Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Apostle to the English

Form English Missals to English weddings and now to the Apostle to the English, S. Augustine of Canterbury. On his Feast Day, it is fitting to reflect on the consolidation of Christian England by that great mission from Rome. It is also fitting to examine ourselves, and determine how faithful we have been to that witness.

This is what the Church of England looks like, the stump of a stone column that, for nearly 1000 years, supported a grand and elaborate structure. Founded by S. Augustine himself, and later named after him, the abbey of which this column is a part was cherished by the successors of Augustine, expanded and built upon until a majestic complex of buildings developed, with many chapels, grand and small, where Christ was offered on the Altar of the Lord, and His Body given in Communion to His faithful bride, the Church. The abbey established itself in the community, and life without it became unimaginable. The main function of the abbey was to bring Jesus Christ to the people, in the rigorous daily cycle of prayer, and in the Sacraments. Its witness was local, but it testified to the universal, and it enjoyed continued union with the Apostolic See of Rome, the root from which it sprang. Thanks to this rootedness, the abbey was able to take its place in the evolving landscape of the city of Canterbury. When the shrine of S. Thomas Beckett became a site of international renown, attracting pilgrims from across Europe, the abbey had no need to see itself as a competitor, but rather as a partner in living and proclaiming the Gospel, and it continued to faithful witness.

When the abbey was dissolved, however, all of this changed. The monks were laid off, their intercessory prayer no longer deemed valuable. The altars were stripped, the precious stones and gold that covered the shrine of S. Augustine, votive offerings made to the glory of God, were taken away. Part of the site was converted into a royal palace, inaccessible to the local people the abbey once served, and the rest of the structure was picked at for building material until it lay in ruins, as it does today.

Like this column in the abbey, the pillar of the Catholic faith, which was hacked down during the Reformation, is in effect no more than a ruin, a monument to past times, as far as much of the Church of England, which simultaneously claims to be built on that column, is concerned. But the pillar of the Catholic faith will support nothing other than the growth of that faith and practice. Last night I watched an old video clip from the time of the last Synod, where Jeremy Paxman interviewed both the Archdeacon of Lewisham, and the Bishop of Fulham about the code of conduct and the debate surrounding it. The Archdeacon quoted Archbishop William Temple as saying that the Church of England had a unique mission in national life in that it was an organisation that existed primarily to serve those who weren’t its members, i.e. the general public. Therefore, argued the Archdeacon, it is only right that the Church of England reflects that public in order to better serve it, and that it must recognise the “gifts of spiritual leadership” endowed to both men and women in the Church by consecrating both as bishops. Paxman then asked the Bishop of Fulham what he thought of this, and he replied simply that the Church of England should stand to serve Jesus Christ, and that is the primary orientation and focus of our corporate life.

S. Augustine came to England in order to convert it. He knew, as a Catholic, that the Church does not compromise its mission by emulating the norms of the culture it wishes to proselytise. If we in the Church of England try to minister to an atheist, post-modern and individualist society by first conforming ourselves to that mindset, then what do we have to offer the country that is different? What alternative vision do we have to proclaim?

For a long time now, we have not enjoyed Communion with the rest of Catholic Christendom, but, like the foundations of that column, our roots run deep. In cherishing those roots, we are able to grow, and that is why there is always hope. As I mentioned after my pilgrimage to Canterbury, not far from that column, an altar of the abbey has been restored for the celebration of the Eucharist. We have Christ with us in the Sacrament and in the Gospel, and so we shouldn’t be afraid to roll up our sleeves and start building for the Kingdom, speaking the truth without fear of derision, pointing out error in a spirit of love and humility. One powerful thing that the Christian tradition acknowledges is that God communicates with us through signs, the meanings of which unfold in our hearts through prayer and contemplation. One such sign from which we can take comfort and strength is what is signified by our liturgy. Whenever a priest says the Roman Canon of the Mass in an English Church, he is harking back to the first Mass said by S. Augustine after landing in England, as the words of that Great Prayer have scarcely changed since that time. He is also making a vivid expression of our dependence on, and thankfulness for that mission sent by Pope Gregory, who plucked the prior of S. Anthony’s from his abbey in Rome and sent him forward, confident that from this man, great things would come: the conversion and unification of Britain in the Christian faith. So remembering Augustine today, we should do so prayerful that that unity that was broken may be restored, so that we can move as one body, unified in one mission, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The English Rite of Matrimony

