I had a good question a while back regarding “Anglo-Catholicism” and the choice of rites in the Book of Common Prayer: “What makes the language of Rite I inherently more Anglo-Catholic than the language of Rite II? Is it our equivalent of Latin, or something?”
The reason why this is such a good question is because it forces us to consider what that loaded term “Anglo-Catholic” means, and how it applies to our decision-making processes.
Let me parse it out this way… There are two (of probably many) common ways of understand the “catholic” in Anglo-Catholic. One sees “Catholic” as pertaining to the Roman Catholic Church as presently constituted. This could be labeled the Ecumenical Approach and understands Anglo-Catholicism as the point of closest contact to the Roman Catholic Church. The hope in this approach is either to 1) advocate for corporate reunion with the Roman Catholic Church or 2) to remain as close as possible to modern Roman Catholicism despite the structural divisions between us. These two plays out in a couple of different ways. Many in the first group (corporate reunion) have now gone the way of the Ordinariate and are now no longer Anglican Anglo-Catholics but are now Roman Catholic Anglo-Catholics. Indeed, virtually all of the Episcopalians I have known in the first group are now in full communion with Rome.
As a result, the second group of this Ecumenical type is now more common within the Episcopal Church. Some of the folks I know who fall into this category started out in the Roman Catholic Church but departed; others started out in some form of low protestant Evangelicalism and in their way up the candle stopped in the high section of the Episcopal Church. One priest I know started out in an Assemblies of God type tradition and began moving in a Rome-ward direction. However, now divorced and in a same-sex relationship, there is no way that he could be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. As a result, he remains Episcopal, but assimilates as closely as possible to Roman theology and practice. I know several who were ordained Roman Catholic clergy who switched and are now married whether to different or same-sex partners. A number of formerly Roman Catholic women and divorced people also appear in this group.
So, this is Anglo-Catholicism as the point of closest approach: it’s the closest that people in a variety of groups—usually related to gender, orientation, or marital status—can come to being Roman Catholic (or Orthodox) and still be ordained. Sometimes—not always, but sometimes—they have no real desire to be Anglican or Episcopalian; it’s just the next best thing to what they truly desire.
Now, for this perspective, Rite II makes perfect sense. Despite the tinkering with the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal, modern Roman Catholic practice is definitely contemporary language. For someone wanting to align with this tradition, it’s a no-brainer.
The other common means of understanding the “catholic” in “Anglo-Catholic” I will characterize, for want of a better term, as the Historical Approach. The Historical Approach rejects a narrow sense of Anglican identity and the notion that Christianity began at the Reformation. The Historical Approach see Anglicanism as a purification of the catholic tradition and, in particular, is interested in the practices, theologies, and spirituality that informed the English church prior to the Reformation. This Approach is interested in reconnecting with broader Christianity but tends to look “back” rather than “across” as in the Ecumenical Approach.
I’m most definitely in this camp. Coming from this perspective, there are three main reasons why I prefer the Rite I liturgies.
1. A sense of historical continuity. For me, to be Anglo-Catholic and to hold an Historical Approach isn’t just about the pre-Reformation period. I dislike pretense, and there are those who would like to pretend that the Reformation never happened, and that we can or should go back to celebrating pre-Reformation liturgies the way it was done then—just with comprehensible English. However much this might thrill my inner Sarum geek, it simply doesn’t and won’t work as a way of being church now. A key notion of the Historical Approach is that the tradition is an inheritance; the things handed on to us have worked for centuries. Yes, things are different; yes, the culture is different; but humanity is still fundamentally the same.
The Rite I liturgies put me in touch with a larger church. Knowing that I am praying in the same words that spiritual ancestors used one hundred, two hundred, four hundred years ago is valuable. This helps me get a concrete notion of baptismal ecclesiology—I pray in consonance with those baptized centuries before I ever came into being. When praying the Daily Office or participating in the older form of the Rite I Eucharist, I am conscious that I am being formed as an Anglican through the experience of sharing in those words and rites.
