Self-Effacement and the Liturgy

This is a really impressive article by Archbishop Mark Haverland, Metropolitan of the Original Province of the Anglican Catholic Church. He is also my Ordinary and therefore my father-in-Christ. He has written this article in his blog Anglican Catholic Liturgy and Theology.

The point he makes is that we spend a lot of time discussing rites and ceremonial details, forgetting the interior disposition a priest is asked to have as he approaches the altar of God. I have had to examine my own interest in the medieval Use of Sarum, faced with question like whether ordinary churchgoers would be attracted or find it the right expression of their piety.

I see the entire rite as simply a symbol of a less regimented Catholicism than after the Council of Trent. I have to say honestly that it is something of a daydream, but daydreams in their right place can sometimes be the cause of great inspirations and creativity. Archbishop Haverland takes a look at the usual attitude in regard to worship: traditionalist or modernist. Is it the language? Is it the Prayer Book, the rite of Pius V or Paul VI? No, it is the priest’s attitude, his self-effacement and putting himself second to his Church and its worship.

The rite is a part of this profoundly priestly attitude. When I was in the TAC and Archbishop Hepworth was telling us that “we would be all right”, all sins forgiven and Rome’s red carpet rolled out for us, I celebrated the Paul VI Mass a couple of times. I needed to have that experience with a “traditional” attitude, using the Roman Canon, etc. It all seemed so bare and stripped, so that a natural reaction of a priest would be to fill in the void with his own personality. It would be an exaggeration to claim I was committing some kind of sacrilege. It is an official rite of an institutional Church, but one I could not live with. Was that not a message from my own subconsciousness? I resumed the Use of Sarum which I began to use with Archbishop Hepworth’s blessing in 2008.

Thus some priests see themselves as entertainers, a dimension which is enhanced by the practice of celebration facing the people. Orientation at the altar has been discussed by men of the stature of Pope Benedict XVI and Msgr Klaus Gamber (Zum Herrn hin and Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background). There is another fine book on this subject, U.M. Lang, Turning Towards the Lord. These books are based on good liturgical scholarship rather than traditionalist polemics. Celebrating Mass on an eastward-facing altar also helps the priest to be recollected and self-effaced.

Archbishop Haverland gives several points by which the priest takes a more humble attitude: following a set rite and not improvising, wearing vestments, restraining signs of extroversion or outward show, avoiding affectations in reading the sacred texts or bumbling through them in the shortest time possible. The priest should be introverted and quiet, allowing the Mystery itself to take first place.

This is a most timely reflection.

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4 Responses to Self-Effacement and the Liturgy

  1. raitchi2 says:

    I too have struggled with the self-effacement in liturgical worship especially as it pertains to my state (a married RCCer who attends the modern rite, but his personal prayer life centers around praying the BCP 1662 in his home’s office). Self-effacement is a key part of good liturgical worship. However, there must be an interplay between the rite and the soul of the priest (or in my case pseudo-priest).

    In my own case, I started liturgical prayer by saying the Liturgy of the Hours in English faithfully shortly after my baptism. I added the psalm prayers and every other non-traditional option as part of what I naively thought was the tradition and rigor of the Roman Catholic Church. As I grew in the faith, I found that the modern rite was not as ancient as I thought (I literally joked last night with my Atheist father, that he is older than the near universal liturgy of the modern Catholic Church).

    After finding this lack of tradition, I really struggled with my faith and thankfully a few Catholics in my life were able to show me a middle ground in which to operate rather than going full sede vacante. They introduced me to the idea of various liturgical rites and expressions. I played with the Roman Breviary, the monastic breviary, and after a lot of dead ends eventually landed on the BCP 1662. I notice that it’s language is beautiful, a thickness of scripture and theology, and it can mostly be read by a Catholic (in my mind at least, but then again this is the same mind that has been able to read the N.O. as being a valid expression of the Roman Rite).

    The BCP has shaped my internal life, and its words and cadences shape my prayers. I feel like my soul is able to resonate just like specific individual notes to form a chord in harmony with this liturgical expression. In a way BCP is somewhat like me and my preference (minor elitism, harshness in theology, respect for beautiful language/ poetry, love of history). My soul resonates when I pray the words of the BCP.

    We can see best the resonance merely by the translation of the texts that exist in the Roman rite and the BCP. When I triangulate the collects of the BCP to the Missale Romanum 1962 to the Missale Romanum 2002 I can see a real difference. For example let’s look at last Sunday Nov. 14, 2021 (24th after trinity/23 after Pentecost). This was one of the few to survive the liturgical revisions and is now one option for the collect of Friday of the 5th week of Lent. Since the current English is copyrighted I have to rely on what I can get from Universalis’ translation of that day:

    “Absólve, quǽsumus, Dómine, tuórum delícta populórum, ut a peccatórum néxibus, quæ pro nostra fragilitáte contráximus, tua benignitáte liberémur.” (MR 1962)

    “O LORD, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed…” (BCP 1662)

    “Pardon, merciful Lord, the offences of your people, and in your goodness release us from the bonds of sin which in our human weakness we have fashioned for ourselves…” (MR 1970)

    “Pardon the offences of your peoples, we pray, O Lord, and in your goodness set us free from the bonds of the sins we have committed in our weakness…” (MR 2008)

    I don’t know why, but my psyche resonates with the BCP’s version best, MR 1970 second and MR 2008 the least.

