Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Comments welcome...

...although I do wonder whether I should adopt a more stringent policy on which comments will be published.

Ex Fide is a personal blog, and the essential keywords are "Catholic Liturgy and devotions". I'm starting to wonder whether any comments on ecclesiological controversies should be allowed to appear at all, since they almost always upset people. Anglicanorum Coetibus is a hot topic, but this blog really wasn't set up to provide a platform for partisan mud-slinging. There are many other blogs and discussion groups that are dedicated to reasonable (and unreasonable) debate, and they do it much better and involve far more people than this one.

The main reason that I started writing Ex Fide was to share the joy that I experience from being a Catholic Christian, being part of a worshipping community that strives always to live the Gospel, and to explore it in a way that is often fun, sometimes informative, always honest.

It is always the more light-hearted posts on this blog that attract the most derisive comments, and there are always people waiting for the next swish of lace or similar to use as ammunition against us. I'm personally not interested in defending myself against charges of frivolity and triviality, but in the interests of others, I'm not happy to let this blog become a blackboard for insulting Anglo-Catholics. I firmly believe that being a Christian can be, and sometimes should be, about having fun, and not taking oneself too seriously. That's largely what Ex Fide is all about. Therefore, if you don't want to read my ramblings on Liturgy, vestments, birettas, home altars or anything else, then kindly don't bother to waste your time reading this blog, and certainly don't go the extra length to leave a comment.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Future trends at S. Magnus....

I think you can guess where this is going.....apparelled amices and pear-shaped chasubles are already making inroads in the Parish, and more than one person has suggested we crown the Pieta, add some tears of real crystal and parade her on Good Friday under the title "La Santisima Virgen de los Dolores La del Puente"....

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Place of Chanting the Lessons at High Mass

What you can see above is a typical image from a typical S. Magnus Liturgy, of the Subdeacon reading the Epistle of the Mass accompanied by the MC. Now Rubricists will balk at the dreadful disregard of Roman custom in a Parish that claims to practice the traditional Roman Rite in full. I do myself sometimes wonder how to justify this perhaps eccentric custom of having the Subdeacon sing the Epistle from the gates of the Sanctuary.

I refer frenquently as the Classical Roman Rite, by which I mean that developed rite which existed in regional "dialects" both within and without the immediate Central control of later Committees. I include under that term the Roman Rite properly called (i.e. the Use of the City of Rome) which came to be regarded as the normative, authoritative form during the Counter Reformation, as well as regional varieties of the same Liturgy which are now termed "Uses". This term necessarily includes various customs which were region-specific, and some of these customs applied to the place of reading the Epistle(s) at Mass. The Roman custom that is now regarded as the norm is that the Subdeacon, having reverenced the Altar stands some distance from it towards the edge of the Sanctuary (the South side) and sings the Epistle facing East, but as I will mention shortly, this custom is only an approximation of what happened anciently.

However, another question to consider is practicality. While the Rubrics of the Mass are supposed to safeguard the dignity of the celebration and to limit personal excess, they have historically not been an obstacle to considerations of practicality. Different churches have different shapes, some are large and some are small. I wonder where one would send the Subdeacon to sing the Epistle at the Crib Altar in the Grotto of Bethlehem!

One of my favourite photographs that I have on a bookcase at home is a black and white photograph of the ancient Roman church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, whose portico hosts the famous "Bocca della Verita" or Mouth of Truth. In this photo the church is unadorned except for the altar furnishings: a frontal and six typically Roman tall candlesticks (last time I went in there there were two large electric heaters kicking around the sanctuary). I've always felt that the starkness and simplicity of the church's mouldings are off-played by the wonderful patterns of the marble and the warmness of the frecoes and the intimate, embracing form of the basilican schola. The present structure might not be the original, but it is certainly based on it. The schola structure also indicates where and how the lessons and gospels would have been read. On either side of the schola there is an ambo (which means simply "high place"). The one on the North side is reserved for the Gospel, while that on the South for the Epistle and Lessons. Originally however, there was only one. We read in the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Originally there was only one ambo in a church, placed in the nave, and provided with two flights of steps; one from the east, the side towards the altar; and the other from the west. From the eastern steps the Subdeacon with his face to the altar, read the Epistles; and from the western steps the deacon, facing the people, read the Gospels. The inconvenience of having one ambo soon became manifest, and in consequence in many churches two ambones were erected. When there were two, they were usually placed one on each side of the choir, which was separated from the nave and aisles by a low wall. An excellent example of this arrangement can still be seen in the church of St. Clement at Rome. Very often the gospel ambo was provided with a permanent candlestick; the one attached to the ambo in St. Clements is a marble spiral column, richly decorated with mosaic, and terminated by a capital twelve feet from the floor.

