The Trio

I am sure I will one day find another nickname for the little trio comprising Fr Gregory Wassen, Fr Jonathan Munn and your humble (or not humble enough!) servant. Perhaps we might one day organise a little seminar where people interested in it would do some preparatory research, give a little lecture and then have a question and answer session. It is a marvellous method of teaching in universities, and I really found them very useful.

I have just read Fr Jonathan’s newest posting Thank God for Continental Priests! It shows real progress being made in our reflection. I drew his attention to my old article on the Anglican Office and the way Fr Louis Bouyer compared it with the Quiñones Breviary of the 16th century. Quiñones and Cranmer. For my university work on the Roman Missal, I consulted Dom Suitbert Bäumer’s Geschichte des Breviers: Versuch einer quellenmässigen Darstellung der Entwicklung des altkirchlichen u. des römischen Officiums bis auf unsere Tage, Freiburg i. Breisgau, Herder 1895; French translation, R. Biron, Paris 1905. Unfortunately, no one seems to have translated this work into English. Bäumer’s work was particularly germane for questions of the calendar, since the same rules govern the calendar of the Breviary as for the Missal. This book was as important to me as Jungmann’s Missarum Sollemnia and the many secondary references, books and articles I found in Fribourg University Library (no internet in those days!).

I quoted extensively from Louis Bouyer (1913-2004) in my article mentioned above, because there was an aspect to Cranmer’s work that was not purely influenced by Protestant ideology, but constituted a movement parallel with that of the early Counter-Reformation, that of the Quiñones Breviary, rejected by Pope Pius IV in 1558. The Prayer Book Office was unique in the reformed world, in that it retained many of the essential elements of Matins and Lauds, and Vespers and Compline. It has points in common with the Monastic Office, but also with the Cathedral Office of Sarum. The versicles and responses (after the Benedictus or Nunc dimittis are much more prolix than the Kyrie and the Pater noster of the Benedictine offices. There is nothing wrong with that, and several centuries of these Offices have given the Church of England a choral tradition that is unique in the world.

For the frequency of saying the whole Psalter, St Benedict showed moderation in allowing monks a week to say the Psalms rather than a single day as in the former monastic tradition. Cranmer divided the Psalter into thirty days, morning and evening, and no Psalm was repeated during that time. In the monastic and Sarum breviaries, the Miserere is sung each day at Lauds as are the three Laudate psalms (148, 149 and 150). The Quiñones office had its own system of avoiding such repetitions, like at Compline or the Day Hours. Pius X in 1911 adopted a similar plan to lighten the load – since the 1568 Roman Breviary was really heavy going (I have a copy in my library from the Leo XIII era). The real problem was imposing an obligation of the entire Office on each cleric rather than on each cathedral, collegiate or parish church where clerics were expected to attend to their duties as corresponded with their prebendaries. Frankly, the breviary that appeals to me most is the monastic on account of its being light during the day and more intense in the very early morning. This sense of moderation in St Benedict and attempts to reform the office in line with Tradition and pastoral concern are a highly cogent point.

I make no pretence at intellectual eminence or scholarship sublime, but I enjoy reading and learning about things, going into them in depth. I do believe that our Church needs to work towards a certain academic standard, not for all clerics and priests, but for the sake of making progress in furthering our essential purpose of surviving the “bullshit” being hurled at us by “mainstream” churches. Fr Jonathan has read more than he will let on. He is also a talented musician and composer. His advanced education in mathematics gives him a logical rigour that is certainly less developed in my own mind.

Indeed, how do we maintain the standard given by the Prayer Book and not use it purely and simply? Is this not “cafeteria religion” taking out the bits we don’t like. What made the Prayer Book office is the English choral tradition that came down to us through Purcell, the many organists and composers of the Georgian era, and particularly from S.S. Wesley up to Stanford, Bairstow and our own time. Cathedral worship was always set apart from the parish religion of the preaching barns with an old chancel that was almost ashamed of its existence. Without that musical tradition, it is more difficult to make something of the Prayer Book Office. It can be said, or sung to simple plainsong. It is what the Prayer Book most has going for it. The additional material from the English Office Book and the English Hymnal bring something extraordinary to an Office which would fall flat on its face if taken only from the Prayer Book.

