who would benefit spiritually in a way they could not in parishes. The Church in general needs to come up with a half-way house between parishes and the monastic life for those who are ready for such a commitment. In some parts of the world, there are confraternities and guilds for the pastoral care of those who for some reason are outside parish life.

My own intuition is to go beyond the boundaries of present-day institutional churches that know only the diocesan and parochial models of community life. I recommend friends getting together to work on these questions, regardless of which church they belong to. Services in common should be limited to the Office, and priests of different communions can go off and do their own thing in their spare time! Keep it academic and intellectual for the time being, and spend time singing the Office and in personal prayer.

In the Oxford Movement days, Newman represented a transition between Romanticism and Roman Catholic realism. Neither the Anglican establishment nor the Roman Catholic Church was concerned in the 1840’s for any change to the liturgical status quo. Nor was Newman. He did the best thing – get out of England and go to Rome, and experience the Roman liturgy dans son jus. His concern was improving the Church’s theological work and rediscovery of the Fathers and the Catholic patrimony from before Scholasticism. He had plenty of work to do. If the Ordinariate sees itself in that role, the train seems to have left the station, given the work of theologians like Ratzinger, Bouyer, De Lubac, Fribourg University and so many others of the ressourcement. What has Anglicanism to contribute now? A lot in the nineteenth century, but much less now with what has come from France and Germany. The Ordinariate has by and large rejected the restoration of the medieval liturgy with the exception of bits and pieces to mix in with the amalgam of the American Prayer Book and the modern Roman rite. The idea of basing Anglican patrimony on scholarship is thin, given the Continental competition.

Guilds, confraternities and other names for alternative communities seem to be the way ahead, with members meeting once or several times a year for seminars, a retreat and Office in common. Such ideas need to be made to work and maintain unity. Churches and diocesan bishops may in time accept such alternative communities, as is already the case for the Charismatics and Pentecostalists. France was probably the most advanced after World War II with the foundation of alternative communities like La Mission de France and worker priests. This time, it would be about scholarship, certainly in theology and the liturgical sciences, but more about big questions of culture, philosophy and new forms of the Church as the old ones crumble away.

I welcome new ideas for a Christianity that depends more on liturgy, spirituality and the sense of the transcendent than authority and obedience – the present spirit of conservative Roman Catholicism. It isn’t even a question of who is right and who is wrong, but the desperate need for a new breath of oxygen.

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