Where there were two or more ambos, one was used only for the Gospel. The common arrangement was that of an ambo on either side of the church, between the choir and the nave, as may still be seen in many old basilicas (e.g., S. Maria in Cosmedin at Rome, etc.). In this case the ambo on the north side was reserved for the Gospel, from which the deacon faced the south, where the men stood. The north is also the right, and therefore the more honourable, side of the altar. The ambo on the south was used for the Epistle, and for other lessons if there were only two. In the case of three ambos, two were on the south, one for all other lessons, one for the Epistles. This arrangement still subsists, inasmuch as the Epistle is always read on the south side (supposing the church to be orientated). Where there was only one ambo it had two platforms, a lower one for the Epistle and other lessons, a higher one for the Gospel (Durandus, "Rationale", IV, 16). The ambo for the Epistle should still be used in the Roman Rite where the church has one; it is used regularly at Milan.

From this history then, we can see that the custom of facing the altar developed from the use of one Ambo only. When churches without ambos became more common, and the Gospel was read facing north (i.e. without turning ones back to the Altar), this action was theologised as providing a link between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (a division which deserves another post!). However, we also see that churches made their own arrangements according to the structure of the building, and that practicality ruled in reading to the faithful. We also get a sense of the importance overall of the "High Place" in reading both the Epistle and the Gospel.

Time to share these two photos. The first is from the Alcuin Club's reconstruction of Sarum ceremonial, and shows the Subdeacon reading the Epistle from the entrance of the screen, facing the people but also positioned somewhat to the South side of the entrance. This is more or less what happens at S. Magnus, minus the screen of course.

In this second photo, from a celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (note, not Dominican rite) in Blackfriars, Oxford. You will notice the Subdeacon reading from the "Epistle side" of the Sanctuary but facing the people, not the Altar.

One of the worst features of the Modern Roman Liturgical praxis is that it perpetuates the false division of the "Liturgy of the Word" and the "Liturgy of the Sacrament". Through what is admittedly a little bit of retrospective theologising, the link between the two "halves" of the Mass is exemplified in the Roman Rite by the reading of the Collects at the altar, the Subdeacon facing East to chant the Epistle, and the Celebrant's reading of the Epistle and Gospel there too. It is therefore imperative for someone wishing to preserve the ethos of the Roman Rite to consider this link with the Altar when deciding to break free of Roman custom in the name of practicality.

However, in both of the pictures above, we can see that both the Altar and the "Ambo" are present in the Subdeacon's position. In the first, we notice that the Subdeacon is directed to remain just outside the screen, but still on the highest step. We need only think of the what the word "altar" means those whose rites involve an Iconostasis to realise that in standing where he does, the English Use Subdeacon has not really left the "altar" at all. He is also reading from an "ambo", a "high place", being elevated by some steps from the lowest level of the church. Exactly the same is true of the Mass at Blackfriars, where the Subdeacon is standing a step or so higher than those you can see in choir, he is also in an equivalent position to the basilican ambo whilst remaining within the Sanctuary of that church as it is configured.

We can see then that there is some legtimate latitude in the position of singing the Epistle at High Mass in the Classical Roman Rite. Looking at tradition and customs from across the West, we can discern that the two principles of the Ambo and the Altar are what determine the "correct" place from which to chant the Epistle and other readings. But, there is never any point in being too prescriptive without thought of circumstance : I'd love to hear suggestions of where the Subdeacon should go to sing the Epistle in the beautiful, multi-level church of San Miniato in Florence!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The seeds of its own dissolution?

I'm currently reading Fr Colin Stephenson's amusing memoir Merrily on High, a very interesting first-hand account of some of the churches I know and love in the glory days of Anglo-Catholicism. I'm only about half way through, but one thought which Fr Stephenson repeats at various junctures of his story deserves comment and interrogation.

From the beginning of his testimony, Fr Stephenson asserts that the strain of Anglo-Catholics who threw their lot in with the "Baroque Catholicism of the Continent" were really dooming themselves to failure, as the fruits of the Liturgical Movement (perceived by Fr. Colin as intrinsically a good thing) percolated into the stuffy mainstream of Western Catholicism.

