Newman in Canterbury

Fr Newman has a new website and blog. Under the link Divine worship you can go through a cool slide show of High Mass at St Mary’s. How blessed we are to have been brought to such a vibrant parish! For Ash Wednesday the place was packed, the liturgy was splendid and the spirit truly penitential. Last evening the church was crowded for Stations of the Cross, Benediction and Confessions. I was in the confessional for an hour and a half solid. Praise God!

Fr. Newman comments here on Catholic liturgy in England as contrasted with Anglican liturgy. While visiting England a while back he went to a dreary modern Catholic mass with the ‘game show’ style of liturgy, then went to Canterbury Cathedral where everything was splendid.

I agree with Fr Newman’s sentiments, but there are a few problems with his analysis. He was comparing cathedral liturgy to parish church liturgy. To be fair, he should have compared the liturgy at the Catholic Westminster Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral. The comparisons wouldn’t have been so extreme. Likewise, he should have compared the ‘walk in’ experience of his local Catholic parish to the ‘walk in’ experience of the local Anglican parish. I can assure you the horrors he would have found in the typical Anglican parish church would have been just as alarming, and more so.

As a general rule though, Anglicans are better at liturgy than most Catholics. When you walk in from Catholicism it can make you yearn for something better. The problem comes when you have a steady diet of beautiful Anglicanism. I was chaplain at Kings College, Cambridge for two years. There are few places in the world where the architecture, music and history combine in such sublime fusion. I loved it. The only problem is that it was all form and no content. The actual religion that was presented was a watered down form of secular humanism with no backbone. In the end it was like being married to an extremely beautiful, but witless woman.

I’m reminded of those words by the other Newman (I paraphrase) that he was under no doubt that should Augustine or Athanasius or Irenaeus walk the streets of England looking for Mass on a Sunday Morning he would find himself in a back street, kneeling in a tin hut with Italian and Irish peasants, and not in the fine churches of Anglicanism.

This is not to excuse game show liturgy, only to make the point, with which Fr Newman would agree, that “the habit does not make the monk.” Or, when a snooty Anglican says to me, “Ohhh, we are so Caaatholic here at St Hilda’s…We’re far more Catholic than Fr. McGee down at St Patrick’s…” My reply is to put on my best American drawl and say, “Shucks ma’am, wearing a ten gallon hat don’t make you a Texan.”

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  • “In the end it was like being married to an extremely beautiful, but witless woman.”Dear Father Dwightare you already trying to work your ticket out of the Land of the Politically Correct? The image is less OTT than that of the Whore of Babylon but I bet you can annoy quite a few people with this one! 🙂

  • ‘Whore of Babylon’ is perhaps more appropriate, but that moniker has already been applied to the Catholic Church. It would be too much like throwing the same stone back again.

  • Oh, my goodness, he’s a character. Tell him to keep it up.You have a point about Anglicans and liturgy. The Book of Common Prayer is, without a doubt, the most beautiful work of liturgy the Protestants ever produced.

  • Fr Dwight is correct: cathedral liturgy and parochial liturgy are different animals, and it is possible to find excellent Catholic liturgy of both sorts just as one can find bad Anglican liturgy of both sorts. It was not my purpose to compare apples and oranges. My fundamental point, though, remains the same: On the whole, Anglican liturgy is celebrated with reverence and devotion and in too many places Catholic liturgy is not. I sugget only that Catholics have something to learn about dignified worship from our Anglican brethren.

  • As one of an earlier generation of the Canterbury choristers so admired by Fr Newman and living just a few miles down the road from King’s College where Fr Longenecker ministered in a previous incarnation, I might perhaps be forgiven for writing eulogistically about the standard of much Anglican liturgy. But I don’t because I’m with Fr Dwight on this one. It is, as he says, all too often only skin deep. Fr D rightly draws parallels between what goes on in Westminster and Canterbury Cathedrals. But what is truly amazing is that Westminster stands alone liturgically among the English (and indeed most of the continental European)Catholic cathedrals whereas Canterbury is just one among 42 Church of England cathedrals (to say nothing of half a dozen Oxbridge colleges and a similar number of London churches) which maintain a standard of liturgy, if not always to Canterbury levels then not far behind. Having until recently been bursar at one of these cathedrals, I also know that most English cathedrals will expect to spend between a quarter and a third of their annually generated revenue on maintaining professional choirs which of course constitute the backbone of the liturgies used. Critics (of whom I am one) may mutter ‘triumph of form over substance’ or ‘to what purpose is this waste?’ but I think we have to remind ourselves that 95% of Anglican liturgical practice is derived from one or other Catholic tradition. Catholics used to care about the ‘beauty of holiness’ (and indeed some – a few – still do)so there really is no need for what goes on in so many Catholic churches to be quite as dreadful as it is. From what I hear, Pope Benedict seems rather keen to smarten things up. So guys, follow the leader – please.

  • Anonymous

    Catholics have nothing to learn from Anglicans about liturgy. They have everything to learn from St Pius X, Dom Prosper Gueranger and Pius XII

  • Anonymous: don’t you think ‘both/and’ is better than ‘either/or’? I’m not too happy to take theology or moral theology lessons from Anglicans, but I don’t mind learning liturgically from them. Similarly, I don’t want to take ecclesiology or sacramental theology from the Evangelicals, but I don’t mind learning from them about zeal, tithing, personal conversion and evangelism techniques.

  • Anonymous

    All that is needed for Catholics has been taught by the Magisterium. I don’t know the Book of Common prayer when I have the Missale Romanum which is infinitely greater (and I don’t mean the Novus Ordo Missale Romanum but the traditional Missale Romanum). I don’t need Anglican hymnody — a rediscovery of the infinite richness of Gregorian Chant is what is needed. The only thing the Anglicans show is how bad the Novus Ordo really is. The popes of the 20th century have said more than enough on the liturgy for Catholics. Thanks be to God the Fraternity of St Peter and the Institute of Christ the King are rediscovering the ancient liturgy

  • Anonymous, I pretty much agree with you, but I think its better to be open to what the other Christian traditions have to offer rather than dismiss them outright. On the whole, though, we do best to learn first from our own tradition.

  • Anonymous, If you’re in Upstate Greenville, check out Prince of Peace Catholic Church at 5 p.m. on first Sundays in order to worship like Catholics of all time worshipped.It used to be weekly, but…Well, never mind… It would never happen to a an Anglican-type liturgy, but just to the Mass of Tradition.

  • The ECUSA and Anglican liturgies haven’t been any better than the average Catholic mass IMHO.Anglicans in England shouldn’t point with pride at their cathedrals as being more numerous and beautiful than the Catholic buildings. As my English Catholic grandmother used to say, “Stolen property!” –muttered under her breath while we toured English cathedrals.