At some point in the last century, the term "High Church" became a perjorative term used by those who called themselves "Anglo-Catholics" to denote groups who had not become "ritually advanced" to the point of celebrating the Roman Liturgy and practising contemporary Roman Catholic devotions. The term was used to distinguish the post-Ritualist and predominantly Romanised Anglo-Catholics from those who persisted in the Tractarians' cautious cleaving to the Prayer Book whilst quietly reserving the Sacrament in aumbries and increasing celebrations of the Holy Communion on Sundays and feast days. In more recent times, "High Church" has been applied to Liturgy to describe practices that, while headed in the right direction, don't quite meet the accepted standard of the Western Rite: A Prayer Book Eucharist with Copes and incense on Feast Days rather than the Roman Mass followed by an Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart or similar. The idea behind this use is that High Church parishes have not made it all the way to being fully "Catholic", as they insist on using Cranmer's Liturgy and regard Baroque church fittings, Ultramontane teaching and the promotion of contemporary Roman Catholic devotions as ostentatious and extreme. "After all," they would say, "this is the Church of England!".
This was a significant, if not the most signficant, split between the groups and parties that believed themselves to be heirs of the Oxford Movement. It was part of a trend that involved a dynamic between Teaching and Practice throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, Tractarianism spawned the Branch Theory, and this focus on the relationship of the C of E to the Medieval Church instigated a re-appraisal of the Anglican Liturgy, creating the necessary conditions for the Ritualist movement, which in turn crystalised around Liturgical Romanism which produced and fed Ultramontanism and Anglo-Papalism, leading to the apogee of Anglo-Catholicism and the start of its slow decline after the 1960s.
At every stage of this development, there were those who fell away and refused to assent to the advances of the radicals, and the movement became characterised by the rivalry of conservative and extreme elements, both embarking on creative projects of scholarship in an attempt to justify their own party labels. There were Branch Theorists who vehemently opposed the re-introduction of "popish" liturgical practices from the Medieval Church. There were Liturgical Romanists (served by the SSPP publishers) who adopted the aesthetic, if not the substance, of contemporary Roman Liturgy, refusing to drop Sundays after Trinity and the Collect for Purity. One important group rivalled the Romanists in the last years of the 19th century and were dismissed as practitioners of "British Museum Religion". The Dearmer set and the Alcuin Club are now remembered for the famous put-down I just quoted, and their often eccentric attempts to imbue the Prayerbook Liturgy with Sarum ceremonial. They were superseded by Romanists, now claiming to be Anglo-Catholics, and their legacy fizzled out as they became identified with the defeated High Church label.
So where has all this taken us, and what do we have to show for our journey and our battles? Anglican Papalism lost its identity after Vatican II, and the Ultramontane leanings of its clergy led to continuous, sometimes debilitating, defections to Rome culminating in the exodus of 1992 in the wake of women's ordination to the Priesthood in the Church of England. Anglicanorum Coetibus stands to flush out the very last Anglo-Papists in the Anglican Communion (at least those who accept the Papal claims in toto and fantasise that they are under the Roman Pontiff's jurisdiction). In a curious irony, the very Anglo-Catholics who for so long have disparagingly referred to non-Romanised, and more recently "alternative-integrity" ritualist Anglicans, as mere "High Church" imitators, are now being beaten about the head with the same label by some Roman Catholic Traditionalists, eagerly awaiting the Ordinariate's Anglican liturgical contribution to their slightly ludicrous programme of the "Reform of the Reform" (the image of clergy obscurbed behind the 'Benedictine arrangement' candlesticks and crucifux at a west-facing altar is one example that springs to mind of this movement's bizarre urge to invent traditions).
Indeed, irony is the prevailing flavour of the current state of Anglo-Catholicism and the purpose and integrity of those Anglicans who don't go to Rome will be a serious question that demands a serious answer. For my part, I think it's worth taking a step back to evaluate what the whole point of the Oxford Movement has been, and my personal conclusion is that we need to serious review the work and teaching of the High Church movement, and especially those High Church Liturgists who started with the Prayerbook and worked backward.