At points he recalls individuals whom he accuses, and I'm sure not erroneously, of adopting Papalism or Ultramontanism as a foil for inflicting their own whims on their congregations and communities. There is one passage in the book which typifies this opinion:

"Yet for all its [Anglo-Catholicism's] triumphalism it held within it the seeds of its own dissolution which the disorganisation of the last war simply accelerated. It had become congregationalist and cut off from the main stream of the Church of England and rejoiced to have it so. It had thrown in its lot devotionally with the baroque Catholicism of the continent just when that movement was about to be discredited in the church of its origin, and looking back at it now one realises that it had about as much chance of appealing to the average Anglican as the Folies Bergeres to the Mother's Union."

There are also frequent digs at "fussiness" in the Liturgical and Devotional aspects of the movement in the 20s and 30s :

"'It's not a sermon you have [at St Bart's, Brighton] but an interval while the wind performers empty their instruments'. Some months ago I should not have thought this funny, but now I could see the point and as I was leaving he said. 'Our High Mass is always over within the hour'." p66

"I did not see him [Fr Kenrick] often after this pilgrimage, which is recorded in his memorial in Holy Trinity, Hoxton, but I did once visit him there on a Sunday and was surprised to find only a handful of people at High Mass. I was still at the stage when I honestly thought that the externals of Catholic worship were bound to attract crowds. Mature experience has taught me that they are far more likely to drive them away!" p.69

..a reflective passage towards the end of the book...

"[Mount Athos] did reveal to me very clearly the dangers of trying to shut the Church up in the past. So much of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England has been a turning backwards and a holding on to certain positions with a fanaticism bred from a sense of insecurity." p186

"... the new Roman instructions for the rites of Holy Week laid down that on Good Friday the cross, if wished, could simply be held up for people to venerate in their places. When Duncan-Jones did this twenty years earlier in Chichester Cathedral he was the laughing stock of the whole Anglo-Catholic world." p. 77

It is difficult to isolate passages of the book which articulate in full Fr. Stephenson's retrospective critique of the fussiness, extremism and punctiliousness of the Anglo-Catholicism of his youth, but I hope you get a general idea of the argument, which could be summarised as follows: Some of the more Romanised Anglo-Catholics were only attracted to the movement for its colour and exoticism and had no interest in an authentic Catholicism (strangely never fully expounded in this memoir, whereas the "externals" are). The truest Anglo-Catholicism found its expression in the Reformed religion adopted later on in the Roman Catholic Church under its greatest hero-Pope John XXIII, which became far more palatable to Anglicans in general and has proved itself over time."

This retrospective criticism of the Anglo-Catholicism is common among the generation who grew up in its Golden Era, and who subsequently had to mourn its passing, and then took charge of the the introduction of the New Catholicism into the mainstream of the CofE. It is also the heritage of that generation of priests who were taught by Fr Stephenson's generation, and who knew him at Walsingham as youngsters, the same exuberant generation of fallen Catholics at places like Staggers, before Ena the Cruel put an end to their shennanigans; a generation that simultaneously revels in the old party badges of lace, birettas, continental vestments and baroque fittings, while owing complete allegiance to the Reformed Roman Liturgy and a vague notion of Papalism. There is a dreadful schizophrenia among these two generations of Anglo-Catholic clergy. The glory days were brilliant, but there is bitterness stemming from the fact that the movement failed to deliver on its promises. They do not know how to deal with the fact that while the Liturgical Movement and its most radical reforms in some ways signalled the death of Anglo-Papalism, Anglican Ultramontanism and Romanism as lively forces in the Anglican Communion, the subsequent Reformation and Iconoclasm of Western Catholicism turned out to yield a far more importable fruit the heady ecumenical decades of the 70s and 80s, apparently giving Papalist clergy what they'd wanted all along : a vernacular Eucharistic liturgy, expressed in the ASB and CW texts.

I have two main objections to this point of view. Firstly, there is an unhealthy distinction between the "externals" of worship and the "interiority" of the faith, with the assumption that those who cherished the externals spurned the Faith itself. Secondly, the attitude that Papalism has proven to be the magic ingredient that has kept the small flame of Anglo-Catholicism alive into the present day, and that it continues to be the guiding light of the movement.

