I. The Anglican Missal
Due to one of the parishes where M is assisting, we broke down and ordered a copy of the Anglican Missal. For those unfamiliar with it, the Missal is the mass-book par excellence for Anglo-Catholic clergy. If you have dealings with liturgists on the Romish wing of the church, you will need to know of this book and a knowledge of its contents is never a bad idea if you can lay your hands on one. While I had known of it for some time, purchasing one was my first opportunity to really read one and to assess what it was about.
I found it a very interesting text. Ultimately, though, I found it more thought-provoking than useful. At the end of the day, it will not be my preference for a core mass-book if and when I ever become ordained. (That is, would I celebrate according to it? Perhaps–but only on a very occasional basis; certainly not for daily or Sunday use.)
The Missal starts from the major premise that the 1549 Prayer Book is not only a legitimate prayer book but the legitimate prayer book. As *Christopher has reminded us on occasion, the 1549 is the most Catholic of the early prayer books, and it was speedily replaced by a more Protestant form in 1552. I find it fascinating that the Missal does root and establish itself within the prayer book tradition though creating a direct alternative to it.
The Missal’s second major premise is that the 1549 book was a minimalist work that conformed strictly to the idea of its name–*Common* Prayer–and therefore left untranslated and uncollated the private prayers and ceremonies that pious priests and congregants would use in the proper celebration of the Mass. It therefore provides the various personal and other prayers that were in use at the time.
The result of these two premises is–and correct me if I’m wrong *Christopher and others who know these matters better than I–that the Anglican Missal attempts to construct continuity with a late medieval yet pre-Tridentine form of the Mass for use in English. From what I can tell it achieves it. What would be fascinating, though, is to see research on how it exemplifies the Victorian *idea* of what the late medieval Mass was like. It seems like a straight-forward collection of translated and collated prayers but anyone who has done work with manuscript transmission and the editorial ideology knows that editors have an astonishing power to create completely new and different works in their own image while still retaining every jot and tittle of the original text.
So, in fine, I see what the Missal is trying to do and think it an interesting project. I suppose my biggest issues with it are less in its conceptualization than with its end result. When I read through it–and on the occasions when I have witnessed full celebrations of it–I have found it to be florid and over-wrought. Liturgical action is piled on top of liturgical action, it lacks a clarity of line and is drenched in piety of a certain sort which is not mine. I find it a bit *too* POD (“pious and overly devotional” for the non-Anglo-Catholics) for my tastes.
What is particular? Remember that this comes from my impressions rather than a true in-depth study; a careful examination of all the collects and prayers might prove me wrong BUT–I find it too stuck in Scholastic categories and obsessive on the notion of the utter worthlessness of humanity. Don’t get me wrong here–I’m a big fan of the prayer of humble access. I think the most recent reforms went too far in eliminating language of sin and unworthiness from the current liturgies; certainly Americans of my generation need to be challenged in our sense of entitlement and to be reminded of our true place in the world. Nevertheless, the overwhelming emphasis seems a little too overwhelming and, for me, crosses the line from true humility into a spiritual arrogance over one’s outstanding humility.
I also missed seeing the exhortation to godly virtues so common to the early medieval collects that I have been working in recently. Again–it may well be there if I keep looking, but my initial impression was that this language does not predominate in this missal in the way it does in other earlier traditions.
II. The Value of the Missal
So–where’s the value of the Anglican Missal for me? It opens up my thinking and makes me consider what I do, why I do it, and what kind of sensibilities I am most familiar with and which I look for in the Tradition. For instance, it raises again the issue of what book to use: do we, should we, use the BCP or some other book based on our personal preferences and style? This missal represents a replacement of the BCP and legislates a worship style of which I overall approve. However–it is not the BCP. and once again I return to the importance of *common* prayer. Another question is: what era should be adopted as a liturgical norm? The Anglican Missal chooses the late medieval; the most recent liturgical renewal the fourth. My preference is for the early medieval–but why and what rationale should be offered for its adoption? (That’s the subject for another post.) Finally–but certainly not lastly–how are the elements authentic to the Tradition to be deployed in speaking to our own age?
This is, I believe, one of the most important issues that I have heard discussed least. The true and authentic Tradition of the Church is voluminous and reflects a great diversity of thought, theology, and piety. I am absolutely convinced that resources within the Tradition can communicate the Gospel effectively and powerfully to this generation. And I believe that our best creative work is done not when we strike out on our own into new territory but when we intelligently and sensitively recycle and adapt elements already within the Tradition.
Furthermore, I don’t believe that all manifestations of the Tradition do communicate the Gospel with eloquence, conviction and power to all times. That’s why we need developments and renewals. Some pieties effective in a previous age either water down the proclamation or actively undermine it in different circumstances. This is where the real battles over tradition do and should happen–determining what breathes the Spirit into our age and what simply echoes what the age already proclaims.
III. Where Do We Go From Here?
I don’t see the need for liturgical works that serve as replacements to the BCP–I’m more interested in supplements or things that make me think about and see the existing liturgies in a new light. And, to be completely honest, that’s also one of the ways that I’ve seen the Anglican Missal used–as a supplement rather than a replacement. That’s how M’s rector uses it, and my opposition to it is diminished greatly when it is viewed and used in this light.
What makes the most sense to me is digging into the Tradition to find things that supplement and enhance what is in the prayer book and adding them in but not to the degree that the overburden or skew the existing liturgies. Prayer Book modification, not replacement. My personal adaptations include physical gestures not indicated in the BCP, customs from previous prayer books that I think serve a godly function, and principles of variation that help me keep up the rota of Offices without getting bored but still aid in the work of memorization and internalization. As personal adaptations, most of these do refer to my own *private* use; *common* prayer is thus maintained.
Major shifts are occurring in the liturgies of the mainline denominations. The will happen whether we notice them or discuss them or not. For people who value historic liturgies–be we Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Catholics (even the odd Methodist)–we need to think and be vocal about what happens both in our sanctuaries and in our prayer-closets. This isn’t just a matter for clergy–it’s a matter for anyone who uses and who comes to love the liturgy. In fact, don’t be fooled. Most clergy have only taken one course in liturgy which was, most likely, a drive-by through their current service book. There’s no reason why interested and informed lay people can’t teach their clergy a thing or two about good liturgy.
I guess, ultimately, this is what I’m heading towards. People who use liturgies should become passionate about them because good liturgy is good proclamation of the Gospel. If you’re not passionate about your liturgy, why not?