The High Church movement was cerebral, scholarly, quiet and calm. In contrast to the extreme Romanists who tried to nudge the Church of England to catch up with contemporary Roman Catholic practice, the High Churchman started with the basic premise that the formulas o the Prayerbook were an adequate, even complete, statement of the Catholic and Apostolic faith of the Church of England, and yet at the same time they were not so prejudiced (as Evangelical Protestant apologists were) as to overlook or dismiss the Medieval Liturgy of Sarum, and the uses of other great Sees, and indeed these Liturgists produced some important scholarship on Liturgy in Medieval England, translating the Sarum Missal and Breviary. These translations allowed for the publication of editions of the Book of Common Prayer printed in parrallel with the Sarum Missal - an exercise that allowed Catholic Anglicans to see quite plainly that whatever Cranmer had intended to do to the English Liturgy, in most cases he had merely paraphrased the Sarum Liturgy in English.
The High Church liturgists also took a fundamentally different approach to the Romanists. Instead of accepting wholesale the Liturgical culture of contemporary Rome, and updating their liturgies in line with the latest prescriptions from the Vatican, the High Churchmen took a more measured approach, focusing on the good and authentic aspects of the Prayerbook liturgy and living out that Liturgy according to their understanding of the Church's Apostolic history: They made the Eucharist the principle Sunday service, and fiercely defended the daily Office against the proliferation of daily celebrations and evening Masses. They encouraged devout Communion at one principle Sunday service rather than banning it at High Celebrations as the Romanists did. They were keen on continuity with the Medieval Church whilst also proposing that the institution was in need of reform, and they only very cautiously introduced aspects of Medieval Liturgy, and rarely invented new services. The sorts of things they did bring back were authentic and original to the context, and they delighted in their Englishness. Crucifers in tunicles became associated with High Church or English Use Liturgy by Anglo-Papists who had become used to copying contemporary Roman Catholic Liturgical practice, which was itself prone to imitate the Papal Court Liturgies. This despite the fact, and without the knowledge, that even Acolytes wore the tunicle in Rome until fairly recently. As Romanism became more extreme and intolerant as ultramontanists rejected any liturgical practice not sanctioned by the Congration of Rites, High Churchmanship became more tolerant of the Church parties around it, sure in its Anglican identity and steady, measured rapprochement with its pre-Reformation past.
I have to admit I don't know a great deal about this group, or the High Church Divines that informed their teaching, but I think it is now time to re-appraise the High Church ideals, and ask how they might be relevant to the future of Catholic Anglicanism. Romanism and its logical conclusions are set to play out in the years ahead. We have to decide whether we will give up on the Church of England, or whether we will try to carve out a more durable, realistic and authentic identity within it.
Perhaps prompted by the service of Solemn Vespers of the Dead which will be sung at S. Magnus tonight, I've been considering that part of the Office of the Dead that normally follows the Mass: the Absolution. This ceremony is interesting to me for two principle reasons: firstly that the same rites can be carried out whether a body is present or not, and secondly because the presence of a Subdeacon with cross, and more specifically, the Subdeacon of the Mass, lends this ceremony to comparison with other rites in which this configuration appears: the Procession of Palm Sunday and the Procession of Candlemass.
In previous posts, I've written about the "language" of Liturgy and how the use of certain prayers, vestments and liturgical colours and actions in the Roman rite form a structured discourse, not unlike a human language, which discloses meaning and "makes present" Christ's actions and attributes in the Liturgy. It seems to me that one can speak both of Christ's Sacramental presence in the Eucharist and His Liturgical presence in rites of the Liturgy (making sense of the ceremonies of the Gospel reading in the Mass etc).
We know that the Processions of Palm Sunday and Candlemas are a liturgical re-enactment, or making present, of events in the Gospel. In the case of Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ is enacted by the arrival at the Sanctuary gates of the Cross, born by a Subdeacon, while a description of the prescribed sacrifice is sung by the choir. On Palm Sunday, the Cross is again used a type of Christ and is processed among palms and hymns before arriving at the Church doors, the Gate of Jerusalem, where the Subdeacon knocks on the door with the Processional Cross, and those outside and inside the church begin a sung dialogue of Praise and welcome.
What then, is being made present in the Absolution of the Dead? Well, as with the two examples above, the clue is in the prayers recited and the configuration of the Subdeacon and Cross. In this rite, the procession forms essentially as at the other Celebrations, the Subdeacon and Cross with Acolytes either side and preceded by the Thurifer, and the Subdeacon goes to stand at the head of the Bier. This is clearly important because the Subdeacon will be facing the Altar in the case of a layman or empty bier, or facing West at the Bier of a simple Priest or Bishop. The link between the Cross and the head of the Deceased is important. The rites begin with the Priest Celebrant facing the Cross, wherever it be, beginning with:
ENTER not into judgment with Thy servant, O LORD, for in Thy Sight can no man living be justified.Judge him not therefore, O LORD, whom the prayers of the faithful commend unto Thee, but of Thy mercy let him who, when alive, was signed in the Name of the HOLY TRINITY, escape Thy just vengeance.Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.