The Mass is something else. With his acid wit, Dom Gregory Dix (The Shape of the Litugy) remarked that Protestant Eucharistic rites tended to keep the medieval “accretions” and discard the parts that truly came from the early Church like the so-called Gregorian Canon. The translation of the Kyrie, Gloria, Nicene Creed and Sanctus is sublime. I can understand the Agnus Dei being chopped out, since the Holy Week rites reflect some of the most primitive forms of liturgy. The Gregorian Canon we have in the Anglican Missal is attributed to Miles Coverdale, the same who gave us our glorious Psalter. It is not a part of the Prayer Book, but comes from the same era and humanist culture. What has been done since the end of the nineteenth century is to reconstruct an Anglican Mass from these translations and new translations from the Latin missals in the same style of early modern English. Call it a pastiche if you will, but the Anglican Missal and the translation of the Sarum Missal by Canon Warren give us something that is both Anglican and Catholic.

I have often thought of sessions on the Sarum liturgy, but I have no idea about logistics and organisation, how to get establishment Anglicans, Continuing Anglicans and Roman Catholics under one roof without problems. Also, someone needs to come up with the money and sort out a venue. If it remains purely academic, it might not get people too excited, or even if only the Office is sung together – but Mass, communicatio in sacris, the priest not being recognised to be in valid orders by some? Oh dear! It is something I can live without… I am also realistic enough to know that such a rarefied subject will be of no interest to most Anglicans and Roman Catholics. I believe that the best way is research and writing, doing our own work and then sharing it with the world – as I do with my blog. I would like Sarum to attract more attention, since material is becoming available thanks to the Internet and copies of books we would only be able otherwise to borrow from a library. There is nothing wrong with using the Roman rite as is contained in the Anglican Missal and English Missal, like in the “neo-Gallican” missals of the eighteenth century in France, but Sarum would better express our own spiritual identity. It is no more difficult to learn, and Dr Renwick and I, among others, are working towards making all the books and music available.

Essentially, what the Prayer Book means is the language, a classical and archaic form of English that is our equivalent of Church Slavonic in the Russian Orthodox Church. We are very fortunate to have these texts and translations, a basis that has inspired centuries of sublime music, our literary heritage and English culture. The Germans have Luther’s vernacular, which is not what is now spoken on Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen. Mass in French nauseates me, since the oldest translations from the eighteenth century were only ever paraphrases, and they contrast with the the sober Latin by their flamboyance and exaggerated expressions. Actually, one of the better translations of the RC Novus Ordo is French, based on a lot of work done in the 1950’s and early 60’s. Mass in modern English has only been slightly improved by Benedict XVI’s version – which might be short-lived given the news about Pope Francis giving Cardinal Sarah a public dressing down! The kind of language we have leaves us stability and beauty, rivalled only by the Latin texts. Anglicanism has always had the wisdom to keep some Latin, especially for musical settings.

I think I have the essential of the issue of Anglican identity. It is in our language and culture, but also our share in the northern French heritage that goes back to the Conquest of 1066. We have progress to make in the Continuing Churches and the ACC. None of us three would point any fingers at anyone. It is simply our responsibility to do the reading and writing for the education of our brethren. That is our positive contribution.

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3 Responses to The Trio

  1. T Graham says:

    I’m following this dialogue with interest.

    I don’t think much of the “pastiche” accusation that is sometimes flung around about the Anglican Missal and related rites. In what way pastiche? Spenser, Milton, Shakespeare, the Authorised Version – all employ consciously archaic language as well as neologism. It is an intellectually lazy thing to say, without explaining in what way pastiche differs from a prose that creates a unique architecture from the rich mine of the English language for the liturgy. It is like calling Victorian Gothic pastiche tout court, ignoring Pugin and Pearson.

    I feel that there are two main problems with the use of the BCP as a standard.

    (1) The arrangement of Psalms for the office is functional but hardly a norm. Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult to produce an arrangement for the BCP based on the Benedictine or older Roman breviary that preserved the proper Psalms for Vespers, for example, and used the suggested 1928 revision or similar to revive more of the monastic hours?

    (2) The lack of the Gregorian canon in the Mass. Much as I love some of the eccentric organisation of the BCP Communion, including the final Gloria, and the option for (penitential i.e. Lenten / Advent?) use of the Decalogue, I don’t see how its Eucharistic prayer can be a norm for development.