We were lucky enough on Saturday to see our organist and his fiancée joined in Holy Matrimony during the Celebration of a Solemn Nuptial Mass. The Mass was said from the Anglican Missal, but the couple preferred that they be married according to Cranmer’s colourful marriage formula; “…carnal lusts and appetites” etc. So, the English Ritual was on hand to provide both for the BCP marriage rite, and also for the Western Rite blessing and sprinkling of the wedding ring. Just a few observances on the rite as celebrated then.

It occurred to me, watching the ceremony, that the BCP rite emphasises the sacramental nature of matrimony, as the taking up of the union between man and wife into the energy of the Trinity. In one of the most famous prayers of the rite, the bridegroom joins his matrimonial life with the life of God:

With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The priest then, pronouncing them man and wife does so again in the name of the Trinity, after which he blesses them with this prayer:

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

As the blessing was pronounced, the priest moved his hands over the couple, to the left, right and centre at the mention of the three Persons of the Trinity. I don’t know if this action is intrinsic to the rite, but it certainly emphasised the union between the Trinitarian God and the married couple. Their matrimony then becomes a space opened up, where God’s plan can be disclosed and played out.

Which brings us to the second observance: In the Missal, the priest is directed after the Pater Noster has been said, to go to the Epistle side and read two prayers. In both the Anglican and English Missals, these prayers are the same that would be said in the Prayer book rite after the Psalm and the Our Father, and which are analogous to the Western Rite prayers for the procreation of Children. The English Missal gives both forms, the BCP wording before the Roman prayers.


O Merciful Lord, and heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased; We beseech thee, assist with thy blessing these two persons, that they may both be fruitful in procreation of children, and also live together so long in godly love and honesty, that they may see their children Christianly and virtuously brought up, to thy praise and honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Mercifully hearken, O Lord, to these our supplications, and graciously prosper this thine institution which thou has ordained for the propagation of mankind: that what is joined together by thine authority may be preserved by thine assistance. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The second prayer is slightly longer:

O God, who by thy mighty power hast made all things of nothing; who also (after other things set in order) didst appoint, that out of man (created after thine own image and similitude) woman should take her beginning; and, knitting them together, didst teach that it should never be lawful to put asunder those whom thou by Matrimony hadst made one: O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church; Look mercifully upon these thy servants, that both this man may love his wife, according to thy Word, (as Christ did love his spouse the Church, who gave himself for it, loving and cherishing it even as his own flesh,) and also that this woman may be loving and amiable, faithful and obedient to her husband; and in all quietness, sobriety and peace, be a follower of holy and godly matrons. O Lord, bless them both, and grant them to inherit thy everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Being short of time, I won’t include the Roman prayer, but will note the following convergence of themes:

Creation of the world from nothing, instituting marriage that it may never be put asunder.
The bond of Marriage as an excellent mystery.
Prayer for the chastity of the bride, that she might follow “holy matrons”.

The Roman prayer then makes mention of the matriarchs and ends with a petition for healthy and long-living offspring. Interestingly the Roman prayer only briefly alludes to the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church and makes no mention of His self-giving for it.

I wonder if someone who knows could tell me more about the origin of this second prayer from the prayer book. Is it merely an abbreviated (by Cranmer?) version of the Roman prayer? Does it hark back to Sarum? The prayer book also instructs the priest to pronounce these prayers from the Holy Table perhaps indicating the dependence of the BCP rite on the original Western custom. Does the Sarum Use shed anymore light on the BCP service? Has the Roman Rite service remained unchanged over the centuries or is it itself an evolution from an earlier form? Please let me know!

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Old Rite

I hope that a good Ascension Day was had by all. Whenever I hear the word ascension, the first image that pops into my mind is the Ascension chapel in the Shrine Church at Walsingham, of that little moulding on the ceiling of two feet taken up into cloud. The reredos of that chapel is gilded wood and the impression is one of movement upwards, guiding the heart to what is above, beyond the low ceiling of the chapel to the heavens above, where Christ reigns in glory.

