Nathan Busenitz gives a vivid account of the martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, who was greatly influenced by Luther and who is the literary genius who gave us the Book of Common Prayer, the English rendition of the liturgy that have shaped the language of Lutheran liturgies as well. [Read more…]
A letter from the late poet W. H. Auden to his pastor, on the occasion of the church–St. Mark’s Episcopal in New York City–adopting a more modern liturgy:
77 St Mark’s Place
New York City 3
Nov. 26th [year not given]
Dear Father Allen:
Have you gone stark raving mad? Aside from its introduction of a lesson and psalm from the O.T., which seems to me admirable since few people go any more to Mattins or Evensong, the new ‘liturgy’ is appalling.
Our Church has had the singular good-fortune of having its Prayer-Book composed and its Bible translated at exactly the right time, i.e., late enough for the language to be intelligible to any English-speaking person in this century (any child of six can be told what ‘the quick and the dead’ means) and early enough, i.e., when people still had an instinctive feeling for the formal and the ceremonious which is essential in liturgical language.
This feeling has been, alas, as we all know, almost totally lost. (To identify the ceremonious with ‘the undemocratic’ is sheer contemporary cant.) The poor Roman Catholics, obliged to start from scratch, have produced an English Mass which is a cacophonous monstrosity (the German version is quite good, but German has a certain natural sonority): But why should we imitate them?
I implore you by the bowels of Christ to stick to Cranmer and King James. Preaching, of course, is another matter: there the language must be contemporary. But one of the great functions of the liturgy is to keep us in touch with the past and the dead.
And what, by the way, has happened to the altar cloths? If they have been sold to give money to the poor, I will gladly accept their disappearance: I will not accept it on any liturgical or doctrinal grounds.
With best wishes
Auden is not referring to “contemporary worship,” of course, just the folky trendiness of modern-language liturgies (think Catholic folk masses as opposed to the Tridentine Mass; Lutheran Worship, as opposed to The Lutheran Hymnal, though not nearly so much). I believe this letter dates from 1968 and probably refers to some of the trial orders of worship that would lead up to the 1979 version of the Book of Common Prayer. Still, what we now know as contemporary Christian worship arguably had its theological beginnings in the worship innovations of these liturgical churches, which adopted the principles of being community-centered, using modern music, and being culturally relevant.
Auden was arguably the greatest poet in English in the generation after T. S. Eliot. Whereas Eliot, born in St. Louis, gave up his American citizenship to become a naturalized British subject, Auden did the reverse, giving up his British citizenship to become an American. Both had been known for cutting edged bohemian radicalism and then converted to Christianity. I suppose I should also say that Auden, who was open about it, was gay, though I haven’t run across anything where he justifies his sexual orientation.
There is much good material here: his rejection of the notion that liturgical worship is undemocratic; his defense of archaic language; his point that the liturgy is supposed to connect us with the past and with the dead, his exhortation “by the bowels of Christ.”
I’ve been studying Anglicanism lately. But then I’ve run up against the Black Rubric, so-called because it was printed in bold type in the Book of Common Prayer. It enjoins kneeling while receiving the Sacrament, but goes on to deny explicitly any kind of real, bodily presence of Christ in the elements:
“Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.”
Now I know that many Anglicans do believe in the Real Presence, with some sounding almost Lutheran in their affirmations. Indeed, some are Anglo-Catholics with a very high view of the sacraments. I’m curious how those folks handle the Black Rubric.
According to the article, this has come in and out of various editions of the Book of Common Prayer. (Puritans insisted on it and would go up in arms when it was omitted.) It isn’t in the 2000 edition used in America today, though it remains in the British prayer book. It is apparently in the 1926 Book of Common Prayer, the one favored by many conservatives and Anglo-Catholics today.
I realize that this is what I read in a Reformed Episcopal service I once attended, with my hosts seemingly a little hurt that I, as a Lutheran, would not commune with them. But the liturgy explicitly repudiated my beliefs about the Sacrament as idolatry! This may also explain to Anglicans who are hurt by the confessional Lutheran practice of closed communion why Lutheran pastors can not assume that Anglicans have the same view of the Christ’s presence in His Supper that they do. And why Lutheran theologians tend to categorize Anglicans as another variety of Calvinists. Indeed, the Black Rubric seems to be a textbook definition of Calvinist sacramental theology (what with the statement that Christ’s body is in Heaven, “and not here”), which is why the Puritans made such a point of it.
And yet I’m sure this isn’t the whole story. Someone help me out with this.
One of my former students, Bart Gingerich, who sometimes comments on this blog, has gotten a job writing for the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He covered a recent meeting by the Prayer Book Society, a group of Anglicans who have been calling for the restoration of the 1926 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the last modernization faithful to Cranmer’s Reformation-era version of the English liturgy (which has also shaped the language and the collects used in Lutheran worship).
Bart comments that “During the split of the Episcopal Church in the 2000s, PBS [the Prayer Book Society] was strangely ostracized during the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). It was a quiet scandal that the supposedly conservative ACNA spurned the stalwart organization from its proceedings.”
Here are some of the points made at the conference:
Executive director Rev. Patterson opened by observing that the Anglican way of being a Christian is governed not by a systematic theology but by a theology of worship. Unfortunately, since the 1960s at least, varied theologies have vied for control over the Book of Common Prayer to influence church stances on issues ranging from Christology to homosexuality. Ever since the Episcopal Church’s adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer with its multiple rites to please everyone, rectors now “begin with an empty 3-ring binder” to choose and create their own liturgy for their parish. Patterson outlined 5 different approaches to focusing congregational worship. He first presented entertainment, where the congregation listens passively to what is on stage; second, education, where the pulpit and sermon dominate the service; third, encounter with God, which emphasizes a personal experience in music; fourth, evangelism, which avoids being too “churchy” and emphasizes the sinner’s prayer; fifth, Eucharist, which Patterson believed to be the traditional and proper heart of the church service. Many modern approaches “worship styles of worship” when in fact “we need to be taught how to worship God rightly.”
