Continuing Theses on the Liturgy

Clearly, these begin where I left off last time

Thesis 4:  The logic and methods of the Western Liturgical Cycle were uniquely preserved and promulgated in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and its successors in a way not found in the other Reformation movements nor in the Roman Catholic Church until recently.

  • First, we recognize that the Mass/Office/Liturgical Year appear in the 1549 BCP are are intended to function together. Furthermore, in the preface to that book, contained in the historical documents of our current BCP and coming in large part from Cranmer’s first attempt to reform the Office, Cranmer explicitly cites not only what appears to have been the practice of the churches of Agustine and Chrysostom but to early medieval practice. First, a general reference that seems to fit much patristic preaching:

There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted: as, among other things, it may plainly appear by the common prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service: the first original and ground whereof, if a man would search out by the ancient fathers, he shall find, that the same was not ordained, but of a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness: For they so ordered the matter, that all the whole Bible (or the greatest part thereof) should be read over once in the year, intending thereby, that the Clergy, and especially such as were Ministers of the congregation, should (by often reading, and meditation of God’s word) be stirred up to godliness themselves, and be more able to exhort others by wholesome doctrine, and to confute them that were adversaries to the truth. And further, that the people (by daily hearing of holy Scripture read in the Church) should continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion.

Now—while the evidence suggests that the Scriptures were read in course in various times and places within the patristic period, there seems to be no scheme that we know of that connects the readings of certain books to specific times. Indeed, the first record we have of such a scheme is Ordo XIII. This text in the form we have it seems to have been written down in the first half of the eighth century. This is the ideal cited by Cranmer later in his preface:

But these many years passed, this godly and decent order of the ancient fathers hath been so altered, broken, and neglected, by planting in uncertain stories, Legends, Responds, Verses, vain repetitions, Commemorations, and Synodals, that commonly when any book of the Bible was begun, before three or four Chapters were read out, all the rest were unread. And in this sort the book of Isaiah was begun in Advent, and the book of Genesis in Septuagesima; but they were only begun, and never read through. After a like sort were other books of holy Scripture used.

While recognizing this shema, though, we must note that in a fit of protestantism, Cramner neither enacts it nor includes it in his work, preferring to begin the Office lectionary in January with Genesis and to procede in biblical order without regard to the liturgical seasons. Certainly we who have played in more missals and breviaries than can easily be counted appreciate the truth of Cranmer’s words : “Moreover, the number and hardness of the Rules called the Pie, and the manifold changings of the service, was the cause, that to turn the Book only, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out.” …even when we don’t agree with his solution.

  • In contrast, no other Reformation group attempted to hold Mass/Office/Liturgical Year together to this extent. Nor has the Roman Catholic Church promoted the observence of the Office to the laity to the same degree that the Anglican intention did.
  • I do think there has been forward progress in this matter recently within the Roman Catholic Church with the allowance of the vernacular and the creation of the Liturgy of the Hours, but the Daily Mass culture, I think, obscures and displaces a Daily Office culture.
  • That having been said, Anglican practice has never measured up to Anglican intention. In the main, one is hard-pressed to find a consistent Daily Office culture within the Episcopal Church. There are pockets of practice, but it is not widespread nor as widely known as it ought to be.

Thesis 5: The logic and methods of the Western Liturgical Cycle because of its central place in our normative texts—the Books of Common Prayer—describe the heart of authentically Anglican Christian Formation.

  • I see that “Western Liturgical Cycle” has become a technical term to refer to the complex of Mass/Office?Liturgical year. This is handy but may become problematic—it’s current use is provisional…
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12 Responses to Continuing Theses on the Liturgy

  1. brian m says:

    I imagine you are looking for critique of your conceptual framework, and the assertions you make therein, and I hope you get it and soon to keep the diss. moving, but let me ask you a question that you can get back to later:

    Do you think the current “liturgical cycle” on offer in ECUSA, namely the three-year RCL Sunday lectionary now printed in all new BCPs, the (two-year?) daily eucharistic lectionary now found in the LFF, and the two-year daily office lectionary from the ’79 BCP are efficacious in their functioning together and offering the greater part of Scripture in a year? Of course, this leaves to one side the fact that I can only think of one parish that offers the full round of Mass and Offices throughout the year–SMV. But, ideally, would the current cycle cut the mustard?

