Anglican Customaries

As any liturgist worth their salt will tell you, having the text of a liturgy is only a part of understanding a past liturgical experience or a liturgical tradition. As one who works with thousand year old liturgies, I have to continually hold in mind that a liturgy is not a text—it’s an experience, and that what I see on a page before me is not necessarily determinative for what may have occured in an actual embodied space. Thus, historical liturgists are always on the look out for customaries, documents that flesh out how a set of liturgies were actually performed in a certain time and place. 

Even when we have a customary, though, that’s rarely the end of the discussion. A customary may help us visualize the liturguy better but, again, it’s still a document and not an event. And customaries have their purposes too, describing not only what does happen but—quite often—what the author wants to happen or wishes to happen. Indeed, some customaries can be polemical treatises that attempt to implant in the reader’s mind one particular model that is to supplant all others. (For instance, whenever I need a chuckle, I read through the section entitled “Of Practices Not Recommended” in Galley’s Ceremonies of the Eucharist… I should also mentioned that it’s been argued that the seminal treatise of Hippolytus upon which so much of the modern Liturgical Renewal movement is based is far more polemical and prescriptive than descriptive of early Roman worship.)

As an American interested in the history of Anglican worship, I have no lived experience of worship with the 1662 BCP. Certainly I can pick it up and read through it; the text and rubrics are clear enough for most anyone to follow. There are, however, ambiguities and options explicit in the text, and anyone who knows the wide vaariety of Anglican theologies, practices, and churchmanship realizes that there must have been differences in how various groups worked with or resolved these ambiguities. Without lived experience, we fall back on customaries.

Principle customaries for the 1662 with which I am familiar are three (Please note, these are intended as introductions, not as authoritative commentary; feel free to add notes or other items in the comments!):

The Directorium Anglicanum: First published in 1858 by John Purchas, a leading Ritualist, this is a guide to the 1662 that seems well suited to larger churches with a traditional architectural format. It argues that the rubrics of the early prayer books expect a certain amount of liturgical knowledge lacking in the priests of its day and thus seeks to “put the Priest of the nineteenth century on a par with the Priest of the sixteenth century as to ritual knowledge. An html copy of the First Edition can be found here at Project Canterbury’s liturgical archive. New to me (and what prompted this post) is my discovery of a PDF version of the Second Revised Edition of 1865. (A read of the preface to the second edition gives you a sense of the battles in the midst of the Tractarian (Oxford Movement’s) growing momentum. A catholic work that harkens back to Sarum uses as well as mentioning (then) contemporary Roman uses, I consider it moderately high. The first edition makes none of the references to the saints or the Blessed Virgin found in Roman or Later Anglican works.

Ritual Notes: This is probably the best known of the catholic customaries. Originally published in 1894, it has gone on to 11 editions. There is no better way to stimulate a discussion that will consume many hours and much gin than to ask a group of Anglo-Catholics which edition is the best. Current answers to “the best” tend to bounce between the 11th, 9th, and 8th reflecting how one feels about recent (20th-21st century) changes to the Roman liturgy and the degree to which current Roman practice should either be followed or rejected. (Brief sample here…). Currently some Continuing Churches sell the 11th, the Western Rite Antiochene Orthodox sells the 9th, and the first edition in html format can be found here.  (An 11th edition sits on my shelf though I’d put a 9th edition next to it if I had one…)

The Parson’s Handbook [English Use]: Probably the least known in America, this is the work of “Blessed” Pearcy Dearmer, the classic example of an Anglo-Catholic Socialist. (Wikipedia entry on the Handbook is here.) While the first two references have—as far as I can determine—some links to living traditions, this work attempts to go back to as exclusively Sarum Use as possible. As such it is particularly susceptible to accusations of antiquarianism and “museum” liturgy. Nevertheless, this work did establish a following and while it might have been a novelty when it was first published it is now a living movement of some weight in England.  The handbook went into no less than 13 editions in rather rapid succession. (I don’t know if there are arguments over preferred editions here…) Dearmer first penned the work just seven years after ordination; he made revisions as he worked out the implications of his program by implementing it in his own parish. The First Edition in html format is at Project Canterbury; the Forth Edition as a PDF may be found here.