Patterson continued: “One grows into the Prayer Book. He never grows out of it.” A proper church service need not focus on “what comes out of the heart in the moment but to put in what needs to be there.” Praising the richness, truth, and beauty of the 1928 prayer book, he claimed, “It is never right to buy simplicity at the cost of shallowness.”
PBS president Rev. Dunbar pointed to the traditional prayer book as the “most effective tool for world evangelism in the English-speaking world.” He then commenced with an in-depth investigation of the 1928 service for Holy Communion. The service both uplifts the souls of congregants and focuses on the person of Christ, Who reconciles heaven and earth in His Incarnation. Dunbar pointed out that modern prayer books make self-conscious attempts to get away from sacrificial language, “but it is the only time…that we begin to speak of the atonement between man and God.” For centuries, Christian liturgy noted how Christ is a propitiating sacrifice for sin while the church offers up a sacrifice of praise. In the Eucharist, the participants are then caught up with Christ for fellowship with the Trinity. “We know we know we are Christians at that moment,” Dunbar stated. It is here that the Christian finds the endless end, where the restless heart finds rest, and the troubled spirit finds peace.
Dunbar outlined the 3-fold triad of the older Anglican services (before Dix’s “shape” theory and Hippolytus of Rome became the authoritative vogue for liturgists). The old services function according to “guilt, grace, and gratitude,” or rather repentance, faith, and good works. In the 1979 edition, much of the penitential elements were thrown out, allowing the service to be more celebratory. Dunbar condemned modern liturgists’ slavery to innovation
Pulling from the prayer book, Dunbar believed that “agreement of the truth in Thy Holy Word [Christ being the Word made flesh]” is the basis for Christian unity. In a communion suffering a crisis in sexual ethics and biblical faith, perhaps it would be best to return to a deeper liturgy in harmony with the past habits of prayer. Maybe it is time for Anglicans to turn to the insights and principles of this beleaguered but faithful fellowship.
I am astonished that the newly-formed conservative Anglican church body is not conservative when it comes to worship, though I assume that the congregations that do use the Book of Common Prayer (1926) are also joining ACNA.
I would venture to say that it is difficult to sustain a theology of worship without a systematic theology.
My colleague Dr. Roberta Bayer, professor of political theory here at Patrick Henry College is a conservative Anglican, an editor with the Prayer Book Society, which champions the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. She writes about how the Pope’s offer to let Anglicans come on over to Rome is not a legitimate option for genuine Anglicans:
The spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer is not the spirituality of the Counter-Reformation. The art and the architecture, the poetry and prose of the seventeenth century reflect some of the differences. The churches of the Anglican Reformation reflect classical order, the inward spirituality,of Christian vocation lived out in the family, the community, and the nation. The churches of the Counter-Reformation reflect an inward spirituality as well, but one which glories in the spiritual journey of the soul within the church. The Bernini statue of the Ecstacy of Teresa of Avila relates an approach to God which is very different from that found in the theology of the Reverend Jeremy Taylor, writing in the same period, or the poetry of George Herbert and John Donne. Roman spirituality calls for an ecstatic art and architecture, calling heaven down to earth, and the church up to heaven. Anglican spirituality, calls for columns and rational proportion, for reflection upon the right relation of our sinful nature to our final redemption, a proper relation of man to world, and the consideration of holy living in this world, and preparing ourselves for the the next.
The nineteenth century revival of a nostaligic neo-Gothic in both Roman and Anglican traditions, bringing with it a spirituality sometimes of sentiment, followed in the twentieth century by a new spirituality, charismatic and self-expressive, means that in the English speaking world, Christianity presents itself, in both Roman and Anglican churches, as more or less similar. Yet contemporary perceptions are deceptive. Counter-Reformation practices in the church of Rome are as remote to most peoples’ contemporary sensibilities as is the Book of Common Prayer. The proper recovery of both is salutary to the recovery of the fullness of Christian teaching in both traditions.
In the contemporary world, given our changed perceptions of prayer and worship, and the fact that few leaders, if any, are sympathetic to a historical understanding of their own tradition, people have forgotten the theological basis for the dispute about spiritual formation that drove the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Thus, the move to Rome seems easy: the liturgical rite in an Anglican parish looks much like the rite in a contemporary Roman parish. Rome appears attractive because it upholds orthodox Christian teaching on gay marriage and women clergy. But morality never was a fundamental or key point of difference between traditional Anglican teaching and that of Rome. It is only in the twentieth century that there have come to be divisions over moral truth for reasons having to do with the culture at large.
Benedict has been friendly to those willing to embrace the fullness of tradition in his own church by allowing for the older mass. But on behalf of those too few Anglicans who continue to embrace the theology and spirituality of Cranmer, Hooker, Ridley, Taylor, Donne and Herbert one can only ask of the Vatican how it is that catechetical, spiritual, and liturgical differences can truly be resolved? To move to Rome with this ordinariate may be to remain Anglican in name only. Indeed, it may have the further and unfortunate consequence of confusing perceptions about Anglicanism, and make the possibility of reviving the Anglican Way, its spiritual and liturgical patrimony even more remote. And one may in fact be moving from one instantiation of contemporary theology to another, having lost the riches of the past on the way.
This is an important point. Conservative Anglicanism, as defined in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, is NOT Anglo-Catholicism. Rather, it is a church of the Reformation.