Daily Archives: October 20, 2011

Naming Spiritual Communities in the Sarum Rite

I was thinking aloud a few days ago about the liturgical act of acknowledging the dimensions of our spiritual community. It occurs to me that a quick glance at the Sarum Rite will give some really interesting examples of what I mean… (Note: most of the things I say here will be broadly applicable to the Historic Western Liturgy—I’m just focusing on the Late Sarum because it gives a nice nailed-down example that I can conveniently point to.)

First, there’s the exercise of the capitular office. Four major things happened here. First, it was the monastic/cathedral daily check-in meeting. Second, there was a reading from the Rule or the Fathers. Items three and four are the reason I’m bring it up. Third, it was a list of obits that identified anyone in the community’s records who had died on that day. Fourth, the hagiographies were reviewed for the saints who would be celebrated that evening and the next day.

Before Mass on Sundays there was a procession. That procession would include the following prayers bid by the priest “in the mother tongue”:

 “Let us make our Prayers to God,” [here was sometimes added, “Our Lord Jesu Christ, to our Ladie S. Mary, and all the Company of Heaven,”] beseeching His Mercy for all Holy Church, that God keep it in good estate, especially the Church of England, our Mother Church, this Church, and all others in Christendom.” [Here sometimes was added, “For our Lord the Pope, for the Patriarch of Jerusalem, for the Cardinals.”] “For the Archbishops and Bishops, and especially for our Bishop N., that God keep him in his holy service. For the Dean or Rector, or all other Ministers, that serve this Church.” [This was sometimes varied “For your ghostly father, and for Priests and Clerkes that herein serve or have ferved, for all men and women of religion, for all other men of Holy Church.”] For the Holy Land [and the Holy Cross], that God deliver it out of the hand of the heathen; for the Peace of the Church and of the earth; for our Sovereign Lord the King, and the Qyeen, and all their children. For [Dukes, Earls, and Barons, and for all that have the peace of this land to keep], all that have this land to govern. For the welfare of N. and N., and all this Church’s friends. [For all that live in deadly sin.] For our brethren and sisters, and all our Parishioners, and all that do any good to this Church or Foundation. For yourselves, that God for His mercy grant you grace so to live as your soul to save, and for all true Christian people.

Thus we’ve got a naming here of a whole bunch of folks—from the saints to the geographically dispersed to the deceased to one another. It does name quite a community to keep in mind.

At the beginning of the Mass itself, we have a form of the Confiteor:

I confess to God, to blessed Mary, to all the saints, and to you, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed, by my fault : I pray holy Mary, all the saints of God,  and you, to pray for me.

I’m more used to the modern form where it calls out more of the saints by name, however, Not only does the Confiteor name the saints—mirroring the prayer at the procession—it places them in the proper relationship to us; we pray together for one another.

The beginning of the Canon of the Mass likewise begins with a very clear naming of the gathered spiritual community (rubrics are parenthetical):

…together with thy servants our Pope N. and our Bishop N. (That is to say, the bishop of the diocese only,) and our King N. (The above persons are mentioned by name. Then shall follow : ) and all who are orthodox, and who hold the catholic and apostolic faith. Remember, O Lord, thy servants and thy handmaidens N. and N. (in praying for whom a due order dictated by charity ought to be observed. The priest prays five times : firstly for himself; secondly for his father and mother, that is to say both carnal and spiritual, and for his other relations; thirdly, for his special friends, parishioners and otherwise; fourthly, for all persons present; fifthly, for all Christian people; and here the priest may commend all his own friends to God. I counsel, however, that no one should pause at this point too long, both on account of possible distractions of mind, and also on account of suggestions which may be made by evil angels, as well as on account of other dangers.) and all here present, whose faith is approved, and whose devotion is known to thee; on behalf of whom we offer unto thee, or who offer unto thee this sacrifice of praise, for themselves and for all pertaining to them, for the redemption of their souls, for the hope of their own salvation and security, and who are paying their vows unto thee, the eternal, living, and true God. In communion with and reverencing the memory, in the first place, of the glorious and ever virgin (inclining a little as he says,) Mary, mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ ; As also of thy blessed apostles and martyrs—Peter, Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon, and Thaddseus, Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian. Laurence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and of all thy saints; through whose merits and prayers do thou grant that in all things we may be defended by the aid of thy protection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

That initial “together” kicks off quite a clear naming of who all has gathered: the living, the dead, the saints, and anybody else who might not fall neatly into any of those categories.