  2. That is a good question, Brian, and I’m heading in that direction. But since you came out and asked…

    The short answer is, yes–they do cut the mustard. Are they my ideal? No, they’re not. The move to a 2 yr Office lectionary was intended to provide shorter readings in the hopes that if the Office was shorter, more people would actually do it. I don’t know that it’s helped. What we do have to keep sight of, though, is that the Offices have to be able to function in a household environment because this is about lay participation and formation, not just for clergy.

    I have a hard enough time trying to consistently follow the 2 yr Office lectionary (I’ve been really bad lately…) and if it’s that difficult for someone like me who’s totally committed to it in principle, what will it be like for those without that commitment?

    While I have an ideal in mind, I’m willing to shoot far lower—as in my trial Brief Breviary (which I need to post more of)—in order to help people form habits which, once established, will draw them into patters where they want more. Thus, I see the current cycles as a decent point on the journey.

    Does that help?

  3. Paul Goings says:

    Now–while the evidence suggests that the Scriptures were read in course in various times and places within the patristic period, there seems to be no scheme that we know of that connects the readings of certain books to specific times. Indeed, the first record we have of such a scheme is Ordo XIII. This text in the form we have it seems to have been written down in the first half of the eighth century. This is the ideal cited by Cranmer later in his preface.

    It remains my understanding that the in-course reading of Scripture was foreign to the primitive secular Office, and was imported later from monastic practice; the religious obviously needing material for meditation, and, frankly, to fill up the hours of the day.

    Has later scholarship revised this view?

  4. Well, what we can say for sure is that we have “commentaries” by the fathers that are sermons preached on consecutive days on consecutive texts. (Quotes around commentaries indicating that they share only a resemblance to that literary and are best thought of as, well, consecutive sermons…) To what liturgical context do we assign these if not the office–as I don’t recall that they were for daily mass.

    (Alas, I can find neither Taft nor Bradshaw–they must be in M’s office. Another argument for the celibate clergy; you and your partner aren’t constantly taking each other’s books!)

  5. bls says:

    There really needs to be some actual instruction in the history of the writing of the Scriptures, too, I think – and maybe in “Bible as Literature.”

    The problem is that it is not living literature for most people anymore; it is opaque and difficult to understand because the cultural context has changed so much. Certain books – Genesis, Psalms, of course, maybe Isaiah, and the Gospels – are timeless, but most are not; they are of their time and can’t be appreciated without some sort of grounding in what that actually means.

    The problem today is that many people are so used to hearing one particular view – literalism, and from both sides of the debate, BTW – that they cannot appreciate the Scriptures for what they are. And people just don’t have the head for literature so much any more, and that needs to be taught.

    I’m telling you this from an outsider’s point of view; the Bible seemed to me to be nothing but an “old dusty book” when I returned to church a few years ago. And there are a lot of people like me, who won’t open it unless they can see that it has value, and how and why it does. We do not live as Christendom any longer, where the Bible was the main (sometimes only) literature that people knew. It has to be taught in another way now.

    I often say or sing the Offices – it can certainly be done – without any readings except Psalms. But you seem intent on making sure that “Scripture” is read and digested – and I don’t think people will do that without some sort of instruction these days, and some sort of good reason.

    Also, while the development of “the virtues” are certainly part of the argument for faith, it’s certainly possible to develop a philosophy of Virtue without religion. Religion is about the seeking of God, and the current culture-war moralism often gets in the way of this – and even of recognizing that the search for/union with God is the ultimate goal. Many or most people see Christianity today as moralism rather than as mysticism, believe me – and this will get in the way of the practice of the Office, too. People just don’t see the point anymore, and it’s our fault for not being totally clear on this, I think.

  6. bls says:

    (EFM has given me a greater appreciation for the Scriptures than almost anything else has or could have.

    So if you are writing something up to encourage the use of the Office, I am going to suggest that there be some sort of appendix that encourages the study of the history, too. EFM is now offered online, as well as in more parishes than it has been previously, and the suggestion should be made, I think, that people should consider taking at least the first two years of the course, when the entire Bible is read.

    People need to know more, and they need to know the value of reading Scripture, and I’m afraid they just don’t, these days. I certainly didn’t.)

  7. Those are some good points, bls.

    Sounds like it’s time for me to get back to my parvum opus “The Bible: A Quickie” (Where irreverence and irrelevance are kissing cousins!)