I love the Ascension, because it’s imagery and readings are so physical, so personal. Just like Christ showing his wounds to the disciples, and inviting them to touch them, the Ascension was a tangible, real event, with the resurrected body of Christ on full view. Like Easter, the Ascension is also the fulfilment of a promise, and invites us to trust in Christ, and to be a friend to Him.

At S. Magnus, we kept the Feast with an evening Low Mass from the English Missal. Although every Sunday we use the Anglican Missal for Solemn Mass, we do not employ all of the ceremonial of the ‘Western Use’. However, during Lent, we started offering Low Mass from the English Missal and celebrated precisely according to the rubrics of the rite. This has meant many hours poring over Fortescue’s Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, specifically the 1958 edition which corresponds to our edition of the English Missal. I’ve also spent hours on youtube and google video watching recordings of Masses celebrated according to the 1962 Missale Romanum. As a server, I’ve also availed myself of countless small booklets and guides to serving the Tridentine Mass, and I often wonder why the information doesn’t stick in my mind, especially since most of those guides were written for children of about twelve years old.

So far, this has been a success. Although I do panic slightly before Mass that I might forget where I am supposed to be at a certain point, or that I might mess up the ablutions or miss a response, but yesterday’s Mass was very moving, especially as we were lucky enough to have a member of the choir chant the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Gradual, Offertory and Agnus Dei unaccompanied. It is very humbling to know that the prayers of the canon are the same prayers, unaltered over the ages, as were uttered by S. Augustine when he said his first Mass in England, and humbling too to know that this rite is the one with which so many of the saints would be familiar. It is truly the Mass of Ages, the unique heritage of the Church.

We all know that the Tridentine Rite of the Roman Catholic Church is increasingly in demand these days, but in our own Communion, the interest in ‘traditional liturgy’ has been somewhat more vaguely attached to the general visual aspect of the Liturgy, the indices of Anglo-Catholicism for the uninitiated: Birettas, incense and that sort of thing. Still, it seems there are plenty of people who are interested in doing things properly, and appreciate the timeless and transcendental quality of the Old Rite, offered with the complete and correct ceremonial directed in the rubrics.

It has long seemed to me, especially since a post on Anglican Wanderings about the use of the American Missal in Nashotah, that we would benefit greatly from an Old Rite Society, parallel to something like the Latin Mass Society, to promote the use of the various Anglican Missals (without preferring any particular one) and to provide listings of Old Rite Masses offered regularly or on Solemnities. You’ll notice I’ve been using the term Old Rite quite vaguely, and it’s basically a catch-all term I’ve settled on. I think the term Usus Antiquior belongs specifically to the Roman Missal and Extraordinary Form belongs to the Roman Communion. Our Missals are a much more diverse grouping of books incorporating various amounts of the Book of Common Prayer, which as we know, exists in various manifestations in different parts of the world. Still, what I believe constitutes an Old Rite Missal, is anything based on or translated from the Roman Missal in its various editions between 1570 and 1962 and incorporating any amount of Sarum or BCP material. I suppose that would include, apart from the Missale Romanum, which I know some people use, the English Missal, the Anglican Missal (published by the SSPP) and the American Missal among others.

To that end then, I would like any priests who offer public masses according to any Old Rite, or people who know of such celebrations, to email me Mass times to be published every Thursday or Friday (for the weekend) and at least two days before any Feast or Solemnity. I know of some parishes in the US who regularly use the English Missal, and I know of one in the UK, but please help by letting me know who I can contact for confirmation before advertising the Masses.
Either post the regular Mass times in the comments box of this post, or email me if you know of a particular celebration coming up. There are many people who would love to attend an Old Rite Mass, but who simply don’t know which parishes offer them, so with your help they’ll be able to attend the Traditional Liturgy as they wish.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Ascension Day Masses

Here are the Mass times for tomorrow, the 21st May. Remember that the Ascension is a Holy Day of Obligation. Any visitors would be most welcome to come to either Mass. If you need further information, or want to schedule a confession, please see the S. Magnus parish website for contact details.

