If you've managed to avoid learning/reading/hearing about Advent until now, you've done pretty well. My liturgical diary has a couple of pages inserted before Sunday 30th November 2008 which explains the season of expectant waiting, preparation and penance before the coming of the Saviour. At least I think it does, because I haven't been bothered to read it yet. Similarly, I find myself flicking through the first few pages of my "new" Layman's Missal (1962), preferring to skip the first few pages of dense text about the nation of Israel heaving etc in order to get up to speed with the juicier Advent collects, the Rorate Coeli and - so as not to get caught out next time I go to S. Silas, Kentish Town - to learn and commit to memory the plainsong for the antiphon Alma redemptoris mater....
For years now, Advent has pretty much been a "pre-Christmas period" outside of Church. We all (quite rightly) have a good whinge about the lights and Christmas trees going up in October, and how the popular enthusiasm for watching the Sugababes flick a switch on Oxford street doesn't quite carry over into a mass return to religion come Christmas morning Mass.
It doesn't take much to remind us, in the midst of all this shopping, party-planning and stirring up our Christmas puddings (which Anglican pedantics will have done last Sunday), that the Church has a liturgical year, a rhythm of its own that runs in tune - not so much with the seasons of nature - but with the history of man's redemption. This week, countless people looked on in horror as a bloody drama unfolded in Mumbai. The end result of the killing spree and subsequent hostage-taking is about 172 dead. It took three days for Indian security forces to bring the attacks to an end after long, protracted gun-battles with the attackers. Immediately, the authorities suggested a link with the old enemy, Pakistan - perhaps to disguise the fact that they really had no idea who the attackers were, and had not been able to prevent the attacks. The news feed style of contemporary broadcasting, by which we are literally "fed" with news as it happens, only serves to underline the banality of suffering and death in our world. Yet we need nothing else to remind us that we are so close to, yet so far from, our Salvation. We are still locked in the same cycles of sin and death, the nations are still heaving in distress while complacent regimes look on, just like Israel in Roman shackles. We would be entirely foolish, and irresponsible as Christians, if we were to try to skip these pages to get to the good stuff; if we were to abandon the world in search of our own, individual, salvation. While the seasonal words we read about waiting, expecting, hoping for the Saviour might become jaded over time, there is no better time than the here and now to re-engage with the horrors of our broken and sinful human societies whilst being entirely reinvigorated by that hope that comes directly from faith in God.
So it is that we should start at the beginning. At S. Magnus, we begin the Advent liturgies with the traditional prayers at the foot of the altar, where the sacred ministers recite together Psalm 42 with the antiphon "Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam...I will go unto the altar of God..." before making a confession of sins in the Confiteor prayer. These prayers always remind me of the Gospel story of the Publican and the Pharisee. In contrast to the self-aggrandising Pharisee, the publican stood far from the altar, not even presuming to raise his eyes to God, where he beat his breast and said only "Have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinner", and it was his prayer, not the Pharisee's, that found favour with God. Just as in the Gospel, so it is in the traditional liturgy; the priest brings the sins of the faithful to the foot of the altar with faith and humility before offering the sacrifice of Calvary. Starting at the beginning means starting work with ourselves, with our own sinful and fallen nature, always hopeful of the Salvation that was won for us in Christ.
Perhaps I’m a bit morbid, but the first thing that comes to mind when I think of S. Catherine of Alexandria is the horrific way in which she was condemned to die; by being lashed to a ‘breaking wheel’ where should would be beaten about the limbs with a cudgel. I can’t imagine a more excruciatingly painful way to torture a person to death than by breaking their bones one by one. Unless the condemned received blows to the internal organs, which resulted in a relatively quick death, it could take days to die from the shock. For further humiliation, the victim’s limp body would be woven between the spokes of the wheel, which would be hoisted into the air for the birds to peck at.
According to the hagiography, Catherine escaped this fate by a miracle – the wheel broke when her body touched it - and she was instead decapitated. Like many early Christian martyrs in Egypt, Catherine’s “crime” was to speak out against the persecution and murder of Christians by the emperor Maximus. Catherine took her complaint straight to the palace, and succeeded in converting the emperor’s wife and many pagan advisors to the Faith, before being martyred with them.
