Meeting a long-lost sibling.
By Lyle Dunne
“Ordinary” is a funny word in the liturgical context.
I once wrote a poem called “ordinary time”, which ended …
…The offerings are brought forth:
Bread, wine, envelopes
(Take Our Bread, they sing without irony)
In earthenware, wood and glass
Of recently-fashionable beach-house style
To the area of feature-brick and kindergarten posters.
Then, almost casually, and with no fuss
Words that shook the stars are spoken flat
And, in the most commonplace way imaginable
Dumb mankind is bought from death once more.
I have a thought experiment I sometimes spring on fellow traditionalists: “What would you think about the traditional Latin Mass translated into English?”
This is partly designed to test which aspects appeal to people – is it the Latin, the rite, or the general attitude of reverence?
Of course, it’s a perfectly valid response to say “it’s the whole thing” or “they all go together” – or to reject the intellectual-deconstructionist argument altogether.
Nevertheless it can lead to an interesting discussion about the role of language in worship. I recently disconcerted a relative by suggesting that a focus on intelligibility was missing the point: worship was not communication. Indeed, a wise old priest once said a problem with vernacular liturgy was an excessive focus on the words. (A confession: I’m still hung up on the words; without a Missal I’m prone to distraction. So treat this as a counsel of perfection.) And certainly the use of Latin defuses arguments about “hieratic” vs “accessible” liturgical language.
But the response is also mediated by some other interesting variables: whether one is an optimist or a pessimist; a “hermit” or an “evangelist”; single or married, with or without school-aged children. Largely it comes down to what one imagines such a rite being celebrated instead of. Which depends on the broader context, as we shall see.
So imagine my surprise when I recently walked into that thought experiment – or something very like it.
This was a Mass of the Anglican Ordinariate at Our Lady of Walsingham in Rockhampton.
Now, the Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton has Advanced Ideas about liturgy. I don’t want to be uncharitable, but I remember a Holy Thursday service a few years ago when the pews were re-arranged to face the central aisle, and the people washed each other’s feet. One priest, who habitually says Mass in an alb and stole, walked up the aisle to say (Sunday) Mass recently wheeling a suitcase, carrying a shoulder bag and wearing a WYD backpack; at sermon time it became apparent that these were props representing the “baggage” we acquired through our lives, which kept us away from God. (Theology 1, Liturgy 0.)
Of course, in practice, a minimalist approach to liturgy tends to go with a shortage of vocations – whatever the causal relationship between these phenomena.
So in this context, the Ordinariate Mass was a breath of fresh air. Mass is said ad orientam (in St Theresa’s, a pretty inner-city church no longer used for regular Mass, but preserved by nostalgia and/or Providence from redevelopment and modernisation, with its High Altar intact); there was the Last Gospel, the Prayer to St Michael, the Roman Canon.
In this situation, one notices the similarities, and especially the minor differences.
I felt there was something wrong with the list of Saints, but when I read over the list, saying sotto voce Linus-Cletus-Clement-Sixtus, Laurence-and-Chrysogonus; John-and-Paul, Cosmas-and-Damian, I realised the difference was merely one of cadence.
… in practice, a minimalist approach to liturgy tends to go with a shortage of vocations – whatever the causal relationship between these phenomena.
I was pleased to encounter an old friend, the hymn Faith of Our Fathers – but sung to the “wrong” tune, Sawston (the tune of O Bread of Heaven), long used by Catholics in the US – probably in truth a more sophisticated melody, but to my ear lacking the martial fervour of the version we used to belt out at school.
Some clergy will be receptive, if only for market reasons. It may even become evident to some of them that ritual, dignity, solemnity speak to a need in human nature that is not satisfied by the hymns of the St Louis Jesuits, and that, if only for special occasions, something more may be needed.
It was surprising to speak of the judgement of “the quick and the dead”, a familiar phrase whose ironic usage has supplanted the original meaning.
Generally, though, it was like meeting a long-lost relative – whose existence one hadn’t been aware of.
On the basis of conversations with priests and laity, it seems the congregation is about evenly divided between former Anglicans and others. One should not assume this balance is typical, however: there are exceptional circumstances on both sides.
Historically, the Anglican Diocese of Rockhampton has always been High Church, Anglo-Catholic and even Tractarian in its sympathies. This is the community where Bishop Jarrett, the Bishop of Lismore, was a curate before his conversion to Catholicism, and from whom he received considerable support at that time. (One can only imagine the emotions at the reunion with his former parishioners, now that they’re all Catholics together.) Fr Owen Buckton of Rockhampton was Administrator and Vicar-General of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia prior to the appointment of Harry Entwistle as Ordinary. Remarkably, all but a very few members of that Anglican community have come to the Church via the Ordinariate. On the other side, Mass in the Extraordinary Form is no longer available in Rockhampton due to the death of the priest who used to offer it, and many of its devotees have found refuge at the Ordinariate Mass.
