I often hear (or read) it said that the problem of contemporary Christianity – its inexorable passing into history – is its failure to be dogmatic and doctrinal. Others suggest we are too affluent – and that a good war would bring us back onto our knees in prayer!
It is true that we need to have dogmas and doctrinal teachings to structure our faith, measuring it against an objective standard. This is what we do as Catholics (whether in communion with Rome or otherwise). It is also true that many people returned to God at the end of World War II having lost everything and even their own families. Young men flocked to the monasteries after being demobilised from the Armed Forces and parish churches were full. The piece of Vaughan Williams I posted yesterday is a small illustration of that return to God from the Air Raid shelters of devastated London and other cities and the dreadful prison and death camps in Germany. At the same time, war destroys man’s spirit. The same Vaughan Williams returned from the horror of the trenches without the faith. Elgar stopped composing and found the courage to write a piece or two only in the early 1930’s (he died in 1934). Poverty and war in themselves do not bring man to God.
The great error of much of “conservative” Christianity is using politics and propaganda to beef up the churches in secularised society. Roman Catholicism focuses on the Pope. Evangelical Protestantism relies on the Bible and charismatic preachers. The mass media inflates the image of celebrity personalities, and churches are tempted to work in the same way. This is the American “mega-church” and the massive gatherings around the Pope in airports and sports stadiums.
Personally, I was only ever attracted to churches by the experience of beauty, through art, music and the liturgy. I don’t know if many others would admit such a thing. It is only a posteriori that I took an interest in reading books about theology – and then going on to study the subject at university. Perhaps had I never seen the Epiphany Procession in York Minster in January 1973, I would have probably never heard of Saint Thomas Aquinas or the seven Ecumenical Councils!
Many people become convinced by Christianity through intellectual arguments, by the experience of evil in this life and looking for something better and higher. We cannot judge one motivation for a conversion to God over another. I do believe that the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism brought in an element of experience, which would appeal as much to the working man in the cities as the aesthetes from the Universities.
Catholicism is built not so much on doctrines, dogmas and teaching authorities, but on the experience of the Eucharist and the Incarnate Christ. Our life is one of contemplation, conversion to God from our sinfulness. Our Bishops keep us on the right road by interpreting the Holy Scriptures and the Councils, by teaching us faith and morals, but only Christ himself is our Redeemer. Only through the Eucharist and the Sacraments is Christ present among us. Leo the Great said that what was visible in our Saviour has passed over into his mysteries. Only through the Eucharist do we find the living Christ as not found in our imaginations and memories.
Everything begins with the Eucharist, and if our faith in it ebbs away, then everything about Christianity will collapse. It will make no further sense. This is our main motivation as Anglican Catholics in keeping older forms of the liturgy. Surely, contemplation is independent from entertainment, junk, noise and untidiness.
We have much to learn from the monastic tradition, namely simplicity of life, interior silence and subjecting the imagination to the spirit and the intellect, loving without counting the cost. The Mass is the greatest thing and our most precious treasure. It brings more good than any stimulation of imagination. It is the living Christ who alone can bring us to heroism and the self-sacrifice to which we are called.
With this reminder of what it all means, the liturgy is essential. The liturgy can take different forms and be expressed in various uses and rites. The liturgical rite contains the essential matter and form for the Sacraments, but there is also the significatio ex adjunctis, meaning given by added parts, just what some would call non-essential, optional and therefore to be suppressed. If the new Anglican and Roman Catholic liturgies have gained in some elements, they have been impoverished in others.
Unlike “conservatives”, we take a more realistic look at things. We should be tolerant for all and respectful of diversity, but it is hard to see how some religious expressions bring us to experience the living Mystery! This is why we need to know about the history and theology of the liturgy, from the points of view of both western and eastern Churches.
Perhaps it is a question of individual temperament. I don’t like football, loud entertainment or places where there are crowds of people. I prefer the inner way, the solitude and the silence of the sea and the countryside. I prefer monasteries to places of pilgrimage like Lourdes or Fatima. I love art and music, the products of others who lived painful and profound lives. I prefer my experience of “medieval” liturgy to models based on modern people management or conjectures of very ancient forms. A few others do too.
I have discussed “conciliar” Catholicism and Orthodoxy in many contexts. The one thing that could bring us together would be liturgy and Sacrament where authority, indoctrination and domination alienate us from each other.