1:00 pm Sung Eucharist

at S. Clement's, Eastcheap

Bardos Missa Quarti ToniStanford Glorious and Powerful God

5:30 pm Low Mass (English Missal) with Cantor

Lady Chapel, S. Magnus-the-Martyr, Lower Thames St. EC3

Sunday, 17 May 2009

East VI, terrible excuses

Slightly pointless post really, but I did want to let anyone who checks the blog regularly know that I am just being lazy at the moment. I had some good ideas in the pipeline for some nice long posts, but the research was exhausting. Apart from working full-time I've got volunteer work on Saturdays and obviously on Sundays I'm normally in Church for most of the day. Hopefully I'll find the time before too long because it'd be a shame to see Ex Fide ex-blog. :-(

What a day. We had a lovely Solemn Mass today. Fr. Harker, who often comes to celebrate Mass on a Sunday, being retired, called in sick and our M.C. was away, so we we only had enough bodies for a Missa Cantata. A very dignified celebration too. I recently decided, without warning, and when Fr. Philip was away, to re-introduce liturgical osculations to the Mass. Those are the kisses that one gives to the right hand of the Celebrant of the Mass whenever passing things to Him. First you kiss the object (incense spoon, biretta etc) then his hand. When receiving something from the priest you kiss first his hand then the object being passed. They are normally ommitted during Masses of the dead. In previous discussions with the servers, we reached a consensus that although we've had good experience of serving the Old Rite, we're probably too squeamish to actually kiss our priest's hand. So two weeks ago, when Fr. Harker was saying Mass I just decided I was going to do them. Today, our regular thurifer, having last been with us under the old regime of no kisses, returned to S. Magnus and quite enthusiastically took up the osculations with no fuss. So I suppose they're here to stay. I'll definately have to beef up before I serve an Old Rite Low Mass on the Ascension just to make sure i'm not over or under-kissing.

Another piece of news is that the Papal Blessing I ordered has been framed and put up in the Sacristy. Luckily, its arrival roughly coincides with Fr. Philip's anniversary of priesting, so it can at least seem like the two things are related, a bit like a telegram from the Queen. I left it out in the crypt today and it attracted plenty of interest. It really is a handsome thing and it's nice to have a formal portrait of the Holy Father in the Sacristy. Our Sacristy is screened off from the Narthex, but peopele coming into the church can still see into the Sacristy through the grill, and they are now met with a lovely shelf-full of birettas, a large crucifix, framed vesting prayers and a certificate of apostolic blessing. It really looks like a real Sacristy, a place of silence, prayer and preparation before Mass. I'd like to think that Fr. Fynnes-Clinton, picture above, would approve of us.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Joanna d'Arc

I'm really enjoying watching Joanna Lumley on the news these days. Her campaign work on behalf of Gurkhas whose appliations for settlement in the UK have been rejected for the government seems tireless. In her numerous television appearences and interviews, she comes across as tenacious, focused, compassionate and incredibly posh. Her turn of phrase, when talking about her campaign, always offers a sense of urgency, touched by a flair for the dramatic, such as when she described the PM, seemingly without irony, as the "leader of our nation".

The sight of Joanna Lumley crouching next to elderly Gurkhas in wheelchairs and saluting them with palms pressed together while tabloid photographers snap away, coupled with her announcing such things as "We have to believe in this. This is all we've got to believe in. We wish this campaign was over now" might sometimes look like one of her performances, but that's just Joanna Lumley. In truth, she's done an awful lot to raise the profile of an injustice, an inconsistency in the system, that disadvantages relatively few people and would normally never receive so much attention. It is totally unfair that Gurkhas shouldn't have the same settlement rights as Commonwealth soldiers, and what part of the public has objected to the idea of settling a handful of ethnic Nepalese in Britian? But who else would be fighting their cause right now? One of the best things about the campaign is that it has caused Joe Public to actually think about our immigration laws, and to question the fairness of criteria for settlement in the UK. By providence, Joanna Lumley has managed to wade into meetings with the PM and the Immigration Minister at a moment when the government is severely diminished in the eyes of the Public. When she was interviewed with minister Phil Woolas about the outcome of their meeting, the narrow look of mistrust and frustration in her eyes really reflected a mood that is felt nationally.