If there be a body present, this prayer is followed by the singing of the Libera Me:
R/.. Deliver me, O LORD, from death eternal in that day tremendous: when the Heavens and the earth shall be moved: when Thou comest to judge the world by fire. V/. I am in fear and trembling until the sifting is at hand, and the wrath about to come. *When the Heavens and the earth shall be moved. V/. That day, a day of wrath, of calamity and misery, a great day, and exceeding bitter. *When Thou comest to judge the world by fire. V/. Rest eternal grant to them, O LORD, and let light perpetual shine upon them. R/. Deliver me, O LORD,....... by fire.
Incense is imposed and blessed, and the Kyrie Eleison sung antiphonally by one side of the choir, then the other. The Celebrant then intones the Pater Noster while aspersing and then censing the Bier. The Priest, significantly, is instructed to bow low when passing the cross, while the Deacon genuflects, meaning the Cross, in common with Palm Sunday and Candlemass, is a liturgical object that has been invested with Christ's symbolic, liturgical presence for the sake of this re-enactment. There follows a collect:
O GOD, Whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive, receive our humble petitions for the soul of Thy servant N., which Thou hast commanded to pass out of this world: deliver it not into the hands of the Enemy, neither forget it at the last, but command it to be received by Thy holy Angels, and to be carried into the land of the living; and, forasmuch as he hoped and believed in Thee, let him be counted worthy to rejoice in the fellowship of Thy Saints. Through our LORD JESUS CHRIST, Thy SON, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the Unity of the HOLY GHOST, GOD, for ever and ever. Amen.
...and the absolution....
ABSOLVE, O LORD, we beseech Thee, the soul of Thy servant (or handmaid), N., that though dead to the world, he may live to Thee; and whatsoever he hath done amiss in his human conversation, through the weakness of the flesh, do Thou by the pardon of Thy most merciful loving-kindness wipe away. Through CHRIST our LORD, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the Unity of the HOLY GHOST, GOD, for ever and ever. Amen.
So what is being enacted here? The prayers here share the common theme of begging mercy from the Almighty, the pardoning of offences at the general Resurrection, with Christ sitting in judgement. However, as we well know, this is a future event alluded to in the Gospel, not an historical event that we can re-enact. Could it be then, that this ceremony is a shadow of the Judgement to come? The image is quite clear: Christ at the head of the deceased Christian, who is surrounded (quite literally here) by the prayers of the living. The clergy are directed to hold lighted candles for the absolution, as at Candlemass and Palm Sunday, signifying the active participation of those present in the Liturgical action. Nonetheless, this is not strictly a "re-enactment" of the Judgement, but rather an illustration of it, perhaps more aptly, an "ikon" of the Judgement. A comparison springs to mind in the ceremonies of the Paschal Vigil, when the Lumen Christi procession is made by the Deacon in white vestments through a dark church, where the ministers and Altar are still dressed in Violet. One cannot say where in this Vigil the Resurrection is actually "enacted", although there are allusions to It throughout the beginning the of Vigil.
My thesis would also be that the Ceremony of Absolution could also be interpreted in light of the Descent of Christ into hades, if only because the Libera Me evokes this, and because of it is represented in the Byzantine Liturgy of Holy Saturday. For example at the Midnight office, a procession is made around the Church with the new Paschal flame-lit candles, while the Church inside is decked for the Feast. The Priest knocks on the church doors with the Cross (not unlike Palm Sunday) and begins a dialogue with a "voice of Hades" from inside the Church, which are then flung open to symbolise the gates of Hades being destroyed by Christ.
Perhaps because the enactment of this event is not explicit in the Roman Paschal liturgy, I can't help wondering of there is something of the Descent in the ceremony of Absolution. The Descent was so prominent in Patristic teaching during the early formative years of the Roman Rite, and there are ceremonial aspects in it which could relate to Byzantine practice - I'm thinking particularly of the Pall-like Plashchanitsa (shroud depicting the dead Christ) being moved from the Sepulchre to the Altar of the Church, the Procession that follows it. The Catholic Encyclopaedia says of the Libera me: "This is one of the few texts in the Roman Liturgy alluding to Christ's into hell. It is also a very ancient composition". All of this opens the possibility that something of the Descent that was originally part of Roman or other Western Paschal Liturgies got transferred to the Office of the Dead. I'm very keen to hear readers' views on this.