This does however raise, at least hypothetically, possible tension between the Ordinariates and Communities devoted to the Extraordinary Form. From one perspective, they could be seen as in competition; this relates to some of those dimensions I mentioned above – and the related question of whether one is focused exclusively on the EF, as opposed to the broader issue of the liturgical life of the Church. (In fact I think these positions converge, for reasons I’ll discuss.)
At time of writing, the Anglican Ordinariates here, and in the US and UK, are still awaiting the publication of a new Missal; according to the WA Record of 24 July 2013:
While the order of the Eucharistic liturgy [has] been completed, the liturgy’s propers, collects and prefaces had yet to be finalised.
The new liturgy is to be trialled in WA from mid-August.
In the interim, they are mainly using “The English Missal”, which is basically the Roman Missal translated into King James/Book of Common Prayer “hieratic” i.e. formal English. (It seems likely that this will form the basis of the new version.)
Shawn Tribe, at the New Liturgical Movement, said (in 2012) of this Missal
The benefit, from my perspective, is that this liturgical book combines some of the very things which form an important and identifiable part of the Anglican patrimony — namely, beautiful hieratic liturgical English with correspondingly beautiful English liturgical chant and options for the use of English sacred polyphony — with the familiar Catholic texts and ceremonies of the Roman liturgical books. In that regard, my own feeling is that it provides a very worthy synthesis which could be well suited to the Ordinariate and its mission taken alongside another liturgical book more akin to the [Book of Common Prayer].
Some would seek to go further, and make this the only liturgy available to the Ordinariate (rather than allowing a parallel Novus-Ordo-influenced “plain English” version) — or even the only English-language liturgy available in the Roman Rite. (I’ll just say the latter does not look likely!)
There is also the tricky question about whether Ordinariate priests should be permitted, encouraged or required to offer mass in the EF. This issue creates a dilemma for the Ordinariate: while they are generally sympathetic to the EF – and certainly cognisant of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, as clarified by the former Pontiff – their raison d’etre is the offering of Mass in a form congruent with Anglican traditions.
Some clergy will be receptive, if only for market reasons. It may even become evident to some of them that ritual, dignity, solemnity speak to a need in human nature not satisfied by the hymns of the St Louis Jesuits …
It’s true, at a superficial level, that the existence of a, dignified English-language liturgy which is celebrated in a manner respectful of the shared traditions may reduce the motivation of people to seek out the EF. But there’s more to it than that.
Tribe also says, in continuation of the passage above,
… at this point I must admit to a further motivation on my part. While I do genuinely think this option could be very enriching for the Ordinariate, its clergy and its faithful, I also happen to think that this option could be enriching for the broader Latin rite, most especially within the English speaking world. Why is because it presents a tangible model for the use of a hieratic liturgical English and English chant within the specific context of the Roman liturgical texts.
Reform by osmosis
In the immediate sense, the main beneficiary will be the Ordinary Form. As Catholics become aware of the presence of these long-lost relatives in their midst, particularly in places like Rockhampton, more of them will attend, occasionally or regularly. They will be exposed to dimensions of worship that have been lost in other parishes. Some of them will go back to their regular parishes, and say “why can’t we have bells, incense, chasubles, the Roman Canon, ad orientam, Corpus Christi processions, altar rails, the prayer to St Michael…?” Some clergy will be receptive, if only for market reasons. It may even become evident to some of them that ritual, dignity, solemnity speak to a need in human nature that is not satisfied by the hymns of the St Louis Jesuits, and that, if only for special occasions, something more may be needed.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in Extraordinary-form “enclaves” can be tempted to regard its appeal as self-evident, and lose sight of the fact that people raised in the average suburban parish may have lost (or never acquired) the liturgical vocabulary needed to make sense of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. If your only criteria are inclusivity, accessibility, immediate comprehensibility and the absence of difficult demands, then you will not be drawn to the EF.
I believe that Catholics who have encountered the liturgy of the Anglican-usage Ordinariate, or even attended Masses which have been influenced indirectly by the availability of that liturgy, will be more likely to “see the point” of the EF.
The same is true of Catholics who have attended Eastern-rite liturgies – but the Ordinariate, with fewer cultural or geographical barriers, is more likely to be accessible to ordinary Catholics.
And it seems a bit easier to be “bi-ritual”: according to Catholic News of 12 July:
While lifelong Catholics were always welcome to attend its Masses, the ordinariate was established in 2009 for communities of former Anglicans who joined the Catholic Church.
Yet the door was opened a little wider: “baptised but uncatechised” Catholics could join, as could close relatives of former Anglicans.
And whether they are “members” (whatever that means) or not, many traditionally-inclined Catholics will attend, and, I suspect, benefit.
Of course, all this is incidental. The real, big, good news here is that through the Ordinariate, whole communities of former Anglicans throughout the English-speaking world are being reconciled to the Church.
Doubtless this will lead to arguments about property, jurisdiction, precedence and other depressingly familiar issues in this fallen world.
In the long run, however, I suspect they’ll be drowned out by the sound of angels cheering.