(Hattip to Scott Anderson)
Christopher Howse of the Daily Telegraph is astonished to find the Protestant reformer’s prayers adopted by Roman Catholics
Something extraordinary is happening in English churches. Imagine you arrived at an unfamiliar church just as the service was starting and you heard: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…” Right, you’d think, CofE, Book of Common Prayer.
But this is the beginning of a Catholic Mass, a Roman Catholic Mass. It is a liturgy approved by the Pope, and it takes lumps of the Holy Communion service from the 1662 Prayer Book. I find the general effect pleasing but distinctly unsettling.
Two questions arise, depending on the direction from which one is coming. A member of the Church of England might wonder why Catholics should want to use the Book of Common Prayer compiled by Archbishop Cranmer (pictured here in 1546). A Catholic might ask: but is it the Mass?
The Catholics who already use it were once Anglicans and, since the beginning of 2011, have joined the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. About 80 have been ordained priests, and there are more than 1,000 lay people. Not many.
It is remarkable that the Vatican should have approved the service. (This is not technically a rite. It is, I think, a “use” of the Roman rite.) But on the question of its validity, it is to be noted that the “Eucharistic Prayer” is not the one in the Book of Common Prayer. It is a translation of the Roman Canon, but a different one from that in force in Catholic parish churches.
The Eucharistic prayer used by the Ordinariate is, like the rest of the service, full of thees and thous (for God) and words like “vouchsafe”. It follows the so-called Old English translation, which is not all that old, and certainly was not made by Coverdale as some think. But there are small variants. The words of consecration (if you enjoy significant detail) are those recently introduced into the ordinary Catholic version of the Mass in English, in which the Blood “will be poured out for you and for many”.
Much of the Mass for the Ordinariate will be familiar to those who went to a CofE or a public school: “the quick and the dead”; “manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed”; “not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table”.
If anything, the Book of Common Prayer overdoes the weight of sin: “The burden of them is intolerable”. And so, as in the Ordinariate’s new order of Mass, it gives “Comfortable words” of Jesus’s: “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden”, and so on.
For reasons I do not understand, some people don’t like the recent Catholic revision of the translation of the Creed used at Mass, where it says “consubstantial with the Father” rather than “of one being with the Father”. The Ordinariate version, like the Book of Common Prayer, has “being of one substance with the Father”. The meaning, whatever exactly that is, remains the same.
The order in which prayers come is unfamiliar to any who know only the Mass or the 1662 Prayer Book. The “Our Father” comes before Communion; the Gloria at the beginning, after the Kyrie, but the penitential rite after the Creed and bidding prayers.
In some ways the Ordinariate Mass is more clearly a sacrifice than the current English translation of the Roman Mass appears. At the Offertory of the new Ordinariate liturgy, the priest says he offers a spotless host “for the faithful in Christ, both the quick and the dead, that it may avail for their salvation”. This is what the Thirty-Nine Articles refer to when they say: “the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits”.
From October 10, the Ordinariate will show the world what the new liturgy looks like.
Christopher Howse asks two questions
- Why do Catholics want to use elements of the Book of Common Prayer compiled by Archbishop Cranmer? and
- Is this the Mass?
Let’s answer the second of these questions first. Yes, most decidedly, this is the Mass. The Anglicanae Traditiones commission of the Vatican which drew up the new Ordinariate Use Order of Mass, like the similar body thirty years ago which compiled the Anglican Use Mass for the pastoral provision communities in the United States, has scrutinised the Book of Common Prayer in its various editions very thoroughly. Much of Cranmer’s work was in fact the beautiful poetic rendition in his contemporary vernacular of traditional Catholic prayers. The commission has identified those prayers and liturgical actions which are compatible with the faith of the Catholic Church and has incorporated them in a new Order of Mass which is completely valid and which all Catholics can attend, if they wish to.
But why an Anglican-inspired Mass at all? To understand this it is necessary to look more closely at the new concept of Church Unity which was developed at the Second Vatican Council. This involves a high esteem for other Christians and their faith history. The Church recognises that all baptised persons are indeed Christians, that much of what they believe and many of their liturgical actions are completely in line with Catholicism, although different aspects may be stressed and other forms used. In fact a great deal that the churches of the Reformation protested about and then reformed was indeed crying out for reform (if only that reform could have taken place within the Church rather than in separated communities).
This new view of Unity (unity in diversity rather than uniformity) has led to many very fruitful dialogues between the various churches, which have produced noteworthy documents on shared aspects of the faith. The ARCIC process with the Anglican Church is one such longstanding dialogue. This even led many Anglicans to believe that corporate unity with Rome was not only possible but indeed imminent.
Unfortunately many liberalising tendencies within the Anglican Communion which were not immediately reconcilable with either Catholicism or Orthodoxy have made unity in our time well-nigh impossible. This is why several groups of Anglicans in many parts of the world approached the Vatican with the request for them to be reconciled corporately with the Catholic Church and for them to bring important elements of their Anglican identity with them.
As this reflected Pope Benedict XVI’s own vision of the Unity of all Christians with a profound reverence for each other’s traditions and heritage, he was only too pleased to offer these Anglicans the possibility to join the Catholic Church as groups, to govern themselves in quasi-dioceses called Personal Ordinariates with their own Ordinary in the rank either of Bishop (for unmarried men) or Protonotary Apostolic (for married men) and to bring with them elements of their Anglican patrimony as an enrichment for the whole Catholic and Apostolic Church. As Christopher Howse says, this is indeed “something extraordinary” and it is understandable that it might be unsettling for some who do not completely understand its significance as a most generous but completely logical ecumenical gesture.
It is only a pity that we cannot yet welcome the whole Anglican Communion into a relationship of full communion, but the respect shown to Anglicanism by the Pope emeritus in the creation of the Ordinariates is a prophetic sign of what might one day be possible. Let us pray fervently for this day.