    Years ago I struggled to make myself like the N.O. and it’s translation, missing/edited psalms and all. I thought I would be a good Catholic if I did this. It was a failure. I wound up hating everything and needing to stop attending services for a time since all I could do was roll my eyes with every translated prayer. I wanted and still want my life to fall neatly into the modern Church, but I don’t think it can without denying some essence of my psyche. In the Parable of the Sower, we are given several types of ground (wayside, stony ground, amongst thorns and good ground). I think in a way the liturgical rites we celebrate and how they resonate with our souls are a type of ground wherein we will see how much grain the seed of the Gospel can yield. Notice the soil can be amended, tilled, and slightly improved, but you’re never going to be able to grow pineapples in the Antarctic. I had to accept what the soil of my soul is. I tried to struggle with what in my case was the rocky ground of the MR 1970 English (and now 2008 English) translations in a bland suburban parish; I couldn’t do it, my spiritual crop withered or was eaten. For now and in my state the BCP seems to yield the best harvest this soil can bear.

    • Obviously, there is a via media. We won’t celebrate the liturgy like a machine simply to efface our personality. What Archbishop Haverland means, and I agree with him, is that affectations and showmanship are inappropriate. The priest turns for the Dominus vobiscum, and we see his face and recognise him to be a human being. Fortunately! However, the priest has nothing to prove to himself or others. He just gets on with the liturgy and follows the rite.

      I am glad you have found solace in the Prayer Book offices of Mattins and Evensong. It is a beautiful way to pray and to do your Lectio Divina, the slow and meditative reading of the Holy Scriptures like monks do. I recommend you get The English Office ( which you can also get from Amazon or others. You have all the Prayer Book material but also the hymns, antiphons and other things from the old Sarum Breviary. The English is in the same style. You would also need a lectionary which gives the texts and doesn’t simply refer you to the Bible. You will find a lot of spiritual solace, and it’s a lot less “work” than the Sarum or Monastic offices. Better to say less than nothing at all.

      I can’t tell you which institutional Church is right for you. I have my own thoughts, but it would be wrong of me to interfere with your own conscience and sense of truth and knowledge of God. Perhaps your wife and children might consider joining you for the Office. There you would have a truly domestic Church where two or three are united in Christ’s name. I see the abominable mess of the RC Church, but I am quite dismayed by the political integralism of many of the traditionalists. We all live in the places where God has put us, and we might have the good fortune of a church where we feel at home, or perhaps not.

      When I was a teenager in the Church of England, we had the Prayer Book offices in our school chapel, our parishes and cathedrals. It was constant and spoke to the inner soul. Then we had our eucharists in the 1970’s, when celebration facing the people and modern English were introduced. We were asked to be a lot more extroverted and community-minded. My thought, not knowing very much about the Eucharist at the time, was that I preferred the Office. I had to be careful at my confirmation classes, leading to my Confirmation at 16 by the Suffragan Bishop of Selby standing in for the Archbishop of York. I received my first Communion, but I still preferred Evensong!

      The discovery of the old rites, including the pre-Reformation Use of Sarum, gave me more of a sense of the union that exists between the Mass and the Office.

  2. Stephen K says:

    For some reason I have always gravitated towards the office, rather than the Mass. My personal experience is that meditation and the kind of self-effacement that is being discussed here is easier in the former than with the latter, but others will undoubtedly have different experiences.

    I have before me my 1962 Breviarium Romanum (Pius XII version), my 1971 Daily Prayer), my Grail Breviary Psalter (1969) and my BCP. I used to have, and use daily at one period, a 1962 Breviarium Romanum (old Vulgate version) but I gave it away to someone who didn’t have one and who needed it. I also once had a Latin version of the Little Office of the BVM but it was in poor condition so a little un-useable. On the whole, I prefer to pray in the vernacular.

    But at various times and in various moments or moods I have picked up one or other of these. They each resonate with me. Each book brings different memories and associations to my mind: reciting or chanting various Hours in seminary; joining the office (and liturgy) of the monks in Hereford; listening to the Trappist monks of Melleray singing Gelineau psalms, and to solemn Vespers of the monks at St Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls; reciting the morning prayer with Carmelites, and hearing the office intoned by Jeronimite nuns in Granada. And, of course, listening to Evensong. And there were serendipitous moments too, like the morning when I went early to a beautiful church in Rome, Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, and three sisters approached me and asked me, in Italian, whether I would like to join them in reciting Lode, which I did. All different and all very impressioning.

    I think many of us often love most what we knew first, and my earliest acquaintanceship with the psalms was being taught by the nuns at age 7 to sing the Gelineau setting of “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”. Of course I wasn’t told what setting it was, or what translation it was, but the Grail psalms seemed to be the ones we used at school. The BCP has its own appeal and I think any version that strikes a natural and considered English rhythm will always help the reader or reciter enter more deeply into the meditations they invite. There is no requirement to prefer any particular one over others. As I say, I am conscious that we often love most what we love first.

    • What we love first“. I am a cradle Anglican and nourished by the English choral tradition and our cathedral and parish Evensong. My experience of the Mass was coloured by a parallel movement in the Church of England as in the RC Church, the emphasis on the collective and the community. There were still parishes doing it the “old way”. People trying to relate to God behave in a different way than when they have to be friendly and sociable. Frankly, we have plenty of opportunities outside church to spend time with friends and enjoy their company.

      The Office is also corporate, but less “collectivist” than the “liturgy of the extroverts”. In a cathedral, we listen to what the choir sings beautifully, and we meditate the texts. There are still hymns for all. The parish Evensong is simpler and a compromise is struck between the choir and the congregation. I have been a parish organist myself, and I organised the music programme with the Rector. For private recitation, there are many Latin and English breviaries, and there is the English Office containing the Prayer Book offices with material in English from the Sarum breviary. It is a great opportunity for lay people and isolated priests to nourish our faith and devotion when we can be with others in church only rarely.

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