Category Archives: Roman Catholic

Open Source Liturgy & Music

I just ran across a fascinating post which has actually been out there for a while, now. It’s a discussion by Adam Wood, part of the Chant Renaissance in the Roman Catholic online world, about what it would mean to truly offer sacred music on an Open Source model.

It gives me quite a lot of things to think about, but the bottom line squares quite well with the proposal that I put before our Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music: our music and liturgy need to be freely available without cost in ways that developers can leverage in order to produce ways of accessing and using them either freely or at a cost.


Formation and the Ecclesia Anglicana

One of the perennial Anglo-Catholic hobbies  is constructing and maintaining an acceptable myth of origins. That is to say, if you are going to argue that there is a historical and theological validity to the use of certain catholic principles, doctrines, and ceremonies—but not others—within Anglican churches, you need to have some reason to hand that accounts for it.

One of the classic favorites is the notion of the Ecclesia Anglicana. This is the concept that English Christianity is just a bit different from Roman Catholic Christianity—always has been, always will be—and that the Anglican Churches are simply the current expression of this separate but equal way of being. As a result, adherents of this view claim a certain freedom by identifying the differences between Roman and English practice.

I’ve always quite liked this notion in a big-picture kind of way, but have had all sorts of problems with it on a historical level. It’s one thing to assert it with a side-order of nostalgic Victorian nationalism, it’s another entirely to document it in a convincing fashion in the historical and liturgical record.

It’s with this background (a love for the concept but a weighty skepticism concerning its historical realities) that I surprised myself last night while washing dishes by coming up with a potential liturgical-historical argument in favor of it…

If you’re going to argue a difference between “English” and “Roman,” liturgical and historical evidence supports an approach that sees “Western” as a super-category made up of a number of related theological and liturgical traditions one of which is “English” and one (actually several that fuse into one) which becomes dominant as “Roman.” Part of the question, then, is in the matter of definitions: what’s “English” and what’s “Roman” and how are these situated in relation to what’s “Western”?

Then, once that’s been teased out, what are the things that can be identified as granting a fundamental theological distinction between them? (Understanding liturgy in its proper place as the kinetic side of the theological coin…)

One way to crack the nut is to point to the formative aspects of the liturgy, and I’d approach it this way. The Sarum strand is identifiably and recognizably English in locale granted that its roots straddle both French and earlier English practice. When you compare Sarum sources against Continental Western texts and the materials designated “Roman” by the Council of Trent, one of the differences that you find is the Mass Gospel Lectionary. If I recall correctly (and this came to me while washing dishes, mind you, and I haven’t consulted my tomes yet), there are differences at least in Advent, Epiphany, and in post-Pentecost.

What makes this difference major and important is not the Mass, however—it’s the Office. The Mass Gospel Lectionary appears in the third nocturn of the Night Office and determines the patristic homily found therein. A different Mass Gospel lectionary suggests that the nocturn lessons may be different with the possible result that the Sarum-using folk were being formed by reading different patristic texts at different times and were being formed and normed differently than their “Roman” brethren. If you are trying to argue for a theological and practical difference between the Ecclesia Anglicana and the Roman Church especially defined by its Tridentine liturgy, one of the best ways to do it would be a thorough audit of the nocturn texts.

Come to think of it, I recall that in Advent, at least, the second nocturn readings don’t quite cohere either. I seem to recall a Maximus of Turin text where the Tridentine/Roman sources have the Jerome text on Isaiah quoted below. The significance there is that the Sarum source seems to be drawing on an older “Western” strand as the Maximus likely is a hold-over from Paul the Deacon, the official Night Office collection from the Carolingian period.

So—to make a sustained and historically verifiable argument for a theologically distinct Ecclesia Anglicana one possible route could be a thorough comparison of the Night Office texts between the English and Continental sources. What you’d have to find in order to make a strong case is greater coherence between Sarum, Hereford, and York sources (perhaps Hyde Abbey as well?) than what you find in Continental sources, particularly those that feed into the Tridentine Breviary. Then, if you could further isolate a difference in perspective—so, a preponderance of a particular father or set of fathers over others—between “English” and “Roman” breviaries, then I’d be willing to give more credence to the notion of a theologically distinct Ecclesia Anglicana that contains demonstrable theological and formational tendencies from its Continental counterparts.