My final point is this: One must never underestimate the doctrinal core of the Sacred Liturgy. I have often discussed Liturgy as analogous to language, and like language, the Liturgy is also a medium of instruction. If one were to draw a diagram of Catholic theology on Prayer for the Dead, it would probably look very much like a plan-view of the Absolution ceremony: the dead are surrounded by the prayers of the faithful; a priest pleads before Christ the Head on their behalf and offers prayers beseeching Absolution. The Dead are honoured by the presence of mourners with candles, their physical remains, or their "ikon", are censed and lustrated etc. The Sacred Liturgy is effectively the language of our Salvation: it discloses to us the very essence of our Faith, and allows us to live the Gospel and to live "in" the Gospel, as Christ is made Sacramentally, Liturgically, figuratively present to us. This is the brilliance of the Old Rite, and this brilliance is lost the moment we start assenting to commitee religion and bad, spurious, invented liturgical practice. To those who continue to flog a dead horse: the Modern Roman Rite, Common Worship, the so-called Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, anything that represents a serious and damaging breach with Traditional practice: what they are affirming in the name of obedience to the Pope, or preference for modern language, or whatever, is a total ignorance of, and lack of concern for, the richness of the Traditional Liturgy. This just isn't right.
More on the subject of Deacons, and more specifically the question "Is a Priest a Deacon?" which has been exercising my mind over the last few days.
I broached this topic with an Anglican clergymen that I met when he was a recently ordained Deacon and who is now a Priest. He said that yes, he was a Deacon. One sign of this is the Priest and Bishop's use of the Maniple, which has its origins in the towel carried by the Deacon. A quick glance at the Catholic Encyclopaedia, which I tend to believe and trust, seems to contradict this, however. The origin of the Maniple is supposedly in a small mappa, or handkerchief which was ornamental and rarely put to actual use, and was carried by anyone of high rank in the left hand. The evidence for this is found in the peculiar use of this vestment by the Bishop who is handed His Maniple to wear at the prayer Indulgentiam in the Mass, while other clergy put theirs on before Mass begins. The Maniple, then, has as its origin a sign of status, rather than service, although the modern Maniple could well be a conflation of the ornamental maniple with other, more practical cloths and towels employed by clergy in the service of the Altar, the Deacon included. Furthermore, along with the development of the Subdiaconate as a Major or higher Order, the Maniple came to be given to the Subdeacon at his ordination, placed on his arm by the Bishop himself, almost as a sign of his inclusion in the higher ranks of clergy. Additionally, the analogous vestment in the Byzantine rite, the epigonation (that hangs from the cincture) belongs only to the Bishop (and there exists an exclusively Papal version in the West). The other possible analogy, the epimanikia, are ornamental cuffs worn by Bishops, Priests and (strict) Deacons.
This is quite a diversion from the actual question "Is a Priest a Deacon?" which the Roman Church logically affirms, since She teaches that Ordination produces an indellible mark on the soul: a diaconal ordination cannot be undone, and diaconal orders are not revoked. It seems to me that a mythology of this gradual acquisition of Orders (indistinct from Office) has been projected onto the Liturgy, which is why Catholics can say a Bishop is Priest, Deacon and Subdeacon when vested in Chasuble, Dalmatic and Tunicle at the Liturgy.
My assertion is that in the West, there has traditionally been a distinction (now lost) between Orders and Office, which comes out in the oldest forms of Ordination rites. The "possession" of certain Vestments by certain Orders is also false, generating an ecclesiastical version of secular "insignia", but probably stems from the idea that as a clergyman ascends through the Orders, he retains their proper Offices and therefore some visible sign of them. If that is true, why do we have Mitred Abbots (who are not in Episcopal Orders) and Deacons and Subdeacons in Folded Chasubles (evidence that the planeta was not originally only a Sacerdotal vestment)?
My feeling is that this conflation of Orders and Offices in the West, and all that comes with it, has been had overwhelmingly negative effect on Western Liturgy: the virtual suppression of the Diaconate, making the Office of Deacon a temporary state from which one will almost invariably proceed to be Priested, and in any case not an important office at all, since all functions can be fulfilled by a Priest; the actual suppression of the Subdiaconate and Minor Orders in our own time (regardless of their antiquity) and, finally, the evolution of the "Server" as an ambiguous category of person occupying the borderland between clergy and laity and therefore quite unregulated and uncontrollable. Given all this, it hardly surprises me when I see Romanized Anglican "Priest-Deacons" forget the rules and kiss the Gospel Book at a Pontifical Liturgy: they simply don't know what they're supposed to be doing, and in most cases, as long as there's incense and pretty vestments, they don't even care.