12 thoughts on “Anglican Customaries

  1. Derek the Ænglican

    To access Stuhlman I have to get up from my computer, walk over to a far bookshelf, then move a few unpacked boxes to get it off the shelf.

    Needless to say, that’s not an accident…

    Of the current crop Michno is the best. It’s just rather MOTR from my perspective. Is there a truly catholic customary written for the ’79 book?

  2. Brian M

    Derek, for ’79 customaries, you might consider the Advent:

    There is also a less detailed customary at the Grace Newark site:

    I should also mention that Blessed Percy wrote a companion to the PARSON’S HANDBOOK called A Short Handbook of Public Worship in the Churches of the Anglican Communion (Oxford: University Press; London: Humphrey Milford, 1931) that adapts the customs of the larger treatise for smaller village churches. Worth checking out if you can find it in a library.

  3. John-Julian, OJN

    It is a never-ending fascination to attempt to visualize the actual implementation of earlier liturgies. And my guess is that (rare) comments by observers and participants might often give us a better picture than the customaries themselves. (I think I can get a better picture of liturgical practice in Laudian days by reading the attacks by his enemies.)

    And for the present-day liturgist, the real challenge is to find some kind of Middle Way which honors both insights of the forefathers and contemporary reality — not being slavishly committed to either.

    My standard has usually been: “Does this liturgical action convey what is intended?” E.G. the censing of the altar. Its original symbolism was that the altar was “cleansed” or “washed” by the smoke of the censing to make it ready (or “worthy”) for the liturgy. (I often think of that when I see a movie showing Native American ceremonies of wafting the smoke with a feather towards a person or a thing — cleansing by smoke seems primal!)

    So it makes no sense when the celebrant merely wanders around the altar waving the thurible meaninglessly in the air. Better not to do it at all.

    [Side note: the initial censing of the altar before the Gloria was originally a censing of the entire church building — “cleansing” the building to make it ready for the liturgy. (See Lay Folks’ Mass Book) When that got cut back and reduced to a censing of only the altar it had lost all meaning and is merely an irrelevant redundancy, since it is soon done again at the Offertory — are we to think that the altar some how got contaminated between the pre-Gloria censing and the Offertory censing and needed a second “cleansing”?]

    The same principle applies to altar censing at Solemn Evensong! The altar has nothing whatsoever to do with the Office; why cense it? Fortunately, following the RC restoration, the Evensong incense is now (historically properly) burned in a stationary brazier as a “precious offering” and a “symbol of prayer”, not as a “cleansing” ritual.

    When I teach liturgy, I have tried to follow the standard: “Never to anything liturgically unless you know why you are doing it and what meaning it is meant to convey!” and “Don’t lightly toss out something antique only because it is antique — search for its meaning before rejecting it.”

    Oh, dear, forgive an weak liturgist for getting off on his pet peeves!

    But the fact remains that antique customaries can still teach us as long as we hold them to strict clarity and purpose (and test if that clarity and purpose is still meaningful and relevant).

    When I was Dean of the (ecumenical) Seminary of the Streets in NYC, Howard Galley and I put together a program where we reproduced (as well as possible) a series of six or seven liturgies as they might have been celebrated, starting with a 14th century Latin Mass and ending with BCP 1979 – even redecorating the chapel and wearing vestments historically appropriate to the period. The amazing thing is that every one of the students (from UCC’s to Episcopalians to RC’s) found the 14th century Latin Mass the most spiritually moving and significant! So I do understand (although I don’t like) the re-introduction of Tridentine Masses.

    Enough blathering!

  4. The Postulant

    Derek, have you looked at the new one from Patrick Malloy? I haven’t studied it carefully, and it certainly won’t entirely satisfy the hyper-ritualists among us, but there’s a lot in it I quite like.