If only Egypt during the Roman persecution were such a distant memory, but alas, the modern Republic bears a striking resemblance; a country where - to use a common cliché – acts of state violence, torture and intimidation are systematic. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly report on incidences of state brutality by the Egyptian police, Internal Security or other state apparatus: torture in custody, physical violence against demonstrators and intimidation of reporters. Indeed, Reporters without Borders ranked Egypt 143rd out of 167 countries for press freedoms in their 2006 report, citing strict press censorship laws and harassment of journalists, which means that those who speak out about the cruelty of the authorities quickly become victims themselves.
While I was a student, I lived in Egypt for nine months during 2005/6. I tried as much as possible to spend most of my time with Egyptians, especially non-English speakers, to get beyond a guide-book “feel for the place” and really get to know Egypt intimately. I soon recognised the iron grip in which the Egyptian state holds its citizens, and came to understand the effect of that corrosive fear and dread by which a despotic government holds an entire society hostage.
In late 2005 I used to go to a language school in the Mohandiseen area of Cairo, not far from the traffic island in front of the Mustafa Mahmud mosque. The area had recently become famous because a few hundred Sudanese refugees had occupied the traffic island and had set up camp there to protest at the UN refusal to move them to another country of asylum, claiming they faced racist discrimination in Egypt. Their demands certainly didn’t strike a cord with most Egyptians, who resented the claims and thought their protest was about opportunism rather than human rights. I remember walking past the traffic island to get to school and being hit by the awful stench of human sewage running into the drains. The whole place was rank and squalid; once I saw a Sudanese woman dressed in a bright yellow t-shirt standing over a drain taking a shower from a bucket of dirty water, while raw excrement ran between her feet. There were scores of dirty children crammed into little round tents made of old blankets and torn protest banners hanging from street-lamps shuffled limply in the breeze.
On New Year’s Eve 2005, I was in an internet café checking the news headlines when I found out that overnight, the police had removed the camp on the traffic island and had detained the protesters, including the women and children. Pictures emerged a few days later that showed hundred of state security men dragging protesters from their tents, and those that resisted were drenched by a water canon. Mothers were separated from their children as they were shoved onto buses with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and taken to military detention centres outside of Cairo. Many were released from detention during January; the fate of some remains a mystery. Four months later I was discussing all of this with a coordinator at the refugee centre in Cairo’s Anglican cathedral. She told me how many of the people from that traffic island were starting to come forward to register for help at the centre but that most of them didn’t have any form of documentation with them, since everything had been soaked through by the water canons and dumped afterwards by the police.
A year later, I was in a friend’s car when someone in the front seat passed me his mobile phone and said “watch this”. The video he’d opened showed a man stripped from the wait down with legs tied up and suspend and his arms trussed behind his back being sexually assaulted with a wooden stick, apparently by police officers. The footage had been filmed by one of the policemen on his mobile phone, and sent to his friends before it found its way onto the internet. After a public outcry, a local newspaper managed to track down the victim; a 21 year old minibus driver called Emad el-Kabir, and they provided him with lawyers and encouraged him to press charges. When he did so, he in turn was arrested. One of the Egyptian bloggers that broke the story and who posts other evidence of police brutality, Wael Abbas, has been harassed constantly by the police ever since. Fellow blogger, Nabeel Soliman, was also arrested and sentenced to four year’s jail for contempt of religion, insulting the president and spreading false information. Since then, various evidence of torture in police custody has been collected by human rights groups and independent bloggers, exposing them to great danger. Although charges are occasionally brought against the authorities, they result in few convictions.
I remember reading somewhere that saints in every age give to society not what it wants, but what it needs; always standing against the specific moral bankruptcy that plagues their era. For S. Catherine, this was the persecution of Christians by a pagan regime, and she was martyred because she refused to consent to this. She feared no one but God, and received the crown of martyrdom for dying in His name.