Thoughts towards Infallibility and the Church

Ok—I’ve been intending to tackle this one for a while and, rightly, I do so with trepidation… My trepidation is all the greater because this cannot be a full post but must only be suggestions towards a full-on thought. (Time is quite lacking at the moment–if I shoot for the full-on thing it won’t get posted until sometime next year…)

I agree with YF and others that the fundamental difference between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches over and against the others is the issue of infallibility.That’s truly what separates me as an Anglo-Catholic from Rome. I do not and, at this present time, can not accept the doctrine of infallibility as laid out in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.).

I’ll also note that there are a number of philosophical subtleties floating around this whole topic and, as a biblical scholar, I’m not real big on the philosophical subtleties. I’m a neo-Stoic pragmatist; some of the subtleties I’m sure I’ll miss—others I’ll simply dismiss as being overly subtle. This relates back to some things I wrote earlier and what I write here builds on these bits: On Theology and Personality and A Bit on Sin. The main points I want to drag up from these posts are as follows—from the first, I have a moderate-to-low need for theological certainty and have a decent tolerance for ambiguity. My personality doesn’t require infallibility, and saying that neither the Church nor the Scriptures are infallible doesn’t cast me into a faith crisis of any sort. From the second, one of the important manifestations of sin is the human capacity and instinct for self-deception.

As I said above, this isn’t going to be a fully worked-out post. Instead, I’d like to offer three directions that indicate the directions my thought is moving in. Perhaps later I’ll have the leisure to link them up.


Ecclesiology and the Hypostatic Union

The hypostatic union is the Chalcedonian position that we’ve all heard and are wise enough now not to try and understand fully. That is, it’s the doctrine that Christ is simultaneously human and divine. The two natures exist within him simultaneously; there’s no mingling of the the natures but nor can the natures be separated. As I understand this, it means—among other things—that we can’t sort through the words and deeds recorded in the Gospels and try to sort out which actions, words, or thoughts were “human” and which “divine.”

There’s a certain mystery factor here that will have to endure that is related to our inability to wrap our heads and words around our own being, let alone God’s being.

Now—the Incarnation is about the conjunction of these natures: the Word taking flesh. Theologically there are three other loci where I believe that something similar is happening. That is, in the Holy Scriptures, the Word becomes joined to human language and words as a means of God’s self-revelation. Similarly in the Holy Eucharist, Christ becomes joined to the physical elements of bread and wine as a means of God’s self-revelation and a means of grace. Finally, in the Holy Church, Christ incorporates us into his mystical body which becomes a single organism, a living church built of living stones to use the imagery of Paul, Peter, and John.

So—if the hypostatic union is held of the Incarnation (which it is) does it, can it, to what degree can we posit or perceive it within these other three incarnational entities?

(That’s an open question, by the way, not just a rhetorical one…)

I can’t answer this right now. But here’s an interesting place where I seer this particular thought experiment moving… I wonder if one way to characterize or to examine positions related to infallibility and the nature of the Church is not to utilize the language and understandings of Chalcedon. That is, when I look at YF’s position, I find it docetic; it relies too heavily on the divine character of the church to the diminishment and exclusion of the human nature at work within it. By the same token, I’d guess that he sees mine as being too Arian—recognizing the created, limited, and fallen aspects of the Church and tending too little to the divinity of Christ shared within the Church and within which it participates.

Thus, this is a big-picture point that gives us a theological entre into the topic.


Apprehension of the Good

Ok, this will get into the philosophical weeds and I have no doubt I’ll say some howlers which will be pointed out by our resident philosophy-types.

I’ll start with two sections from the Roman Catechism:

2030 It is in the Church, in communion with all the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation. From the Church he receives the Word of God containing the teachings of “the law of Christ.” From the Church he receives the grace of the sacraments that sustains him on the “way.” From the Church he learns the example of holiness and recognizes its model and source in the all-holy Virgin Mary; he discerns it in the authentic witness of those who live it; he discovers it in the spiritual tradition and long history of the saints who have gone before him and whom the liturgy celebrates in the rhythms of the sanctoral cycle.

2031 The moral life is spiritual worship. We “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” within the Body of Christ that we form and in communion with the offering of his Eucharist. In the liturgy and the celebration of the sacraments, prayer and teaching are conjoined with the grace of Christ to enlighten and nourish Christian activity. As does the whole of the Christian life, the moral life finds its source and summit in the Eucharistic sacrifice.

I agree with these.

