Anthony Delarue on “the legitimate English musical patrimony”

I shall quote one article from the FOTO newsletter, because it is a continuation of reflections which Anthony Delarue began earlier this year on Anglican liturgical patrimony:

What is the Anglican Patrimony?
A reflection in two parts: Part II

This is the second in a two-part reflection on the Anglican Patrimony and the Ordinariate by Anthony Delarue. In the first part, the author, who has been asked by the Friends to help with aspects of the liturgical life at Warwick Street, explored the history and development of the Anglican Patrimony, concentrating especially on liturgy, vesture and kneeling. In this second part of his thesis, Anthony Delarue concentrates on the themes of language and music.

By Anthony MJL Delarue


The importance of music lies not only in the fact that it is a great part of the patrimony of the Ordinariates, but that, as the Church of England abandons it, it will become more and more the patrimony only of the Ordinariates. Much has been lost of the richness and variety once enjoyed in the Church of England, as any English schoolboy will remember. There is a long and consistent tradition through the 17th to 19th centuries, with moments of great flowering interspersed with periods of dull neglect; such is the Anglican way.

Music, as it is introduced to the nascent Ordinariate liturgy, should be approached in its true context, the parish and cathedral traditions are quite distinct, and both worthy of preservation, and, for many younger people, of discovery. Warwick Street is in a funny position, undeniably a parish church, but possessing also, as the mother-church of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, occasionally the character of a cathedral, and at these times cathedral music will be appropriate.

It is important, however, that the people learn to sing those parts of the chant which belongs to them and to parish life, not just hymns, important as they are. There can be little doubt that one of the mandates we have received from Pope Benedict is the preservation and promotion of Anglican music, and indeed its transmission as a living tradition.

In the early days of Anglicanism, we think of such names as Tomkins, Weelkes and, later, Purcell, much of which is lamentably neglected, and far more appropriate than Catholic polyphony of the same periods. The wonderful verse anthems of the 18th century (by composers such as Blow, Boyce and Greene) are rarely heard nowadays. Later, in the great flowering of the 19th and 20th centuries, names such as Bairstow, Stainer and Walmisley come to mind. These too have often recently been ignored as Victorian or out of date, but wrongly so. Then there are the composers of Anglican Chant, such as Ouseley, Turle and Walford Davies, and the various settings of the Ordinary texts of the Mass, Merbecke of course, but also such as Martin Shaw and Healey Willan.

The whole question of the recent tradition of Anglican music is complicated by the fact that, in the years since the Second Vatican Council, when Catholic parishes were abandoning wholesale their often impressive musical repertoire, many Anglican choirs, particularly the university colleges, such as George Guest at St John’s, Cambridge, adopted much written for the Roman rite. Now that is it being restored to its rightful home we may be grateful for its preservation through these dark years; from the Anglican perspective, however, it remains an interlude under external influences, and not part of the natural Tradition. It is as absurd to hear Palestrina in an Anglican Use Mass as it is (and sadly one does) to hear Bach at a pontifical Mass in a French Cathedral. (Bach was banned in most Catholic churches until the 1970s, and rightly so; it is beautiful music, but it is not written to illuminate Catholic liturgy.) The argument that all is appropriate in the name of art is neither tolerance nor cultured appreciation, but liturgical indifferentism.


This brings us to the subject of Latin. Until recently, certainly at the time of my own conversion, Latin was forbidden to cathedral and parish use in England, indeed presumably formally is still. Ancient exception was made for the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. I recall quite clearly my surprise, and joy, on first hearing Latin in regular use in Scotland during my years as an undergraduate in Edinburgh, it felt so delightfully naughty. The Scottish Episcopal Church, of course, had never come under the Tudor legislation, and Latin singing survived here and there throughout its history, and has formed part of it liturgical repertoire for well over a century. When Anglicanism was exported to America, it was, by impediment of the Oath of Supremacy, the Scottish bishops who consecrated Bishop Seabury of Connecticut in 1783, and the American liturgical tradition owes much to Scotland, and Latin went too. It is interesting that it survives alive and well in the American Anglican Use, especially and ironically in the light of its near wholesale abandonment by the Roman Rite US Church.

In England, then, it is really only in the last 20 years that Latin has entered the Anglican cathedral repertoire, and that only, I suspect, for reasons of indifference, the sort of indifference which traditional Catholics are so keen to mistake for approval. The BBC will doubtless have played a large part, though we must be grateful to it for keeping much church music alive on the concert platform during the 1970s and 80s. I do not, however, believe for one moment that Pope Benedict expected the Ordinariate to be concentrating on Latin polyphony, and indeed I think it should be wholly avoided; there is far too much work to be done to restore and preserve the legitimate English musical patrimony.

Finally, and in conclusion, one might observe that it is perhaps ironic that the Catholic development of the Anglican tradition should take place in a church which combines Recusant Georgian with Bentley’s Liturgical Movement Romanesque, the only two aspects of modern English Catholic architecture which owe nothing to the pre-Reformation tradition. Nevertheless, this is wholly fitting, as it of the very nature of the Anglican Tradition, from the early days of the missionary saints, to absorb and harmonise many disparate traditions. I very much hope that over the coming years, all that which is good, beautiful and English about Anglican liturgy will be nurtured and take a firm root in the life of the Catholic Church. Then we shall have responded to Pope Benedict’s challenge.

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