Liturgical Diversity Revisited

This is a subject not entirely unknown on this blog. It is related to some recent questions in comments, between the wholesale reform of ancient liturgical traditions, such as in the Roman Catholic Church since about 1950 (Holy Saturday rite) and a balance between conserving older rite and their justification by bringing negative judgements to bear on the new rites.

It is a difficult balance – between liturgical integrity and perceived pastoral needs. One such pastoral need would be the adoption of the typical times of services for the Triduum, customary since the 1950’s, and that improvement being used to justify the introduction of new rites.

Here are some articles I have already written about this and related subjects:

In the Roman Catholic Church, nothing is allowed if it isn’t expressly permitted. However, “pastoral” experimentation tends to be tolerated more in the less conservative dioceses than traditional liturgies under the old Indult or Summorum Pontificium. Perhaps this idea is not as objective as we might think. Some dioceses are very strict about the liturgy “from both ends”, and others more or less let you do what you want. That is as far as I will go in Roman Catholic terms, because I haven’t been in communion with that Church for the best part of twenty years.

We have an analogical situation in Anglicanism, with the Prayer Book having been imposed as standard and mandatory. In the 1960’s, new services came in as experiments, and clergy were bringing in “unlawful” modifications from the mid nineteenth century. In the early twentieth, such “advanced” high churchmen were introducing an English translation of the Roman rite (with a few Prayer Book bits and pieces) in the form of the English Missal and the Anglican Missal. These are the missals we use in the continuing Churches.

Myself, I have been using the Sarum liturgy since about 2008. I was trained and ordained in the old Roman rite and joined the TAC in 2005. I continued to use the Roman rite as being an Anglican priest in France would be of no interest to Roman Catholic traditionalists, for whom the word Anglican is synonymous with English Protestantism. Archbishop Hepworth didn’t like me using Sarum but he tolerated it. I have always been clear with my present Bishop, and he accepts that Sarum has a place in our liturgical tradition, even though our diocese uses what is essentially the post-Tridentine Roman rite translated into Prayer Book style English. My own usage is therefore by way of tolerance.

Liturgical tolerance comes hard for English-speaking Roman Catholics and many Anglicans. In their anxiety to keep the old rites, traditionalists can be very unkind about the new ones. It is not a problem in the Anglican Catholic Church, since our rites are traditional with more or less use of the Prayer Book, and we do not use modern liturgies at all. The problem exists in the Canterbury Communion and the official Roman Catholic Church. Those are large institutions having bureaucratic bodies with vested interests.

Under Benedict XVI, the question of liturgical diversity was on the agenda. The most important milestones were Summorum Pontificium of 2007 and Anglicanorum coetibus of 2009. Prior to that, Rome gave authorisation for adaptations of the Novus Ordo for non-European contexts and for the older Anglican Use. It would seem that those who ask for tolerance need to tolerate the “other side” of the spectrum. If you want your Tridentine Mass, don’t criticise the balloon and clown mass in the other church down the road. It was the state of affairs in Anglicanism as I knew it in the 1970’s, between York Minster, St Michael le Belfry and All Saints in North Street – high church Prayer Book, Evangelical and practically Pre-Reformation respectively.

Benedict XVI certainly had this idea in mind, aware as he was of the disunity in the Church due to insensitively implemented liturgical reforms and the closing of minds. Open up liturgical diversity and let organic development do its work once the polemics have dissipated. What a wonderful idea. The Pope resigned and was replaced by the present Pontiff, who apparently is totally indifferent to the liturgical question and is allowing the “old guard” liturgical bureaucracy to get back its old levers of influence and control.

There is still a considerable amount of ignorance about liturgical diversity as existed in the western Church until the time of the Reformation and the Council of Trent, and until much more recently in France and some other parts of Europe (eg. Milan, Braga, Toledo, etc.). The world has changed and everything is standard, unlike in those days, we are told. Would such liturgical diversity be right for us now? The usual notion put about is that diversity of liturgical rites would cause confusion and cause people to get into disputes. Therefore the only way to maintain ecclesial unity would be to compel liturgical uniformity by force, as was done in Anglicanism from the Elizabethan Settlement to the nineteenth century. What is generally unknown is that Pius V, when he promulgated the official missal in 1570, left open a loophole for any rite that had at least two hundred years of usage. Thus, pre Vatican II liturgical uniformity was never as strict as after the reform of Paul VI and the deliberate sweeping away of all western rites escaping the control of the liturgical bureaucrats.

These considerations are familiar to Roman Catholic traditionalist polemicists, and much less apparent to others. A significant consideration about the Use of Sarum is that is was not suppressed, even in recusant times. It was simply replaced by the Roman rite and it fell out of anything other than very occasional use.

All these things considered, it is my opinion that the onus should be on those wishing to impose new liturgical forms to justify themselves rather than on those who simply seek to keep their liturgical patrimony under threat from the bureaucrats. We in the ACC don’t have to accommodate modern liturgies, nor does the TAC – but we are aware of the conditions Roman Catholics have to survive.

I encourage readers of this blog to inform ourselves about the issues and keep an air of kindness and tolerance about ourselves, even if many conservatives think that Anglicans got ourselves into a mess by being too “nice” and not sufficiently “muscular”. Perhaps we might make ourselves a little less marginal and eccentric-looking if we work on our kindness and tolerance, and allow others the freedom we claim for ourselves.

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