Perhaps the legacy of S. Catherine in the country of her birth is the vision and optimism of those who stand against tyranny and intimidation, whether or not they are Christians. Like S. George, whose birthplace near Bethlehem is marked by a church and a mosque on the same spot, S. Catherine is one of those Middle Eastern saints who manage to bring Muslims and Christians together around a shared understanding of sanctity. Human rights activity in Egypt offers the chance for Christians and Muslims to transcend the inter-religious tensions that blight that society in the name of a common goal of justice for all. They, then, can take heart from the example of this great Saint, who believed, even unto death, that…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
My church is happily blessed with an altar dedicated to, and featuring an impressive image of, Christ the King, whose feast we keep today. The feast of Our Lord under this title was formally instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925; a period that was something of a high watermark for Anglo-Catholicism, especially in its papalist manifestation. As a result, many devotions popularised in Rome at this time found their way into the shrines and chapels of Anglican churches, which is probably why we have a statue of the Little Flower, S. Therese deLisieux in the gardens of the Walsingham shrine. In 1925, the rector of S. Magnus the Martyr, Fr. Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton was in the middle of renovating the church, and commissioned Martin Travers to do the work. The mark of Travers, and indeed Fr. Fynes-Clinton, is indelibly imprinted on the interior of the church. One of the statues created by Travers during the 1920s renovation is the reredos of the Christ the King chapel, which is based on the famous Ghent altarpiece. It shows Christ on his throne of glory, vested as a priest and wearing a three-tiered Papal tiara, which some people take to be an allusion to the Holy Trinity. I often relish the fact that before this image stands the original "holy table" of Wren's church, a relic from the dark days when Protestantism held sway at S. Magnus.
Rolling out holy chapatis
We kept today's feast with a Solemn High Mass, celebrated by Fr. Philip, deaconed by Fr. Aidan Harker and subdeaconed by your scribe. Christ the King is also by custom the date of our annual "curry lunch", which raises money for charity. It is also marks exactly one year from my first visit to S. Magnus when I had recently moved to London, knew hardly anyone and slept on a futon in the house of a family friend. I felt stupid for having moved to London with about £20 in the bank, depressed because my search for a job had come to nothing and anxious that I wouldn't even be able to afford Christmas presents for my mum! With those memories in mind, I couldn't help but get misty-eyed at today's Gospel :
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in...
Exactly a year ago, I walked out of S. Magnus the Martyr church fed to bursting with delicious food and drink, and completely warmed through by the generosity, kindness and good company of the group of people I had never known before then. I went back the next week, and the next and am still loathe to miss a single Sunday away from the church. I can never fully convey to people who ask me about S. Magnus the value of being part of a living, worshipping community, in which the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed and lived; I can only invite them to experience it for themselves.
On the 21st November, Western Catholics keep the feast of the Presentation of Mary, the event of Mary’s presentation by her parents Anne and Joachim at the temple in Jerusalem, where she would be consecrated to God as an act of thanksgiving for her birth.
The event is not recorded in the New Testament, but rather in the Protoevangelium of James; an apocryphal text that fills in the detail of Mary’s birth, early life and the birth of the Saviour. Since the origins of this feast lie outside of canonical scripture, its observance is regarded as a pious tradition. After spreading from the East and establishing itself at the Papal chapel in 1372, the feast was suppressed by Pius V, reintroduced by Sixtus V, elevated to a Greater Double under Clement VIII and made a Memorial by Paul VI. The association of Mary’s entry into a community of consecrated virgins at the Temple has also marked this feast as Pro Orantibus day, a day of prayer for cloistered religious, who live a life totally dedicated to God in prayer, silence and concealment.