2. A superior expression of transcendence. As I’ve argued before, here and here, I believe that the Anglo-Catholic path is one that foregrounds transcendence as a means of connecting with God and God-stuff. To shamelessly plagiarize myself, here are some paragraphs from the second link that cut to the main point for our purposes here:
When we come at the question of environment and the vestments by way of a worldview, and worldview as a way of proclaiming and enculturating the kingdom of God, we can see what we do and what the other choices are, in a new light. So for the sake of argument, let’s consider two options next one another. On one hand we have a stereotypical Anglo-Catholic setting and service; on the other hand we have a stereotypical evangelical mega-church setting and service. (My goal here isn’t to put down either one of them—it’s to draw some very big-brush comparisons…)
Our overall impression of the Anglo-Catholic service is that we are encountering things that are initially unfamiliar. In comparison with other buildings, the Gothic church has an odd shape and layout. The ministers are wearing strange clothes. The place is outfitted with crucifixes and candles and thuribles and a bunch of other things you normally only find in a goth shop. The music is played on old instruments. The language and terminology may be unfamiliar; the internal logic of the rite isn’t similar to other meetings we’re used to experiencing. By way of contrast, the evangelical mega-church does everything it can to feel familiar. The room looks like it may well be a regular auditorium with stadium style seating and potted plants. The ministers are dressed in street clothes and tattoos. They’ve got guitars and a drum kit. Both the language and internal logic of the rite are what you might find in a typical pop concert.
Now – what do these two environments communicate about the worldview that they are expressing? About the proclamation of the gospel in relation to the modern secular culture? The way I read it, the Anglo-Catholic service is foregrounding a theology of the transcendent. The environment is fundamentally and intentionally discontinuous from contemporary culture. The message is that the values and world of the gospel are likewise discontinuous from our everyday secular world. A transformation is required in order to cleave to the mind of Christ. To me, it’s a visual reminder of Isaiah’s words: my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts. Some people will tell us that we’re not being accessible. That’s not how I’d frame it. I’d rather say that we’re bearing witness to a mystery, and inviting people to come and learn about that mystery with us.
The way I read the evangelical mega-church environment, it foregrounds a theology of immanence. This environment is fundamentally continuous with contemporary culture – but with a twist. The message is that the values and world of the gospel can be seen from here, we just may not be there yet. A tweak is what’s needed. To me, it’s a reminder that God is in our very midst. This is accessible, it’s a kissing cousin with modern culture—but my concern is, where and how is the line being drawn? Where is the Gospel demand to something new, something radical?
Now, this is not to say that either one of them have a lock on transcendence or immanence. It’s a matter of emphasis, but also a legitimate difference of theology. We have chosen a different way.
The use of “traditional” language is a clear sign that we are operating with a different frame of reference from the everyday world. It is understandable—but noticeably different.
3. Greater beauty. As a lover of language, I find the Rite I liturgies to be more beautiful. I think that they have a superior flow of language, better use of assonance and alliteration, better attention to balancing clauses than what we find in the Rite II liturgies. To a degree, the syntax of traditional language helps this happen. That is, the verb endings help with assonance and rhyme; certain stock phrases contribute an inherently better balance to sentence structure. In a culture that still (rightly) sees and reads Shakespeare as one of the best poets of all time in any language and where the King James Bible is a deep part of our vernacular, traditional language reads as elevated language which reads as poetic language. Following Dearmer and others, I see beauty as a necessary part of our worship of and witness to God. Therefore, the more beautiful option is the better option to my way of thinking.
So, coming from the Historical Approach, I do see the use of Rite I as having a natural contention to Anglo-Catholic thought and theology.
Now, the necessary caveats and disclaimers!
First, let me be the very first to say that these two Approaches are rather crude caricatures! I know that they are. There is a great deal of fluidity, cross-over, and additional inputs around Anglo-Catholic identity than simply these two. I still think they’re valid distinctions, though, despite that.
Second, I do love the Rite II liturgies as well, especially prayers A and B. I find Prayer C a little too modernist for my taste; the constant dialogue interruptions prevent me from praying it with the priest as fluently as I do A and B. Prayer D is a perfectly fine prayer, but there’s a certain amount of ad-fontes baggage around it. (And please, please, do not try to sing the Mozarabic tone if you have not extensively practiced it and know that you can do it well! Badly-sung prayers are painful, not festal!)
Third, I am not saying that Anglo-Catholic parishes or people shouldn’t or can’t do Rite II liturgies. I think that’s fallacious. We can and should. Rather, I’m explaining why I prefer Rite I particularly in my own devotions and, hence, why my directions for an Anglo-Catholic style Office use Rite I.
Fourth, in reading over this again having finished it, I do detect a slight hint of animus in my sketching of the Ecumenical Approach. That’s from personal pain. My experience of this position is that it has been used as a way to continue the disenfranchisement of women priests in the Anglo-Catholic movement. From one side, it’s used as an excuse to suppress women priests because they’ll be a barrier to reunion; on the other, their presence gives the lie to the “point of closest approach” and they are sometimes barred in order to maintain the pretense of being Roman Catholic without the discipline. There are at least a couple of posts still needing to be written here: one on the necessary characteristics of a viable Anglo-Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church going forward, one on various forms of pretense rampant in the Anglo-Catholic movement and why they are unhealthy.
Here endeth the rant; let the bomb-throwing begin…