    Yes, we really do need something like this. I hate to admit it, but I’m often shocked at how little clergy know about the Scriptures… (And not just Episcopal, either…)

  8. John-Julian, OJN says:

    “Also, while the development of ‘the virtues’ are certainly part of the argument for faith, it’s certainly possible to develop a philosophy of Virtue without religion. Religion is about the seeking of God, and the current culture-war moralism often gets in the way of this – and even of recognizing that the search for/union with God is the ultimate goal. Many or most people see Christianity today as moralism rather than as mysticism, believe me – and this will get in the way of the practice of the Office, too. People just don’t see the point anymore, and it’s our fault for not being totally clear on this, I think.”

    Ah, bis, what a solid and absolutely central note! Sometimes I find myself wishing the Bible had never been translated!

    And isn’t that why the current schismatic mumblings are about morality, not theology or mysticism – and why when our Presiding Bishop begins to speak on a mystical level she is excoriated and criticized (even from her first sermon mentioning ‘Mother Jesus’ and about Christ’s non-exclusive efficacy).

    But, then, remember the persecutions of John-of-the-Cross and Teresa over their mystical contemplative practices. The Church seems always terrified by the immeasurable and uninstitutionalized!

    And it is one of the places where I see a connection with (or development of) the monastic tradition would help.

  9. Christopher says:

    Now engaging with your theses, I would suggest that 1549 and its successors is an attempt to redraw who is the usual case, namely the laity in the parish. In other words, the patterns you note as well-developed in an earlier period were reformed for a wider participation.

    Those who followed a calling to a monastic life are free (we have to be honest they were not free in Cranmer’s time) to do so, but the usual case sets the tone in what shapes our common praying–laypersons in parishes. I’ve said all this before, but I think it bears repeating because my frustration tends to be (as you know) those who hanker after the monastic determining what should be workable for a layman or laywoman in the world with regard to the Office. Most times in my experience it’s clergy or laity with particular interests themselves doing this rather than monastics, who are more generous in the recognition of differences in vocation, and hence, what will be workable for most.

    In reviewing what seems a doable form, for example, the pattern provided for oblates of OJN is really in line with the rich but pared down approach I prefer.

    Now, I was talking with C about all this. He has said he prefers the pattern we had established with the BCP (1979) wherein we do one scripture reading from the lectionary and the Gospel canticle, use the suffrages and one collect for closing. I had been working with the Revised Monastic Diurnal with its chapters as a possibility for household use, and thus, avoiding a lectionary. With his Reformation sensibilities, he prefers a longer reading for reflection and meditation. Which means that I have revisions to consider. He may in fact be keeping me more “classicly Anglican” in this regard.

    Given this Derek, I would like to know where you would go in terms of a lectionary that interweaves with the Mass lectionary, for example.

  10. I definitely hear you on the use of the Office by the laity. I like a spectrum of options: basic, standard, advanced. Currently the BCP doesn’t have an “advanced” that satisfies the true liturgy nuts. It presents a “standard” and, imho, has hidden away a perfectly fine “Basic”. I’d like to see an episcopal breviary that would include and account for all three.

    Addressing your last line, I actually wouldn’t go there. That is, the Office lectionary doesn’t need to interface with the Mass lectionary and getting it to do so, imo, is one of the failings of the recent Lutheran endeavor. At issue is that the purpose of the Office is mass coverage. It’s catechetical. Therefore it’s not supposed to be selected but continuous reading. The Office lectionary shouldn’t match the Mass lectionary, it should match up with the Church Year.

    The ties between the Office and Mass lectionaries classically lay in the Gospel Antiphons and in the preces.

  11. Paul Goings says:

    I’d like to see an episcopal breviary that would include and account for all three.

    Well, I agree with the basic premise, but, in terms of physical books, the first would certainly have to be made available separately; you wouldn’t expect those just starting to have to purchase a thick and intimidating tome.

  12. brian m says:

    Derek, it depends on what you envision for the “advanced” BCP. Paul and I once discussed the possibility of Holy Cross publishing a booklet of just the hymns, antiphons, and collects from their Monastic Breviary; that way, one could supplement the 1979 according to their Ordo without having to sign on to their rigorous psalm schema. Otherwise, I’d point to the Monastic Breviary as an ideal “advanced” BCP Office, if one can commit to its obligations.

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