Despite the apocryphal origin of this feast, the presentation of Mary is not at variance with our encounter with her in scriptural events: the Annunciation, the Nativity… Mary at Cana….Mary at the Cross. Artistic representations of the Presentation in Eastern Iconography or the lavish illustrations found in Medieval breviaries show Mary as a tiny figure, dwarfed by her parents and by the high priest waiting to receive her at the Temple steps. She is Mary alone, a small child of perhaps three years, probably frightened but ultimately trusting, in the way that children naturally are, as she climbs the temple stairs. This image of Mary echoes that of the Annunciation, when Our Blessed Lady, no doubt threatened by uncertainty and perturbed by the appearance of an angel, resigned herself totally to the will of God; accepting with humility and grace an uncertain future with simple faith. In the presentation, the child Mary makes a wordless fiat in true discipleship of her Son, who said : except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Mary’s Presentation of herself to God’s service so early in life is like our prayer of Morning Offering, when we pledge to offer to God all the prayers and deeds, joys and sorrows of the day to come, although we don't yet know what they will be.
This feast is a day on which to be consecrated anew, to be edified by the example of Our Lady, and to pray fervently to God, in union with his Blessed Mother and all our brothers and sisters in religious communities, who pray with us, for us, in the unity of one spiritual body.
Collect: O God, Who didst will that this day the ever blessed Virgin Mary, dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the temple: grant, we beseech Thee, that through her intercession, we may be worthy to be presented in the temple of Thy glory. Through our Lord. -1962 Daily Missal
Any hardcore trad flicking idly through liturgical manuals or vestment catalogues from the unassailably ‘Trad’ decades of the 40s and 50s may be perturbed to see emerging from the yellow, dusty pages of their Burns and Oates library the roots of a conflict where there is much wailing, and gnashing of teeth. The issue is the very same one that concerns us today; namely, Roman/Latin chasuble versus Gothic. The continuing strength of feeling manifested by both camps in this interminable war for aesthetic predominance in Catholic worship is evinced by such things as the Facebook ‘Society for the Promulgation of the Latin Chasuble’ where fans of the fiddle back share images of their favourite vestments and add derisive comments to photos of anything else. Add to this the insistence of some Catholics on promoting the poncho as a liturgical vestment under the title of “the fuller shaped chasuble of the early Church” and we have the roots of a bitter and protracted War of the Vestments.
Back to the dusty yellow books, a pile of which is slowly growing on my desk at work. While looking toward post-War Catholic literature for vestment patterns and other sound advice, I came across a book called The Making of Church Vestments by Graham Jenkins, published in 1957 by Challoner, London. Mid-way through the chapter on chasubles, the author is compelled to make “a digression” in which he fulminates against the Latin cut and dismisses the Victorian Gothic vestment as inauthentic, selections of which are worth quoting here:
“When vestments were specified and codified, art began to influence the style and decoration of vestments …Once the early conservatism and deliberate simplicity had gone, the artists freely expressed themselves in the decoration of vestments…Of the vestments the chasuble was the most affected … With the arrival of elaborate decoration, heavy materials, gold wire and jewels, the chasuble became heavy and stiff, with a growing inconvenience to the wearer. Thus the sides were hacked away more and more as time went on; probably the baroque period reduced the chasuble to its smallest dimensions and in slightly later times the splendour of real baroque deteriorated to tawdry and commercial imitations. (Fig. 12)”
The picture at Fig. 12, which I am unable to reproduce here, shows a pear-shaped chasuble laden with raised gold-work embroidery and applied pieces of metal-work, including an image of Our Lady in a glory. I think it looks quite nice.
“…In This country, mainly through Pugin and the Gothic revival, there arose a move to be rid of the very small vestment, and a creation arose which has since been called the “Gothic chasuble”. This was not very large, but the vestment was at least carried over the shoulder and some way down the arm. Mostly the back and front were identical, falling to a point at the base... Since this period, the square vestment has been called “Roman” and the pointed variety “Gothic”. It is misleading terminology, and has led to confusion.”
On this last point, the author is quite right. Both terms disguise a multitude of varieties. Not all chasubles that are square at the bottom are called Roman, as indeed the Spanish cut ends in this shape, despite being heavily cut away behind the shoulder-blades. Nor is everything floppy to be called “Gothic”, as Jenkins goes on to explain:
“As the liturgical movement prospered in this century, a move began to restore the fuller shaped chasuble of the early Church…Thus in our own time there are three main distinctions which for want of better names must be described as “Roman” (square), “Gothic” (pointed), and the full vestment.