That’s just a few examples; doubtless many more could be produced. Notice something here: all of these prayers are very much present tense. The point is not that they’re liturgically remembering historical figures—however fondly. Rather, these prayers are naming the current, present members of the spiritual community whether they happen to be visibly present or not.

Now, this rite does a great job with this liturgical naming—when it’s considered as a text. The actual liturgical experience of it would be quite different. The laity would hear the processional prayer in their native tongue;  the monastic or cathedral Chapter would here the capitular office; the confiteor would be heard by the altar party and basically only the priest would have heard the section that starts the Canon. There’s a great ecclesiology present here; the fact that so much of it is liturgically inaccessible to the majority of the physically gathered community does seem a little ironic.

bls: Liturgy, Anglo-Catholics, and the Episcopal Situation

bls has a nice rant up at her place that strikes some real chords with me. Here are a few things that jump out at me and how I’d address them:

The Episcopal Church is mad for “liturgy.”  Over the top, really – that’s all we ever hear about, in fact.  “Liturgy” this and “liturgy” that – everything seems to be about the parade and the pageantry.

Now, listen:  I, like every Episcopalian, love a parade, and I do like pageantry.  I love incense and chant and the whole drama.  But I think in many ways this focus on “liturgy” is just a way of avoiding talking about content.

. . .

I would identify as an “Anglo-Catholic,” I think, generally speaking – on the basis of “liturgy.”  That stuff really speaks to me – the smoke, the chant, the statuary, the movements, the reverence.  I like it.  I was rendered literally speechless – kind of choked in the throat, and not from the smoke – when I first saw it.  And I agree that all this was meant to express a certain point of view – but I do wonder what, actually, the actual content is, at this point.

Ok—The way that I would say it is this: Despite what many people think, liturgy is not a means for avoiding content, rather, it’s a means for performing and embodying content. But that doesn’t mean that 1) we’re doing the liturgy well, 2) we’re doing the liturgy in such a way that lets the content speak, or 3) that those who know better are helping everyone else connect the dots. As she and I have discussed before, liturgy is a major key to all of this—but liturgy is not enough. I’ve repeatedly said about biblical interpretation, the act of interpretation has not been completed until someone’s habits have changed. It’s not enough to read the Scriptures. It’s not enough to come to an understanding. If there isn’t a lived change in your attitude to God, creation, and humanity, then you haven’t finished the job.

I’d say that the same is true of liturgy.

If your experience of God and your relationship with creation and your fellow creatures is not in the process of being transformed on the basis of what’s happening in the liturgy, something is not happening correctly. Process is important here—liturgical formation is a process not an event, and occasional periods of back-sliding is an inevitable part of the process, but if forward progress into love and virtue is not occurring when measured over a period of years, then something is off.

Liturgy is a means of embodying content. And there’s content there a-plenty: the creeds, the narrative of our failures and God’s constancy in the Eucharistic canons, intercession as a way of drawing the whole world into our view as part & parcel of our relationship with the divine, etc. But we’ve got to do the work to connect the dots and between what we do in worship, how this relates to what we believe, and how this changes how we act.

This means that people like me aren’t doing our job to the best of our abilities. We know how these things are supposed to fit together, and aren’t being as effective as we can be about communicating it!