I love watching Joanna Lumley's activism on TV and I hope and pray for a good outcome for the Gurkhas. As for New Labour, I'd like to see MPs doing unpaid community work, wearing orange hi-viz vests inscribed with "I was rude to Gurkhas".

Friday, 1 May 2009

Bishop Myles Coverdale - an Anglican Beatus?

As anyone who has visited the church of S. Magnus-the-Martyr will know, the South-East corner of the church is home to the Shrine of the Pietà , the Altar of Christ the King, a Flemish Baroque aumbry and the final resting place of Myles Coverdale, the Great Reformer, Protestant hero, one time Bishop of Exeter and translator of the first complete Bible into the English tongue.

Over the years since the removal of Coverdale’s remains from the now-demolished S. Bartholomew’s to S. Magnus in 1840, the incongruity of his interment in one of the most ultramontane parish churches in London has been the subject of numerous anecdotes. One story is as follows: After singing a High Mass one Sunday morning, the venerable former rector of S. Magnus, Fr. Fynes-Clinton was met in the narthex by a group of Protestants who had come to see the monument to the Great Reformer who translated the first complete English Bible. “How interesting!” remarked Fr. Fynes-Clinton “We’ve just said Mass in the language out of which Coverdale translated the Bible”. Our Parish guide also notes that “a mitre, the bishop's ceremonial head-gear, is shown on one monument. Coverdale had scruples about the wearing of vestments and when Parliament enforced stricter observance of the liturgy he was compelled to resign from the living of St. Magnus”.

So, I was delighted to be told about a short pamphlet published shortly after the translation of his remains to S. Magnus entitled A Correct Account of the Exhumation of the Remains of Myles Coverdale from the Chancel of the Church of St. Bartholomew… which was unearth from the British Library collections by a member of our PCC whilst researching City churches. The author, N. Whittock, describes in detail the process of exhuming the bodies buried beneath the chancel of St. Bartholomew’s in anticipation of its demolition.

The whole process is invested with great importance by the author, and the body of the “great Father of the Reformation” is treated almost as a saintly relic. He wrotes “as the body of Myles Coverdale, Bishop of Exeter, was buried here in 1568, several gentlemen has expressed a desire to be present when the ground was opened, to ascertain if any remains of this great Father of the Reformation could be found.” The gentlemen were not disappointed. After finding the more recently-buried body of a Mrs. Nusum almost entirely decomposed, and carting away “as many as six baskets” of bones from around the Rector’s Vault, the gentlemen were inclined to abandon hope “of finding any remains of Coverdale, but all seemed anxious to discover them if possible; the labourers themselves were evidently interested in the search”.

The mood of devotion surrounding the operation of exhuming Coverdale strikes me as an expression of an almost Catholic piety. Surely the reformed Christian is liberated from the cult of the saints and their relics. But then why write the book? The workmen eventually find the remains.

“An instrument called a searcher, used for boring the earth, was now employed, and in the centre of the chancel the workmen found the searcher strike against a hard substance about two feet from the ground he stood upon. As this was the precise spot where, from tradition and circumstances, we were led to expect the body we were in search of deposited, the excavation proceeded with increased care: and lest the coffin should be injured by the spade striking against it, a great deal of the earth was removed by hand. After digging to the depth indicated by the searcher, the spade struck against the thigh bone of a skeleton, and so sharp was the sound that we all considered that it had struck a stone coffin; on the removal of the earth by hand, the only perfect skeleton we had discovered was seen, the form of the coffin could also be traced, it appeared like a dark red line surrounding the bones, the lid of the coffin and the earth having fallen in upon the body, it was necessary to clear away the earth before the whole of the skeleton could be seen ; the scull alone was decomposed, which was accounted for by it having fallen upon two large lime stones, when the bottom of the coffin could no longer contain it.”