The author ends his evaluation of the different types with the assertion that:
“There is no point in perpetuating Victorian or nineteenth century continental vestments in the twentieth century. The present trend is towards simplicity with good shape and sober decoration.”
This last passage is probably the only frightening thing in an otherwise harmless book, for the author’s obvious distaste for the artistic heritage of Catholic Christendom, and his promotion of the paired-down and simplified “full chasuble” on account of its supposed antiquity of design foreshadows much of the iconoclastic behaviour that occurred in churches along with the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.
It is this “full chasuble” which is promoted by liturgical modernists to this day. Made of cheap, synthetic fabrics and decorated with any possible number of designs (see the aforementioned Facebook group for some truly hideous examples), this type of vestment is now the standard in most Roman Catholic churches in the UK, and has been carried over to Anglo-Catholic parishes that use the modern Roman rite. Its cheapness means that many identical chasubles can be bought relatively cheaply for Concelebrated Masses, clergy in choir-dress having practically disappeared for the sake of including everybody in the actions of the liturgy.
I do wonder what on earth could have justified the insertion of this thesis on the chasuble into a small book which otherwise contains practical advice on how to make vestments: perhaps the very same factors that caused J.B. O’Connell to put his foot down in the 1956 edition of The Celebration of Mass. In the chapter on Sacred Vestments, he notes the interest of the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the revival of Gothic vestments by some dioceses in Western Europe, quoting:
“…the Congregation of Sacred Rites thinks that the reasons which led to the change in question may be of some weight, having referred the matter to our most holy Lord, Pope Pius IX, it has been decided cordially to invite your lordship, in so far as these changes may have taken place in your diocese, to explain the reasons which led to them.” P.235
At that time, the only form of chasuble allowed was that in use in the Roman Church, the square-shaped Latin vestment. For O’Connell, the subject of vestment shape is not one of mere taste or preference, but rather of canonical obedience:
“According to the legislation of at present in force, then, for Churches of the Latin Rite, in the making and use of vestments, it is not lawful, without consulting the Holy See, to depart from the present received usage of the Church of Rome, and introduce another style and shape, even an old one.” P.235
The other style and shape to which O’Connell is referring here is explained in a footnote on p. 234, and is identified as “that which would be called now the medium-sized medieval chasuble”, in other words the “full chasuble” previously discussed.
Again, it strikes the reader as highly unusual that an issue such as this would concern O’Connell so much as to dedicate two whole pages and copious footnotes to this issue, especially in a chapter that is otherwise light on vestment history, and even ignores the question of whether or not a Deacon’s dalmatic and a Subdeacon’s tunicle are, or should be, materially the same vestment. The proper shape of the chasuble in the Latin rite was clearly a subject of some controversy well before the 1960s, and it seems that the rebelliousness of certain English diocesans chimed well with the “out with the old, in with the new” ethos of liturgical reform. Ironically the same obstinate attitude in the same places is preventing a full roll-out of the ‘reform of the reform’ under the current Pontiff.
Back to the present time then, and the competition between various vestment shapes is still on. While the full horror of the poncho-chasuble appears to have abated, and the trend is now, as we know, towards a resurgence of “traditional” aesthetics in the celebration of both novus ordo and usus antiquior rites, fault-lines are already emerging and they appear to be geographical. In the UK, it seems that both Anglican and Roman Catholics have taken on the “Roman” style of vestment as the most appropriate shape for traditional liturgy. The ‘English Use’ aesthetic in Anglo-Catholicism has long been diluted and absorbed into the mainstream of Anglican liturgical life, although in London at least it remains strong in centres such as All Saints’ Margaret Street and St. Cyprian’s, Clarence Gate. For Roman Catholics, the Gothic shape has, perhaps, suffered from its similarity to the limp, synthetic vestment of yesteryear and the generation of young, conservative Catholics that is driving the new liturgical movement in this country tends to prefer Latin over Gothic.