Again from bls:

So I have to ask again: what is the content of our faith? Well, we don’t generally say, I think because we’ve been worried for a long time about offending people. But, as St. Paul has said pretty plainly: Christianity is offensive. There’s no getting around that; we’re not going to convince people that it’s of value by making it seem attractive or elegant or whatever the adjective happens to be. It’s offensive – so we’d better start talking about why that’s a good thing – why it’s a necessary thing – I’d say.  And that means talking about content. (Listen: I myself am living proof of the idea that seeing and recognizing this “offensiveness” can lead to conversion! I’m sure I’m not alone.)

bls had this question up on her blog earlier and not many were willing to tackle it. The question was, how, in brief, to describe the purpose of the church to a non-believer without using churchy language. This was my go at it:

The point of the church is to bring the whole human family to acknowledge reality: that love is at the center of all that is, has been, and will be, (as revealed in perplexing particularity by Jesus, his self-sacrifice, and love’s inability to stay dead [which we call resurrection]) and that our greatest task on earth is to conform ourselves, our community, and our society to the virtues of love, compassion, and justice.

What we as religions and churches tend to argue about is precisely how we define “love” and how we order our lives and societies to best reflect how we understand those virtues.

(Readers of Evelyn Underhill will note a certain similarity here to what she writes in Practical Mysticism.)

Again from bls:

Those who’ve rejected Christianity are, in my experience, rejecting two things:

  1. The authoritarianism and hostility to reform of the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. Brain-dead evangelicalism.

But at least the RCC has tried to make a case.  As I’ve said quite often before:  I have RCC Catechism envy.   I admire the massive intellectual tradition of the RCC, and its appeal to reason; it’s very unfortunate that all that has come along hand-in-hand with claims of “infallibility” and the authoritarian tendency.  (By contrast, our feeble Catechism in the back of the 1979 Prayer Book is nothing except embarrassing, at least to me.  More of a problem:  it once again assumes prior acceptance of Christian claims.  It has nothing to offer anybody who doesn’t already accept the basic claims of Christianity – and it doesn’t offer anything really interesting even in that case.  “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”?  OK – but could you please say a little something about these “inward and spiritual graces” that connects our minds with our hearts and souls, instead of just offering bland doctrinal summaries? Apparently we have nothing very deep or interesting too say on the topic, which is mighty sad.)

We need to make a case.  Reformed Protestantism – it seems to me – speaks to the individual modern human psyche, in all its alienation and anxiety.  It does have something important to say – but our case can’t be predicated on Biblical literalism or shallow, “personal salvation.”  It can’t assume facts not in evidence; it must make an argument.

And, actually, I’d tie this line of questioning in with the whole set of questions around Anglo-Catholicism:

I would identify as an “Anglo-Catholic,” I think, generally speaking – on the basis of “liturgy.”  . . .  And I agree that all this was meant to express a certain point of view – but I do wonder what, actually, the actual content is, at this point. . . . And there’s no particular clue in that article, titled “What Is An ‘Anglo-Catholic’ Parish,” about anything else we might regard as content.  It’s all about form:  historical events and counter-reactions, and “ecclesiology” and “how we do things” – i.e., “liturgy.”

I have to believe that one of the major issues here is that Episcopalians who are Anglo-Catholic are going to have a different understanding about the core content of the faith than other Episcopalians. But what and why? There have been a lot of the shifts in the past few years. Many of those who identify as Anglo-Catholic have left and those of us who are still here have yet to take stock and claim our identity. We need to do it clearly and publicly. Most Episcopalians still think of us as “those people who like incense and Mary and closets and who don’t like women.” Is that who we are? If not, then who and what are we? I have some ideas but am still working them out.

I do believe that the Society of Catholic Priests is a good start in this regard. But I think we also need a lay movement that can provide an active and vocal presence to church discussions. What would/could/should this look like?

Again, bls:

We need to make a case.  “Mystery” and “mystification” are two completely different things; we really can retain the former and eliminate the latter, I believe.

Absolutely! The fact that God, the communion of the saints, the sacraments, resurrection life etc. are mysteries to be inhabited doesn’t mean that it’s ok to keep everything nebulous or to use those mysteries as an excuse for fuzzy thinking.

We do have things to offer – but we’re not saying anything that’s very interesting to anybody not already interested!   (And sometimes not even to those of us who are, when you get right down to it.  I mean, when we’re not talking about “liturgy” we’re talking about partisan politics – both of which get my eyes to glazing over these days.)

But the Gospel is very interesting – it’s speaking to some of the most basic facts about living life as a human being on earth – and we just can’t let the opportunity to talk about it go to waste.

I agree entirely!