Liturgical Wars

I have not commented on the recent reports about Pope Francis wanting to restrict the older Roman liturgy in opposition to the legislation of his predecessor Benedict XVI. It is not my war, but I am ready to listen to those who have a balanced and evidence-based judgement. One such person is Dom Alcuin Reid who has published some of my own work in the T&T Companion to Liturgy. He has just published an article On liturgical wars and rumors of wars.

Dom Alcuin begins by saying that a level of concern exists in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world. I am now very out of touch with this world, even in France where there was the most resistance to the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s and 70’s, especially that of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his Society of St Pius X. The Fraternity of St Peter and the Institute of Christ the King have been most successful is assembling people of a conservative mindset who bring up large families. Many of those people go on retreats to the various religious communities and monasteries of the same general tendency that often colludes with far right-wing political opinions.

Like in the political world, the traditionalists and the diocesan establishment have placed themselves in quite rigid ideologies. We are fifty years on from 1971 and the apologists for the liturgical reforms still talk of “renewal” and “return to pristine sources”. The situation in most parish churches outside the cities reminds me somewhat of the eighteenth century in England against which the first aspirations of Methodism and Anglo-Catholicism reacted. One big problem in the Roman Catholic Church is its rigid authority structure, something like Erastianism in England in the days when Ritualist vicars were sent to prison for non-compliance to the 1662 Prayer Book. The ideological parallels continue.

I appreciate Dom Alcuin’s reflection on sectarianism and the ghetto mentality among some traditionalists. At the same time, it is not easy to cultivate tolerance in the face of clerical intolerance of diocesan bishops and bureaucracies. There are problems with the way clergy are trained in some of the seminaries. The implications are quite clear, especially measured by my own experience, when I read the words self-serving narcissism in clergy and content to live in a gilt cage decorated according to the tastes of their preferred century in history. These strong indictments are not only targeted against priests celebrating the Pius V liturgy. I saw it in the faces and manners of some of the cassock-wearing clergy I saw in their little groups at Pontmain – closed to the world.

Dom Alcuin sees things as a monk – One of the first tests of a young man seeking to enter the monastic life is to see whether he is capable of hard manual work without complaint. Monastic life can also involve totalitarian control and breaking of persons. I very much agree, and it is why I appreciate the fact that my Church does not have the resources to pay stipends to the clergy, but that we must earn our own living through work unless we are retired and on a pension. Our clergy are not afraid to be in civil dress when “off-duty” or socialising with people for reasons other than church. There are situations when the cassock is appropriate and when it is not. I have expressed my ideas about clergy training, which is just about what we do in the Anglican Catholic Church – have men do serious studies and be involved in parish ministry for their “apprenticeship”. There are problems associated with married candidates, but this issue is beyond my ability to express myself with credibility.

I do think that were the Roman authorities to restore the status quo of the 1970’s, many would revolt as people kick back against what may be excessive Covid lockdown measures in the countries where we live. Such measures against the old liturgy would undermine their authority. Blind obedience is no longer a part of the Roman Catholic ethos.

The article is interesting but struck me by its irrelevance to my present life. I am no longer in that French traditionalist world, but I am isolated as an Anglican in a place where there is no interest in Anglicanism. One can’t have it both ways. Thus you will see our clergy as much in suits and ties or casual dress as cassocks, and celebrating ancient forms of liturgy and referring to other times in history when Christianity meant more in the world. We socialise in a world where “churchy” things put people off because of the negative associations. Should there arrive a real persecution of Christianity in the future, we need to be able to become scarlet pimpernels and live in the catacombs.

One day, things will become clear to us whichever institutional Church we belong to.

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16 Responses to Liturgical Wars

  1. Stephen K says:

    Thank you for posting this link to Dom Alcuin Reid’s article, and for your own comments. I would like to make some comments.

    The Dom’s cautionary message/admonition to “usus antiquior” disciples is very gentle, very soft (even ‘soft-ball’) I think. This is because most ‘trads’ give no more quarter to Paulians than the reverse. It’s really very ‘un-Christian’ in every direction.