The first time I opened a Pontifical, I couldn't believe what I was seeing: all the Ceremonies and Rites for instituting and ordaining every category of clergy you would ever need (and some you might think you don't), and blessings for pretty much every eventuality. These rites are effectively dead to most of the Western Church, which is a shameful neglect and rejection of our very anchor in the Faith. When will we learn that we have to let the Sacred Liturgy, that great repository of Tradition, teach us what to do? When will we stop projecting our own superstitious symbolism onto the Liturgy, and hacking away at its integrity with our own confused notions of what is "permissable" or "convenient"? The moment we start constructing the Liturgy (or a Liturgy) around ourselves is the moment when we start making up our own religion, and after that, there's just no point.
I don't have much time to linger on Liturgical blogs these days, alas. Whenever I do look at RC tradworld blogs, however, I do notice one feature of tradworld liturgies that irks me: the practice of priests serving the Liturgy not as priests, but rather as Deacons and Subdeacons. I've also been reading a little about the Ethiopian rite of the Divine Liturgy and tradworld vs Ethiopian Orthodox is quite a contrast.
Reading tradworld rubrical guides, new and reprinted, one often sees instructions to the effect that Priests may carry out the functions of the Deacon or Subdeacon at Mass, or similar. In the Latin rite, a layman may fulfill the functions of the Subdeacon, with certain restrictions, of course, on what he can wear and do. This raises several important questions about how the Western Church "does" Liturgy: Are we saying that the rite is inherently defective, because it puts into vestments a person (the Subdeacon) who needn't be ordained to fulfill that office? Why is it that under current rules, both an ordained priest and a layman can serve as Subdeacons at the Liturgy? Does that make sense? Is there supposed to be a sharp line between clergy and laity, and which side of the Minor Orders does it fall on?
At the Ethiopian Liturgy, one will find at least five (seven is canonically correct) ministers: The Celebrant, the Assistant Priest, the Deacon, the Subdeacon, and the Lector, to which Fanbearer and Acolyte are added to make up the canonically required seven. A Priest assists, but he does so as an Assistant Priest. There is no notion of "demoting" him to the rank of Deacon for the duration of the liturgy.
Western practice begs the question, what actually is the Priest-Deacon? Is he a just a Priest in Deacon's clothing? If he is, why does he receive Communion with his stole tied inappropriately, or if he's acting as Subdeacon, not at all? The inconsistencies that arise, where the Priest in choir is expected to receive Communion in a stole, but the Priest-in-Tunicle isn't!
Another major question is that of the relationship between Office and Liturgical Function. My understanding of Orders, starting from scripture and going on to the Fathers, is that each clerical order has both an Office and a Function. In some cases, the liturgical function overlaps a little: Bishops and Priests both celebrate the Liturgy, Subdeacons and Lectors (formerly) both chant Readings. Yet, their respective offices are not precisely the same. Is it right then, for a priest to temporarily relinquish his proper function to fulfill that of another minister, or for a layman to usurp the liturgical function proper to a Subdeacon?
This might all seem like so much splitting of hairs, and shying away from providing real answers. But comparing the Ethiopian and Latin-rite practice reveals the massive gulf between how East and West project their own notions of convenience onto the Liturgy.
Convenience does matter, though. In my church, I'm used to priests acting as Deacons. We don't have a Deacon affiliated to the Parish, and when one visits, he acts as Deacon. Luckily though, I don't think I've ever seen a Priest act as Subdeacon in the Parish (which must be one of the worst liturgical solecisms ever!). The rotation of lay servers in this role is perhaps not the ideal, but is certainly better practice than using a priest, and approaches at least a "simulation" of ministers in minor orders. And to my mind, the minor orders are the answer to this problem. That and the promotion of the Diaconate. One of the good things (but possibly the worst named) to come out of late twentieth-century mucking around with the Liturgy is the revival of the "Permanent" Diaconate, individuals who are ordained as Deacons to fulfill the Office of pastoral care and teaching, and the Functions of the Deacon at the Liturgy. Surely that is the first step in achieving an understanding of orders that chimes with scripture and tradition.