However, the trend in the States appears to be quite different. Gothic High Mass sets feature prominently on the new internet markets for parishes taking up the Extraordinary Rite. In the land of EWTN, the candy-land Gothic aesthetic dominates, as evinced by the recent refurbishment of Seton Hall Chapel (photos available here). The same principle extends to the re-discovery of literature aimed at explaining and teaching the Tridentine Mass. A British reprint of Rev. William O’Brien’s 1933 book, In Sacristy and Sanctuary, features original illustrations of a priest vesting in a highly-decorated alb and Latin chasuble. In an American reprint of the booklet How to Serve Low Mass and Benediction by the same author, the same illustrations have been copied and adapted by a new artist and the fully-vested priest is now shown wearing a pointed Gothic chasuble and Roman biretta.
A year on from the issue of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, it is still far too early to tell whether the trend towards traditional liturgy will affect the Catholic mainstream. It’s my own opinion that the Tridentine Mass will not take off (unfortunately) in every Roman Catholic Parish, and will probably never re-establish itself as the main Sunday service. On the other hand, the rediscovery of what was abandoned after Vatican II will affect the look of Novus Ordo masses everywhere, as the Catholics attempt to recover the dignity and order embodied in the usus antiquior. Expect to see quality vestments of both Latin and Gothic forms to be part of this.
Elsewhere, Anglican Catholics in the Forward in Faith grouping are by necessity sharing in each other’s Sacramental lives, and this closeness and cooperation has stirred the waters of our liturgical life. I know that my church, we are constantly being kept on our toes, as some spikey parish down the road resurrects such practices as the silent canon, last Gospel or even deacon's "broad stole"! The ultramontanism of some parishes in Forward in Faith and the self-consciously loyal “Englishness” of others means that for as long as there are Catholics, both vestment shapes will have their partisans. The reader of dusty old copies of Fortescue, Muller and Kuenzel, (or hopefully, one day, modern reprints of these books) need only know to which side he belongs.
I mean, why don't I just add some more pictures? This is our patronal festival 2008, when the church was packed to the gunnels, probably to hear the sermon by the Right Reverend Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, which was quite good actually.
The Entrance procession
Fr. Philip Warner (Celebrant)
Dean of St. Paul's
"Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis, ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui, ad utilitatem quoque nostram, totiusque ecclesiae suae sanctae."
I thought it might be a nice idea to post some pictures of life at my church, St. Magnus the Martyr by London Bridge in the City of London.
On this particular occassion we celebrated the jubilee of the ordination of Fr. Aidan Harker, a former monk at Nashdom Abbey and a regular at St. Magnus. Fr. Harker celebrated a Solemn Votive Mass of Our Lady (which gave us a chance to show off a new set of white vestments) assisted by Fr. Daniel Humphreys as Deacon and your scribe as Subdeacon. Fr. Graeme Rowlands from St. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town acted as Assistant Priest in cope.
I'm quite proud of these particular photos, because they exhibit the resurrected humeral veil in use at a High Mass. In my experience, there are very few Anglican parishes in London using vaguely "Roman ceremonial" that actually use the humeral veil at High Mass, either because they never have done or because they follow the rubrics of the new Roman rite.
There are more photos available on our parish website
-Why does this blog have such a pretentious name? Ex fide isn't that pretensious really, if you think about it, and it's only two words long. The two words occur together in the Latin phrase "ex fide fiducia" meaning "confidence comes from faith" and occur together twice in the Epistle of S. Paul to the Romans 1:17 :
"iustitia enim Dei in eo revelatur ex fide in fidem sicut scriptum est iustus autem ex fide vivit"
"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
-New International Version
As an Anglican Catholic with a strong leaning towards traditional liturgy and teaching and a passion for the reunion of Catholic Christendom, faith is something I need plenty of!
-Fine, so what's it going to be about?
Hopefully this blog will be a place to share Anglican news and views liturgical resources, photographs, videos etc. I need plenty of feedback and would love to hear from interested people.
-Aren't there better blogs that already do that?
Yes, I'll list links to them when I get permission from their creators.