    However, I think everything he writes is correct and reflects a maturity and deep understanding of the Christian life as filtered by the monastic tradition.

    To make liturgy, and ritual, and ‘small-t’ traditions a matter of polemics is just nuts, spiritually speaking.

    When I look at the various styles of liturgical expression, the ‘shape’ of the available rites, I see them as religious equivalents: not the same but not differentially graded because for me liturgy (of any degree of lineage or modernity) is the work-of-man-for-the-purpose-of-religious-contact-with-God. Liturgy evolves in a sense but has, unfortunately, been used as a tool of control and imperium.

    I am glad for the existence of Dom Alcuin’s priory St Benoit, because I see in it the earnestness of souls seeking God. But I can also rejoice in a reformed context. Because by their fruits shall ye know them.

    I also found your comments on “Liturgical Wars” apposite. The interesting thing about what you describe as the clash between “traditionalists and the diocesan establishment” is that to my way of seeing things, they are both ultimately engaged in a clash for power in a material thing, not the spiritual question that each person may feel called to explore and seek answer for, creature to God, child to parent.

    I have mixed feelings – and thoughts – about the Christian religious agenda, but feel I relate to a significant degree the things you, and the Dom, in your different ways, say about such things. But I don’t think anyone has a monopoly on asserting religious persecution status (even if it’s bogus).

    • Many thanks, Stephen, for your reflections. Many establishment RC bishops talk about “unity” around the new liturgy, as if unity and uniformity were the same thing. Unity is often a term of ideology, Einheit in German as in Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer. There is a vast difference of degree, since those bishops are not Nazis (I am not falling foul of Godwin’s Law). But the principle is common, based on collectivism and unquestioning compliance. Such conditioning in the mould is not an apologia for Christianity, since the Kingdom of Heaven is within each one of us, yet beyond all of us. Indeed, if any of us feel persecuted, we bring it on ourselves.

      Before the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, we had diversity and colour. I do not idolise the middle ages because they were human and subject to sin and perversion like our own times, but collectivism had not yet entered the picture. There were limits of law and orthodoxy, beyond which a person would meet a cruel end. The Renaissance was too radical in its reaction rather than bringing about a seamless transformation into an Enlightenment and then Romanticism.

      Perhaps there can be Rave masses in parishes that want it, and other parishes that use the older rites… The question is difficult, but I don’t believe the answer is the techno-ecclesiastical steamroller.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Before I got to Dom Alcuin’s monastic comparison, his discussion of “we usus antiquior communities” had me comparing the ‘usus’ of such communities with the Rites and Uses of Orders and places, historical and actual, and thinking of the scale of such ‘communities’ including the eremitical, and thinking that he implicitly made a fine case for the propriety of all such Uses and Rites on whatever scale. “The positive proscription of something true, good and beautiful is likely to intensify, not heal, enmity, clericalism and alienation within the Church.” Indeed!

    • A couple of days ago, I watched John Guilgud’s brilliant dramatisation of Dostoievsky’s Grand Inquisitor.

      You might wonder what this has to do with your comment. Quite simply there is Christianity and there is a “church” whose purpose is to serve the purpose of dominant males whose purpose in life is power, money and sex. Such a personality has no need for beauty, goodness or any truth other than their own. The clerical elite exists to “correct” the mission of Christ which was to render true freedom to man through beauty, truth and goodness.

      Oscar Wilde had much to say about the philistine of his own day (1890’s) and their “tedious orthodoxy”. Art is truly a part of contemplative life.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I’ve been very grateful to be learning and thinking about the art of Latin chant over the last 20 months. I know there are chantable translations, but do not know much about them, yet (in whatever languages). Though, again, the very artful adaptive chant translations into Old English in the Exeter Book, in what is usually called ‘The Christ’ attributed to Cynewulf, which helped inspire Tolkien in launching his mythology, are something fascinating – also, as I have learned, thanks to Dr. Parker’s Clerk of Oxford Epiphany post this year, to Dr. Stubbs, sometime Dean of Ely and later Bishop of Truro and his famous son-in-law, Thomas Tertius Noble.