On the both points, I concede that the Romanised Anglo-Catholic dependence on Ultramontanism for its self-expression was the reason for its dramatic death in the 1960s, as the "old ways" were markedly changed (at least inasmuch as the faithful perceived this "radical" change) and old certainties were eroded. However, I would also like to suggest that the reason why some of the most "extreme" and "fussy" Romanised Anglicans enjoyed any degree of success, and I have no hang ups in including the wealthy, largely White Anglo-Saxon congregations of places like S. Magnus (it its day) along with the famous but over-fetishised Slum Parishes (like Hoxton); is not so much because they espoused extreme liturgical Romanism and Ultramontanism, but because these places offered the fullness of the Sacraments, the fullness of the Liturgy, the rootedness in something authentically ancient and identifiably so, a true living School of the Faith. The Ultramontanism of these Parishes was certainly one factor in their decline; but their subsequent side-stepping of Vatican liturgical regulation in favour of asserting their own autonomy in matters liturgical under the authority of tradition is part of the secret of their survival. I have been to English Missal Masses at Hoxton (ergo not a strict 1962 celebration!), but I know far more about S. Magnus, where after years of increasing isolation and a liturgical regime of slack modernism, the Old Rite is flourishing and managing to find its feet again. We have learnt the lesson that good liturgy needs no special dispensation from the Holy Father, to whatever degree we accept his Spiritual Jurisdiction here in our little corner of the Anglican Communion. The prospect of an Anglican Ordinariate full of Anglican clergy bowed down under Roman liturgical law and so using the modern Roman Missal and the "liturgical Bonsai" that is the 1962 rite, has brought our cherished freedom into even sharper relief, despite our perilous position in the wider Communion. These days are for us an opportunity to explore that tradition, and I personally am coming to realise that the "fussiness" denounced by the Colin Stephenson generation is actually the beginning of a spiritual revival for our little group (small, but outward looking, intimate but not exclusive), where all around us is death and division.

Moreover, I hope we can steer clear of the label "traditionalist", which is bandied around so often by Forward in Faith circles, as if we were the same movement that in the Roman church cherishes the heritage of the Liturgical Movement and its "saints" Bugnini and Pio XII, abhorrs Vatican II and exalts Papal Authority. We are rather the "orthodox", who value the genuine authority of tradition, without wanting to go around harrassing gay rights activists and abortion doctors with it.

The new generation of orthodox Anglican seminarians, as well as their established faithful, are entering an era where the issue is no longer "Women Bishops", but whether or not to take the leap into the Roman Jurisdiction. They will need to decide how to live out the faith, or to pick up Stephenson's terms, which "externals" to adopt, in this new and uncertain territory, both inside the ordinariate and outside it. Is the only future for orthodox Anglicans under Roman authority? Is the alternative to submission complete division into various laity-lite bodies calling themselves "Anglican"? Is it possible that the Ordinariate will close the book on Anglican Ultramontanism? What and who will be left behind? I wonder if we're onto an answer....

Monday, 7 June 2010

Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi

Bewildered servers prepare for the procession of the Blessed Sacrament after Mass on the Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi

Thursday, 3 June 2010

"beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt"

Following on from my last post (very Hunwickesque, if I might utter the master's name), another thought came to mind re: the Beati qui.

Only moments before the Invitation, (unless you're sitting through the Coronation Mass) the priest has said the prayer: "Unde et memores, Domine, nos servi tui, sed et plebs tua sancta, ejusdem Christi Filii tui Domini nostri tam beatae Passionis....etc"

Or in the Missale Anglicanum :

Wherefore, O Lord, we thy servants, and thy holy people also, remembering the blessed passion of the same Christ thy Son our Lord...etc

In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, tradition endows the Passion with the attribute "blessed". Now, the discussion about whether or not beati should be translated as Happy or Blessed is something I won't go into here, and you can probably guess which side I'd fall on, but there is something significant about this for the Invitation.

Christ's Passion is Blessed. Christ underwent this Passion for the redemption of the whole world. We Christians, though we are called to, and the Saints always do, pick up the Cross, it is important to bear in mind that we have not undergone the Passion of Our Lord. In human terms, it is possible to suffer physically as Christ did, but we have not redeemed ourselves; rather we have been redeemed. Is it a confusion to call ourselves "beati" at the moment before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ? Is it correct to conflate "the Supper of the Lamb" of the Apocalypse with the Banquet of the Mass? Are we not blurring the distinction, despite our Communion, between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant? Thoughts?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Ecce qui tollit peccata mundi....

