The Episcopal Church is passing through a watershed era. I believe that as the Baby Boomers begin to fade out and Generations X and Y begin asserting our voices, yet more changes remain on the horizon. As these changes are coupled with the growth of information technology, emerging/evolving soical media, and widespread social changes, I think we’re only at the start of a larger, more complicated, more convoluted process than we may suspect.
The Roman Expression
As I read the runes, I believe that one of the coalescing centers that will have an impact on the Episcopal Church to come will be a burgeoning “Reform of the Reform” movement. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a movement within the Roman Catholic Church that seeks to understand the Reforms of Vatican II within a “hermeneutic of continuity” rather than a “hermeneutic of rupture.” I.e., proponents argue that much of what occurred after the council was not in keeping with either the texts or intentions of the Council Fathers and that many of the changes (and resulting abuses) were beholden to the “Spirit of Vatican II” rather than the texts of the same. (Apparently the Spirit of Vatican II may be recognized by its penchant for felt banners, guitars, and a faux folksy style of presentation…)
One of the central public expressions of this movement is the New Liturgical Movement blog. From perusing that site one can easily be led to believe that this reform is primarily about embracing the Traditional Latin Mass and colorful processions with lots of brocade and lace. Something deeper and more substantial lies below this superficial surface, however. As I’ve said many times before, liturgical change is fundamentally theological change. Chant, baroque vestments, and classical ceremonial point to a set of theological issues promoted by this movement which include but are not exhausted by the following items:
- Reclaiming the liturgical heritage of the Western Church in terms of texts, music and ceremonial
- Emphasizing the liturgy as a central locus of the faith experience and highlighting classical qualities of God-centeredness, reverence, and solemn beauty
- Re-energizing the new liturgies promulgated by Vatican II by emphasizing the continuity with the Traditional Latin rite
- Connecting an embrace of the liturgy with the classic doctrines of the faith
- Recapturing the spirituality of the Liturgical Year through the emphasis on the official chant propers that ground the Liturgical Year as a fundamentally one-year cycle despite a three-year lectionary in the Novus Ordo
The strongest parts of this movement are not (as sometimes found in the comboxes of the NLM) those who seek a roll-back of Vatican II but those who appreciate the genuine advances of the council yet seek to restrain some of the excess committed in its name.
The Episcopal Expression
I suggest that there is a “Spirit of ’79” that was born from and exists in parallel to the “Spirit of Vatican II.” That is, the 1979 BCP embodied wide-spread changes that were rooted in the scholarship of the Liturgical Renewal that was embodied in Vatican II’s Novus Ordo liturgies. Like the Spirit of Vatican II, the Spirit of ’79 has understood the generous freedoms and liberality of the ’79 BCP as a authorization of liturgical license in general rather than a provision of space for legitimate options. Furthermore, I believe that this Spirit was not simply introduced in the texts but as part of a socio-liturgical movement. It’s no secret that many current Episcopalians are former Roman Catholics. Many, especially some of the more outspoken clergy, swam the Channel because they believed Vatican II did not go far enough and that the journey further could be facilitated within the Episcopal Church.
The time has come to say “enough” to the Spirit of ’79.
As in the best expression of our Roman cousins, I believe that we need to re-assert a hermeneutic of continuity—and not rupture—and embrace the ’79 BCP within the context of classical Anglican liturgy and theology and within the historic expression of the Christian Faith which we understand to be rooted in the Canon of Scripture, the Creeds, the Apostolic Succession, and the Great Sacraments.
What I will not say is that such a movement needs to be started; it already exists albeit in a variety of fragmented forms.
Indeed, I think that an Episcopal Reform of the Reform is the true home for Anglo-Catholics who remain within the Episcopal Church; after all, they were Reform of the Reform before there was a Reform… The movement for more visible creedal orthodoxy on the part of the Episcopal Church is part of this. So is a return of 20-30 somethings who prefer their churches to look and sound like they remember church. So is a backlash against some of the more extreme expressions of liturgical license.
The issue, then, is one of connections—connecting these groups and individuals within the church to one another and helping us find a common voice.
The Common Voice
If there were a common voice for the Episcopal Reform of the Reform, what would it say? I shall offer a few points that I think I hear:
- Fidelity to the ’79 BCP as an authentic expression of the Historic Western Liturgy. The ’79 Book has some infelicities of sound and thought—some notably dated language in some places (yes, Prayer C, I’m looking at you)—but is nonetheless a book that stands within the Historic Western Liturgy and participates within the move ad fontes that restores both Eastern and Western elements to the liturgy. Thus, to paraphrase our Roman cousins, “Read the black; do the italics.”
- Reorient towards the faith and practice as witnessed in the early days. I.e., reading and teaching the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. Furthermore, not just echoing their words, but learning from them how to think theologically. They used the best science of their day combined with reason directed by the Spirit and shaped by the virtues. The monastic elements of the BCP and the early Anglican attraction to pre-Scholastic monastic practices and teachings commend in my mind special attention to the thought of John Cassian and the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
- Submission to the Rule of Life inherent in the BCP and the Liturgical Year. This means living it and searching out the riches in it rather than changing it because we fail to see its depths.
Minor Points proceeding from the Major
- Continued use of both rites. Rite II gives us our prayer in our daily language. Rite I gives us our prayer in language that is apart from our daily language. Both are important vehicles of our Anglian spirituality and theological heritage.
- Recover the proper place of the Daily Office. Early expressions of Anglicanism over-emphasized the Office to the detriment of the Mass. Our current American practice is an over-emphasis on the Mass to the detriment of the Office. The original intention in the early medieval period and in the Reformation attempts to recapture the early medieval scheme are a harmonious balance of the two.
- Respect the Creeds. I.e., use them and explain them.
- Respect the Sacraments. I.e., use them and explain them. Baptism, our inclusive sacrament, prepares us for Eucharist, our intimate sacrament.
- Emphasize the dignity and God-wardness which is our heritage. Whether the congregation prays eastward (per the rubrics of the ’79 BCP) or facing the priest, let our common prayer be focused on God, not ourselves or the clown up front.
- Restoring the proper place of both Anglican Chant and Plainchant.
What do you hear?