  5. Derek the Ænglican

    Haven’t seen that one, Postulant, I’ll have to take a look…

    Fr. John-Julian–I definitely hear what you’re saying and I agree that liturgical movements ought to have both meaning and intent. Where I take issue with some is at the notion of original intent. As a biblical scholar, “intent”, particularly the notion of “authorial intent”, is something that I’ve discussed and thought about quite a lot. The formerly dominant historical-critical school argued that there was one legitimate meaning of the biblical text—what the author intend properly situated within his historical context. If the author intended to be multivalent, well, perhaps *that* was to be permitted, but otherwise there is one and usually only one correct meaning to any clump of Greek of Hebrew words.

    I take issue with that coming from two directions: the literary and the historical. First, a text once written becomes independent from its author and vice versa. Once written, a text can become something that an author can either embrace or disavow—and the very idea that an author can repudiate his own writings is a clear signal of their independent existence; even if an author disavows something, it doesn’t make it disappear! As such, I believe that texts can have legitimate (though not infinite of course) meanings that the author may not have intended, consciously or unconsciously.

    From an historical perspective, if meaning is identical with authorial intent, then it means that my favorite thousand-plus years of reflection upon the Bible is crap—and misleading crap at that. Seeing how these non-authorially intended meanings enriched and enlivened the Church, however, I fail to find that argument compelling against the moral, allegorical, and mystical forms of interpretation.

    No, not all meanings are to be permitted; but neither does that mean that only “original” meanings are valid.

    In a like sense, I distrust a flat appeal to an original purpose of liturgical practices and gestures. It often serves to flatten the multivalence of human action—especially theologically motivated human action—in ways that need not happen.

    For example…one of the “Practices Not Recommended” by Galley is blessing the water to be added to the Eucharistic wine. Yes, the water was added to the wine as a sign of temperance (only barbarians and those trying to get drunk drank unmixed wine). But is that the only reason that it can or should be done? Whatever its origins the fact is that it has multiple meanings now. Can one original meaning (and John’s passion leaves open the question if this one meaning was the *only* original meaning…) sweep away any and all others?

    All of this is to second your statement: When I teach liturgy, I have tried to follow the standard: “Never to anything liturgically unless you know why you are doing it and what meaning it is meant to convey!” and “Don’t lightly toss out something antique only because it is antique — search for its meaning before rejecting it.”, but to express hesitation at a too-narrow circumscription of any action’s “meaning”.

  6. Derek the Ænglican

    Thanks for the additional pointers, Brian M! I have seen the Advent and Grace texts in the past but haven’t looked through them recently.

    (n.b.: comments with multiple links tend to be delayed by the spam filter, but I’ll keep an eye out for them!)

  7. Brian M

    Well, for whatever reason I can’t post a link, but there is an interesting study called the “Freeze-Frame Mass” on the Ascension and S. Agnes website that may be of interest.

  8. Patrick

    Fr. John-Julian and the 14th century Latin Mass: Have you read the Radical Orthodoxy theologian Catherine Pickstock’s book “After Writing,” which makes great claims for the medieval Latin rite over against Tridentine and other later rites? I’m not competent to judge that debate but maybe you can shed some light on it.

  9. Derek the Ænglican

    Brian, I have seen the Freeze-frame mass before. Quite interesting!

    Patrick, that’s one of the books I intend to get around to but haven’t yet. If I recall correctly, Pickstock is a conservative Anglo-Catholic which might be one factor in her preference for medieval over Tridentine…

  10. Christopher

    I’ll have to forward you my first chapter when it’s polished which should be by next week if I keep to deadline. I think you’ll appreciate it.

  11. Ren Aguila

    I’m particularly interested in customaries but, yes, there is merit to what Fr. John-Julian said about ritual and meaning.

    Your post reminds me of the time Fr. Rand Frew and I had a discussion about Galley’s commentary, and we agreed that the one reason a fair number of Anglo-Catholic clergy dislike him is how he ends the section you, Derek, find very entertaining, with these words: “Birettas are not to be worn at any time…”

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