Let us consider for a moment these words from the Mass. These moments between the Consecration and the Communion are filled with the recollection of Christ as the pure and spotless Lamb, and of our own petitions for mercy. The priest at High Mass makes the fraction, commixture and receives Communion before and during the singing of the Agnus Dei. Thereafter, if others are to receive Communion also, he first hears their Confiteor, absolves them and then turns to them holding a Host at eye-level and says :

Ecce Agnus Dei, Ecce qui tollit peccata mundi

Behold the Lamb of God, Behold him who says away the sins of the World.

The image provided by the liturgical action, of the Spotless Lamb on the Altar, comes from the Apocalypse, but the verbal formula used go back to the Gospels, where the Baptist bestows upon Our Lord the title "Agnus Dei", Lamb of God. At the River Jordan, he says "Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccatum mundi", referring in the singular to the sin of the whole world. In the Liturgy, the response of the faithful is "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be heald". Here, they are echoing the words of the Centurion in Matthew 8 who responds to Jesus' promise to heal with "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed."

The Gospel texts which have been collated here do not come from one Gospel narrative, but do in fact reflect a common theme: the recognition of man's unworthiness to receive Jesus. The Baptist's words are provoked by his seeing Christ coming towards him, with the crowds of sinners, to be Baptised. These words, these striking images, preface the Baptist's discourse on his unworthiness, and on his role as praecursor. His words are motivated by faith, however, in the fact that Christ's baptism of the Spirit will be the true Baptism, and a true remission of Sins.

The centurion speaks as one who knows his unworthiness before the poor Healer from Gallilee, but also reflect his faith in the healing "word" of Jesus. The liturgical action that accompanies these immortal words skip back to another Gospel story, that of the publican in the Temple who beats his chest and proclaims his unworthiness.

What we have here then is a very small dialogue between the Priest, the People and Christ. While the Priest addresses the faithful in the person of the Praecursor ("Behold..."), the People respond to his declaration by addressing Christ in the Host directly ("Lord, ..."). We have two speech-acts, two voices, and in them, the meeting-place of two themes: unworthiness and faith. This is how tradition has determined that we dispose ourselves before receiving Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

In the reformed rite of Paul VI, however, we find another formula inserted into this simple three-way dialogue : After Ecce Agnus dei, we have Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt, which is erroneously translated into English as "Happy are those who are called to his supper". The Latin is in more accurately "Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb".

Now, I'm not sure how I feel about picking on specific minutiae of the reforms in order to criticise them (I often feel the principle of reform has had much more disastrous consequences than most of the details), I do think it's important to interrogate these insertions into the rite, and to ask what they mean. My specific interest is in the analogy of Liturgy with language, and so I would like to ask what is meant by these words; who is speaking them and in what voice? What is the meaning behind them, and where do they fit into the dialogue I described earlier?

Clearly this formula is not entirely inappropriate to the liturgical "Invitation to Communion" as this is often labelled in modern Missals. The cena referred to in the sentence is the "marriage feast of the Lamb" of Revelation 19.9 and certainly describes what we are partaking of. However, it must be pointed out that this leap from the Baptist's words in the Gospel to the mysterical and esoteric disrupts the Communion dialogue by bringing in another voice. Suddenly, to the voice of John the Baptist is added the voice of an Angel saying "write these words : Blessed are those....". From the awe and wonder of Christ's presence amongst men (in both the Baptist's words and those of the centurion), we are taken abruptly to the celestial realm, and asked to ponder not the Human Face of our God, but the mystical wedding feast of the Lamb and His reign in Heaven. The addition of this formula to the Mass is consonant with a general de-emphasis of the Mass as Sacrifice in preference of the Mass as Supper and of course, the Mass is both. However, it does seem to me at least that the insertion of the "Beati qui..." into the Mass is at least a little jarring. The Post-Communion collects of the classical Roman Rite, to my mind, do quite enough to emphasise the Mass as meal "these gifts which we have received..." etc. I would also point out that where the voice of Angels is most prominently echoed, in the Sanctus, the words are padded out with plenty of non-scriptural language, and the Sanctus has an "organising" role in the flow of the liturgy that is quite unique.

In any case, I'd be very interested to hear what other people think about the New Rite Invitation to Communion, and whether the "Beati qui..." is an appropriate interpolation.....