Skip to comments.Reflections on Worship [what Anglicans can bring (back) to Rome]
Posted on 06/30/2005 6:24:54 PM PDT by sionnsar
One of the interesting aspects of attending the Chant Institute during the last week and a half was attending eight daily Roman Catholic Masses at St. Josephs College. Most of them were in the Gaspar Center (named for the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood), which is essentially a classroom for choral music that happens to have an altar right in the middle of it, but one Mass was in what once was the colleges beautiful 1905-built chapel. While it was delightful to be in the presence of the precious Body and Blood of the Lord every day during my time away, these Masses also served as a sad reminder of the divisions in Christendom. I had to be satisfied with a blessing while my RC friends there (90 % of the Institutes students) received the Sacrament. As a result, my longing for a healing of the breach between Rome and orthodox Anglicanism is stronger now than ever.
But based upon my observation of these RC Masses, there is an area where I now feel Anglo-Catholicism has been positively served by our separation from Romeliturgical ceremony and devotional piety. Please dont misunderstand me. The overwhelming majority of the RC participants in the Institute struck me as devout and serious-minded about their faith, and by choosing to participate in an intensive course on Gregorian chant they had already shown themselves to have an above-average interest in traditional worship practices. And I have no reason to doubt that the priests who celebrated these Masses were godly men. (I never detected even the faintest whiff of heresy during the eleven days I was at St. Joescan you imagine that if they were ECUSA priests?!) I have a high personal regard for all these fine folks. Rather, despite the fact that these classmates of mine were among the best informed and personally devout of RC laymen in the United States, I cannot help but conclude that the beauty of the Mass that the Roman Catholic Church inherited from the Middle Ages has largely been squandered in this country.
It was as if beauty had been systematically stripped from their worship (except for the chanting we were doing, which seemed almost an alien intrusion into the contemporary settingI gather that it is rare to hear Latin Gregorian chant in American RC Masses at the parish level today). The vestments worn by the priests looked as if they had been made from polyester curtains and were tailored by the costumer for a sixties era Sci-Fi show (though I believe one of the priests celebrated in only a white cassock-alb and stole, which at least had a classical simplicity in its favor). The chalice most commonly used also looked like something out of the original Star Trek, while on other days they used a glass one that was a bit more attractive. Only a minority of the congregation kneeled at the prayer of consecration (and they were predominantly conservative college students from the Univ. of Chicago), and only a few of the RCs present specially reverenced the elements at the elevation. During the course of the entire Mass most of the congregation crossed themselves only once or twice, typically at the very beginning and end of the liturgy. It seems clear to me that bodily displays of reverence, which are all but universal among Anglo-Catholics, have essentially disappeared among contemporary Roman Catholics in the U.S.
And it is rare to find an Anglican church building that has as little concern for beauty as the worship spaces we used last week. Most of our Masses were celebrated on an altar in the middle of a sixties-era classroom (there was a fire alarm where the crucifix should have been), which hardly assisted me in lifting up my heart to the Lord. But it is down right heart breaking to see what was done to the formerly lovely, century-old chapel at St. Josephs. At one time it had a dozen altars, but in the seventies they ripped them all out, leaving only vacant space in place of the high altar. Above the side area where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a simple wooden tabernacle there is now a green and yellow mural of an abstract chalice and stalk of wheat. One can only imagine the majestic environment in which worshippers there once praised the Living God.
As one former Anglo-Catholic who has recently decided to swim the Tiber told me recently, on aesthetic grounds todays RC worship is a vast waste land. Based upon my experiences last week, I understand where he is coming from. So while I fervently pray for a reconciliation of the separated portions of the Western Church (and look forward to a day in the not too distant future when Rome and the East are reunited), I also pray that we Anglo-Catholics are able to retain the beautiful, prayerful traditions of worship God has entrusted to us. It looks like the Roman Catholic Church may need us around as faithful stewards of the Tradition when they finally wake up and discover what they have done to their worship practices and spaces.
I for one would welcome a huge measure of Anglo-Catholic influence in restoring reverence, devotion and beauty to Catholic liturgies, which are often execrable (except for my rather traditionally liturgical-minded parish).