      • I don’t know if I ever asked you if you read “normal” musical notation on 5-line staves and G and F clefs. If you do, it isn’t difficult to adapt to 4-line staves and the movable and transposable C clef (usually determined by A as the reciting note).

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I do read “normal” musical notation, and as a baritone who usually sings tenor but sometimes bass, I’ve even gotten used to “normal bass clef” – and, I’m not sure how I do it, but I do somehow read Gregorian notation (which we studied a bit in school, decades ago), even when the schola master decides to transpose the key in the midst of a practice – I must have some sort of not-completely-reflective perception of the intervals. I’m even developing a certain ‘neume vocabulary’, though how anyone can simply sing from neumes is still way beyond me.

        Reading the entry for the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist today in the Dutch adaptive translation of Pius Parsch’s Year of the Lord (amazingly to me, published during – and despite – the German occupation!), it suddenly occurred to me to ask if anyone has written anything similar for the Sarum Use (though if the answer is to see your Use of Sarum section, I must blush to admit I have still not thoroughly acquainted myself with all the good things you have brought together there).

      • I had a lot of experience with accompanying Gregorian chant when I was at seminary. I “transposed” the Gregorian notion with its modes into “normal” notions of keys and the relations between tonic, dominant and relative minor for the harmony. For example, the first mode would be in D minor / F major with the reciting note of the psalms on A. The second mode would be in F# minor / A major with three sharps in the key, singing the reciting note on A. For the accompaniment, I would keep the harmony very simple and play with the tonic, dominant and relative minor in root position and first inversion, introducing a few suspensions. Being organist at Gricigliano improved my keyboard harmony and improvisation no end! There are two semitones in a scale over an octave, from the 3rd to 4th over the tonic (note indicated by the clef) and the 7th to the octave note from the tonic. These very simple ideas are quite sufficient for accompanying Gregorian chant, and that “transposition” is useful also for singing and placing those two semitones in the octave. Of course, modern music has kept only three modes: major, minor harmonic and minor melodic. Gregorian chant has eight modes like ancient Greek music.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        At today’s practice I was learning about hexachords, and their symbolic possibilities… We keep wondering how we might best share such things with the congregation, to give more people a chance to sharpen their appreciation.

      • This is a musical concept of which I am quite ignorant, other than tuning organs. Most organs have at least the first octave and a half in “sides” meaning that C is on the left, C# on the right, D on the left, D# on the right and so on in whole tones. The better organs are “sides” all the way up. My own house organ is “sides” for 2 octaves and then chromatic. So the scale is C, D, E, F#, G€, A# and C#, D#, F, G, A, B, so effectively two hexatonic scales – but the reason is not musical innovation but sparing the tuner the effort of flitting from one side of the windchest to the other and finding the right pipe each time.

        I have watched a few videos, mostly by jazz musicians composing for piano and guitar. A lot of the use of these pentatonic and hexatonic scales goes back to Debussy with his harmony at the limit of atonality. Schönberg broke the limit and his twelve-tone row (total chromaticism) seemed to destroy both harmony and melody. I have a recording of one of his last string quartets of before this innovation, and it is quite Wagnerian and beautiful. Then he broke what I believe to be a fundamental law. Debussy went another way and produced Impressionism on the basis of different modes and six-note scales, but which is not unbearable to hear.

        Share musical theory with a church congregation on a Sunday morning? We might get put into the local nut-house!!! It would be a little like going to the doctor and being given complete courses in anatomy, pathology and bio-chemistry – rather than take two of these per day and come back if the pain doesn’t go away!

        There are many philosophical treatises on music / mathematics from ancient times. See this short article on Boethius, Music of the Spheres. There is plenty to tickle the most gnostic minds!

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        And I admire organists no end – I can only pick out a melody in aid of study, at best, on any keyboard! (Years ago, we got a nice little harmonium for a good price at the end of a village church jumble sale, when it was breaking their hearts to think no one had bought it all day, however attractively the verger had been playing it.)