Are we to believe what we read? The sharp sound of a spade on thigh bone…the only perfect skeleton in tomb of decomposed bodies? Are we to understand that the remains of Bishop Myles Coverdale were found in a, dare I say it….state of incorruptibility? Should we assume that, for all his work for the Reformation of the Church, it turns out that the Bishop Coverdale only had one Protestant bone in his body – his skull?

The account continues over the four days of the exhumation, and the remains of Coverdale are left in the vestry of St. Bartholomew’s where “a great number of persons came to see the skeleton”. The account closes, making references to the “venerated remains” and offering thanks to those involved with typical Victorian approbation: “No oaths or unseemly observations were used by the workmen or labourers; each performed the task allotted to him with a decorum highly gratifying to all that witnessed their exertions.”

Seen as (Blessed) Myles Coverdale is “venerated” by Protestant visitors throughout the year, and since we now have this evidence of a possible case of “miraculous” incorruptibility, I wonder if it isn’t time to renovate his tomb at S. Magnus as a shrine. I have in mind droves of pilgrims filing past his remains such as happens with Padre Pio or the Cure d’Ars, and short of exhuming him, kitting him out in a Geneva gown and laying a Coverdale Bible on his chest, we can at least hope that his tomb becomes a site of pilgrimage for Protestant Anglicans, whereat they might come to appreciate the grace of God made manifest by the witness his many, different saintly servants.

S. Joseph the Worker

I've just come back from the lunchtime Mass that it is my custom to attend on Fridays. If I can, I also make my confession beforehand, as this is a nice quiet time before the busy onslaught of the weekend. As everybody knows, today being the 1st May, we Catholics are also keeping the memorial of S. Joseph the Worker. It seems only a few weeks ago that I made my way up to S. Silas-the-Martyr in Kentish Town to keep my patron’s primary feast on March 19th. Just as well my name isn’t Mary!

I know that some people think the 1st May observance is a terrible concession to modernity, a vaguely socialistic hallowing of an occasion that belongs primary to trade unionists, communists and other assorted rebellious types who won’t conform to good old social hierarchy. It is, of course, a modern observance, being instituted by Pope Pius XII in 1955. But on reflection, it seems that Pope Pius acted on a very sound church principle in instituting this feast.

Before 1955, the Church kept a feast of S. Joseph’s patronage of the church on the third Wednesday after Easter, and this feast had an octave of its own. Pius abrogated this observance and replace it with the March 1st observance, originally a double of the first class before being made an optional commemoration in 1969. In doing so, Pius was both blessing and transforming the secular Mayday celebration. As the readings of today’s Mass tell us, our work is in a sense God’s work, inasmuch as we work for His glory. The Old Testament lesson is taken from the Genesis creation story, reminding us that through our work we are granted a share in God’s creation. What we do, the work of our hands, grounds us in that great motion that is God’s sustaining act of creation.

There are times when our work bores us, when we feel constrained by our employment. There are times when we think our work is more important than everything else in life, and there are times when we seek to become God through our work. And yet we are reminded by the story of creation in Genesis that there is dignity in work. We are most in God’s image when we do work, as He does; it is a grace and a blessing to work.

And what is the seal of that dignity, but the Sabbath? At the end of the lesson, we hear that God rested, and commanded us to rest also. We Christians are not slaves, but freemen. Idol worship, by contrast, is a form of slavery. Idols, whether they be clay effigies or more abstract in nature, enslave us to them, commanding us to work constantly and without rest if we ever want to achieve our goals. Worship of the true God means working as He did, and resting with Him on the seventh day, a day he gave to us freely in which to rejoice, relax, recharge.

In the earliest days of Christianity in England, when much of the country was still pagan, a Roodmas, or a Mass of the Holy Cross, would be celebrated on May 1st, to keep people from observing the pagan feast of this day, which eventually became Walpurgis Night. The primary feast of the Holy Cross at this time is now the May 3rd celebration of the Invention of the Holy Cross, but the idea of bringing the Sacred into the everyday remains. Pius XII recognised the importance of work in Christian life, and reminded us of this in the Feast of Joseph the Worker. May you all keep a blessed remembrance.