One of my chief conversation partners as I work on my presentation for the Society of Catholic Priests is Percy Dearmer’s Art of Public Worship. I’m about halfway through editing the text as a Kindle file and will be saying more about it as it becomes available. However, I couldn’t help but share this bit where Blessed Percy draws together the threads of ceremonial, theology, and denominational relations in one big argument. I wouldn’t go all the way with him, here, but he certainly makes a passionate case:
For the Church does need guidance, leadership, education; otherwise the silly people will continue to stamp the whole Church with their diverse follies, and the great mass of moderate men will continue to think that the safe and moderate thing is to combine the mistakes of both sides. We have never realized the seriousness of ceremonial, the need of sound knowledge, of aesthetic understanding, of careful thought. And ceremonial, as I have suggested, is of the utmost importance, because worship must express itself in action. You can carry off an almost unlimited amount of inadequate ritual by means of ceremonial, you can hide your ritual behind your ceremonial, as the Latin and Eastern Churches so largely do; but you cannot undo the harm of a bad ceremonial. If our Church is to be at one moment a weak imitation of Geneva or Berlin, at another of Cologne or Cork, or an illogical combination of such shadows, she can have no future. As it is, the Anglican Church is still regarded all over the Continent, from Vigo to Vladivostok, as a mere variety of Lutheranism; while a small section of her clergy are hated by the general public of America and Britain as imitators of Rome, and win the amused contempt of Roman Catholics for their pains. Yet what the Continent of Europe wants, what the whole world is blindly groping for, is what we can offer, what we have always stood for — a reasonable, free, and evangelical Catholicism. Mere Protestantism is shrivelling and weak in Europe, and its deep moral failure in the country of its birth at the very outset of the Great War will be difficult to survive; but Vaticanism, as Loisy has been explaining in France,[i] has also failed morally. Yet the people of Christendom do still want to be Christian, if only they could see that there is another way open to them besides those two alternatives: they think that they must either be Papist or Protestant, and the modern world will not be either; they do not know that it is possible to keep all that is true and beautiful in traditional Christianity, and that there is a more fruitful course open to intelligent men than anti-clericalism or indifferentism. It was the duty of the Anglican Church to make this clear to the whole world, standing, with the Churches of the East, for free, national, and federated Catholicism; and she has hitherto failed, mainly because she has not proclaimed her message in the only language that the whole world can read — a consistent, beautiful, and expressive ceremonial. She has not even been intelligible to her own children. Her ministers have disregarded her rules, and marred her beauty; her members have regarded her as a compromise or a dim reflection of something else. But people will never rally to an imitation, they will never be inspired by a compromise. The Anglican Church could not exist if she had no mind of her own, and would not deserve to exist. She has a mind of her own, and the principles which she has never ceased to maintain are those which alone can make Christianity possible in the future as anything more than a vague sentiment. If by the example of her public worship all over the world she can now show herself for what she is, she will win, and win, and win all along the line; and, proclaiming by her strenuous beauty the undying strength of the old Christian tradition, she will help the peoples of the other Churches to that reconstruction which must surely come if they also are to flourish in the new age.
[i] [Ed.: Alfred Loisy was a French Roman Catholic priest who argued on behalf of biblical criticism and a more modern approach to theology. He was excommunicated by Pius X in 1908 for Modernism.]