I would be interested to know how orthodox Anglicans feel about this.
I agree, I was at an Anglican wedding a while back and the service reminded me a lot of Catholic masses from my childhood.
Sionssar: I was referring to the Author, not you.
We're working on it!
An excellent article and accurate observations. I have often made the remark on this forum that were our local Catholics to pick the church with whom they are closest to, it certainly wouldn't be us Orthodox!
And if you put an Orthodox Christian into services one of our local Catholic parishes and then put them into one of the Anglo-Catholic parishes that I attended back in my Anglican days, there is no question as to which one the Orthodox would say was closest to us...
God willing, some of that Gregorian chant talked about in this article will start to penetrate out into the land of the Oregon missalettes, which are truly excrable, both in language and music. And, if they could just go back to using the traditional English of the old St. Joseph's missal, then we'd really be getting somewhere...
This article echos many of the things that my Roman Catholic in-laws tell me was lost in their Church since Vatican II. Of course, I'm in no position to comment on the accuracy of those statements, only that I'd have to agree with many of the outside observations made here.
Having grown up Catholic, post Vatican II, it always seemed to me that something was missing from the Mass as conducted in my town. The liturgy was downplayed - almost as if it was embarassing. All of the men would stand at the back, near the door, and none of them would ever sing. The teenage girls and the younger women would often walk about in outrageously loud high-heels. Twenty percent of the congregation would process directly from the communion rail to the parking lot, so as not to be caught up in the traffic after the service.
The first time I attended an Anglican Service, everyone sang, and dressed and processed reverently (this was before the pink triangle replaced the cross) and leaving early simply wasn't done. The liturgy was beautiful, and amidst this beauty and reverence, meditation and prayer were wonderful.
I pray that Pope Benedict XVI will inspire the RC Church to reclaim its wonderful liturgy!
If you get a chance attend the Divine Liturgy at a Byzantine Catholic Church. I did and was quite awed.
I will remain Catholic of Latin Rite but sometimes I do yearn for more reverence in our liturgy.
Even in the 50s there was a joke around about a driver of a crowded bus shouting to the passengers: "Why don't all of you pretend you're in church and all crowd to the back?"
I prefer the TLM too -- but some things never change!
I like Anglo-Catholics but I do have to say it bugs me that these types of articles, well-meaning as they are, tend to take the worst of the worst examples of American Catholic liturgical abuse and apply it to all of Catholicism.
It's a problem, no doubt, but the whole Church is not engulfed by it, and acting as if were so is insulting to the many good parishes and priests out there.
"Too many Doctrinal differences.."
The origin of the Anglican church is not in any significant theological debate, but in the desire of a secular ruler to obtain a divorce, obtain Church lands and property, and to exercise direct ecclesiastical control. The prime minister still nominates Episcopal candidates. Parliament must vote on any act proposed by the General Synod. The king or queer is the head of the Church of England.
Cardinal John Henry Newman, perhaps the greatest Anglican theologian, helped start the Oxford Movement. Newman and a few of others started this movement to return the Anglican Church to its early roots.
Newman's attempts to link the modern Christian faith with the early Church affirmed many of the doctrines rejected in the Reformation. In the end, Newman was convinced that the first Christians professed the same beliefs practiced by the modern Catholic Church and that the Catholic Church taught with divine authority. Newman eventually concluded that the Church of England was in schism and that Rome was the only valid successor to the historical and ecclesiastical claims of the early Church.
What I find irksome about articles having the general thesis that "the Catholic church is having problems with liturgy and devotional piety" is that they tend to lump all Catholics and parishes together. The article omits mention of the eastern Catholic churches entirely, and tends to lump all Roman Catholic parishes together.
There is an incredible amount of variety that exists within the Catholic church. I've seen Roman Catholic parishes, both TLM and NO, that are both exceptionally devout and have a beautiful liturgy. I've also seen the same in the eastern Catholic churches. While I agree with the author in that Catholics can learn a lot from the high Anglicans, I get the sense that he needs to get out more and see some of the more glaring exceptions to his thesis.
"I have often made the remark on this forum that were our local Catholics to pick the church with whom they are closest to, it certainly wouldn't be us Orthodox!"
Current company excepted? :-)
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