    I think that the BCP is of relevance for exactly the reason that Dix poked fun at it, viz. because it incorporates late medieval developments in theology into the liturgy (e.g. the Prayer of Thanksgiving) whilst giving them a more sober late 16th/17th C setting. Also, I agree with Fr A that one can hardly overstate the importance of language. As the vehicle of thought, English carries the intellectual and imaginative life of its development, including the romanticism related to the Oxford Movement.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I have often heard criticisms piled on the Romantic movement and later ones from the same inspiration in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including something new that could emerge from the post-everything world of now. This criticism doubts the validity of using any form, thought or anything from the middle-ages for the reason that we don’t have the negative things like the lack of medicine and sanitation. If you want the “real” middle-ages, go and live in some Syrian hell-hole run by Daesh! I disagree with such a criticism. What is good should be perpetuated and revived and what is bad needed and needs to be vanquished by powers of good and love of human life. Many nineteenth-century churches are beautiful in their own right. Others are in more doubtful taste. Like Blessed Charles de Foucault, I have found myself awed by the Haussmann church of St Augustin in Paris opposite the railway station of Saint Lazare. The dialectic of Romanticism and Classicism in that century gave a whole new dynamic out of the medieval inspiration.

      Similarly today, we find our inspiration in the past to live in the present, uncertain as we are of the future. The English language was better expressed in past eras than in our technological and scientific age, let alone than in our “popular culture”. Cranmerian English, even if written in our own time, is to us Anglicans what Church Slavonic is to the Russian Orthodox.

      Your observations about the Prayer Book reflect the thought of many of us. There are breviaries, including the monastic breviary, using the Coverdale Psalter. I think the Benedictine plan is the best ever devised. Matins is very long with twelve psalms, but shorter than the 1568 Roman breviary. The day hours are much lighter and leave monks to study or do their daily work.

      The rite of Mass in the 1552 and 1662 English Prayer Books is a complete mess. The American 1928 and Scottish rites were a tremendous improvement as was the proposed English 1928. The latter were compromises, but none reflect the liturgy of any Church of the third, fourth or fifth centuries. The Roman Canon was just assumed by the Reformers, without any evidence, to be of medieval composition! Historical criticism just didn’t enter the picture in those days, and Roman Catholic polemicists were no better. Most Anglicans abandoned the Prayer Book, but unfortunately invented new rites instead of looking to history for a solid liturgical tradition to revive and develop in the pastoral context.

      One thing that amuses me is the legalism and immobilism that surrounds the BCP. For example, in the Nicene Creed, we find “and in one, Catholic and Apostolic Church“. The word “holy” was missed in the translation. Also in the Gloria, we find “For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ” instead of “For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Jesu Christ”. Was there a reason to omit the holy name or was it a typo or copyist’s error? Like Rome in the 1950’s and in the euphoria following Vatican II, what was immobile and graven in stone was suddenly discarded to be replaced with even worse. There is a fine page of attempts to revise the Prayer Book in the twentieth century. The level of dissatisfaction is impressive. We are all inspired by the Prayer Book, but none of us is its slave!

      The solution is not immobilism or arbitrary invention of new liturgies, it is what I have already called “retro-futurism” like Jules Verne’s steampunk, but going into the past for inspiration. What if Cranmer and men like Coverdale had merely translated the Use of Sarum into English for pastoral reasons (Latin no longer being understood by ordinary churchgoers)? Imagine all the churches being conserved and not vandalised! Imagine the monasteries being allowed to be re-founded after the death of Henry VIII! There could have been a relationship of love and spirituality between England and France instead of war.
      Cranmerian English can still be understood, at least I don’t have any problem with it. Words change their meaning and can be looked up. Sometimes it is quaint, like “comfortable words” meaning words that bring consolation to a guilt-ridden sinner. That is the beauty of it, lifting us out of our parochialism and small-mindedness.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    With reference to “material […] becoming available thanks to the Internet”, I am delighted to note that Dom Suitbert Bäumer’s Geschichte des Breviers is scanned in the Internet Archive in the original and its French translation. (And how enjoyable to think he bears the name of one of St. Willibrord’s Northumbrian missionary companions.)

    The discussion of pastiche calls to mind that organ improvisation in historical styles is practised and taught, and that there are also people who seriously, successfully compose in historical styles (Johann Julius Sontag von Holt Sombach’s music for glass harmonica, for example).

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