      • I was lucky – I started the piano at the age of 8 (I wanted to play the organ but practising is a lot less practical than working on a piano at home) and found the opportunity of organ lessons at 13. I am no Widor or Dupré, but I am at my best playing baroque music. My playing technique is “moderate” and my fingering isn’t always very orthodox and I often jump from one note to another with the same finger, probably just the same way as I type words on a computer keyboard. My computer is equipped with a musical keyboard, and I sometimes hesitate over which keyboard to use for writing words or playing music!!!

        Harmoniums are instruments in their own right. However, they are not organs. The speech of the reeds is slow, so the instrument is limited for counterpoint. French composers like César Franck (he was Belgian but lived in France) and Saint-Sëans composed pieces for piano and harmonium which are very beautiful.

        Notice how the harmonium plays rich and slow harmony and the piano takes care of the fast figurative work. The harmonium is very expressive by using knee swells and the pressure of wind from the blowing pedals. As the name implies, it is most suited for homophonic harmony like hymn tunes.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Father Anthony, I watched the “Grand Inquisitor” segment. Sir john Gielgud is of course mesmerizing in his own right. I was myself already very impressed by “The Brothers Karamazov” when I first read it about 45 years ago. But my youtube watching led me to this absolutely riveting talk on Dostoievsky by Professor Irwin Weil at

        At 51.11 (or thereabouts) he poses the problem of freedom and love. And in his answer he alludes to the chapter of the Grand Inquisitor.

        It’s a marvelous exposition, the whole hour of it, and I recommend all readers of your blog to watch it. If they do, they will gain a real insight into the man, and his works, and the modern problems of faith and religion (which of course are not the same thing).

      • I have watching Freddie Sayers’ members event Has Lockdown Changed Us Forever?

        Death knell of liberal democracy” This event goes on for more than an hour. I was curious to see how thought would develop on things like the resurgence of collectivism, the power of the State. In short it suggests something like what happened 100 years ago after the bloodiest war in history followed by a pandemic that claimed the lives of millions – the rise of an ideology claiming to put the State and the collective above the human person.

        What is freedom? We “boomers” wanted it. Now that the generation before us is nearly all gone, the younger generations look on us with contempt and see authority and unity as more important than freedom. Yes, the limit of my freedom to swing my fist is where your nose begins! But, there is a more noble idea of freedom. That is the freedom Christ represented to seek the Kingdom of God within.

        I will watch the documentary about Dostoievsky. The more I read about Russia in the second half of the 19th century, the more I recognise the agonies of our own society – and of course our faith and religion.

        PS. I watched the talk and found it fascinating. Yes, indeed, love and freedom. Again, what is freedom? What is anarchy in the mind of someone like Tolstoy? Our freedom is limited by the good of other people. Perhaps it is like property: the Christian way is voluntary self-denial and a system like Communism is pillaging the freedom and very personality of persons. Then there is neither love nor freedom. That is my own experience in microcosm. Love has to be free and freedom has to be love.

        Nygren’s book, Agapé and Eros is an excellent study. I recommend it.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I think sharing with the congregation would attend to such necessarily conjectural but attractive features as how the music seems to be depicting details of the text – for examples from the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, the way the petition in the Communio seems to sink humbly in “a Domino” to leap then to the heights in “ut inhabitem in domo Domini”, or in the Alleluia how the prolonged jubilation of the “et” might display the “laetabitur” that proceeds it, or in the choice of verses in the Graduale, the comparison, contrast, and joining of the ‘”servos tuos” on earth with the “virtutum” understood in the senses of the servants of the angelic host.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you for the Saint-Saëns, which I don’t remember encountering before – though, again, there seems something somehow familiar about it – but perhaps that is simply the harmonium’s being suited for homophonic harmony like hymn tunes, which you note! I was grateful once as choir member to sing a version of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle with harmonium.

    Beyond that, thank you both for lecture and discussion suggestions (which I have only just seen, and not yet tried).

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