My only quibble is with the first section when it draws too narrowly the model and source of the example of holiness. While I have argued something similar of the Blessed Virgin, Christ himself must not be excluded and ought to be specifically named as well.

These two sections do not touch on the issue of infallibility. The next few will move towards it. Proceeding…

2032 The Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” “has received this solemn command of Christ from the apostles to announce the saving truth.” “To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.”

I don’t even have an issue with this based on its literal meaning. I agree entirely with the first sentence—one of the central purposes of the Church is the announcement of the saving truth: the loving action of God preeminently at work in the birth, life, death,resurrection, and ascension of Christ and our call to share in his divine life. The second is true as well—the church has the right to make announcement on moral issues—but this does not ensure that the church is always right.


2033 The Magisterium of the Pastors of the Church in moral matters is ordinarily exercised in catechesis and preaching, with the help of the works of theologians and spiritual authors. Thus from generation to generation, under the aegis and vigilance of the pastors, the “deposit” of Christian moral teaching has been handed on, a deposit composed of a characteristic body of rules, commandments, and virtues proceeding from faith in Christ and animated by charity. Alongside the Creed and the Our Father, the basis for this catechesis has traditionally been the Decalogue which sets out the principles of moral life valid for all men.

I don’t see anything that I must disagree with here, unless it be an assumption that the “deposit” is of a fixed nature. I would, however, order the list differently; I see it as a characterstic body of virtues, commandments, and rules proceeding from faith in Christ and animated by charity. In my counter-formulation, the list is book-ended by the virtues which take preeminence over rules and commandments. (More on this anon.)


2034 The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are “authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.” The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.

2035 The supreme degree of participation in the authority of Christ is ensured by the charism of infallibility. This infallibility extends as far as does the deposit of divine Revelation; it also extends to all those elements of doctrine, including morals, without which the saving truths of the faith cannot be preserved, explained, or observed.

Ok—now we’ve got issues and it’s precisely with the notion of the bishops holding the authority of Christ and infallibility as an aspect of that authority. First, I’m unclear where this appears in Scripture—and I’m sure there’s a long and persistently argued set of devices and ploys used to argue these points in Catholic/Protestant apologetics so I won’t even broach that topic. Rather, I’d like to move from a different angle.

I have trouble with the term “infallible” when it’s applied either to Scripture or teachings. I assume that it means, that the Scripture or teaching is unable to fail in its purpose. But that’s clearly not the case. The intent of Scripture is to form mature disciples of Christ. Yet reading the Bible does not produce this result. The teaching of the Church is intended to, well, do the same thing. And yet it does not. Therefore “infallible” must refer to something much narrower than what it first appears to me.

The way I’ve generally heard it described is “infallible” means that the teaching is absolutely correct and is guaranteed to be true. Its truth is preserved by supernatural means. And yet when we talk about the teaching of moral truths, teaching happens in two main mutually reinforcing ways: through words and deeds. Anyone who knows their history can point out often very graphic instances where each of the main bodies of Christendom—my own included—have dramatically failed to teach the truth on its most basic level and have betrayed the Gospel we were entrusted to proclaim.  Our collective actions have most certainly not been supernaturally preserved from error.

The infallibility of the church’s teaching, therefore, must be further circumscribed. It cannot extended to the teaching that comes through action and example and must be an intellectual category only. But what kind of intellectual category is it? When it comes to the moral life in particular, are we able to apprehend the good purely in and through an intellectual state or must we participate within right action to apprehend it and its nature?

I think we could care this line of thought further but I’ll stop here. I do believe that there have been saintly bishops who have lived, apprehended, and taught the truth as found in Jesus Christ far better than I ever will. There are likely popes among that number as well. And yet, the argument for supernatural preservation of certain circumscribed parts of intellectual truth as I understand it fails to move me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t understand it rightly; perhaps it’s because I don’t regard that piece as essential for my faith. There’s probably a decent counter-argument to the moral issue that I raise that takes a line along freedom of the will and a reticence on the part of the supernatural agent against coersion—perhaps that road can be taken at a later date…


On the Provisional Teaching of the Church

“There was at that time a meeting in Scetis about a brother who had sinned. The Fathers spoke, but Abba Pior kept silence. Later, he got up and went out; he took a sack, filled it with sand and carried it on his shoulder. He put a little sand also into a small bag which he carried in front of him. When the Fathers asked him what this meant he said, ‘In this sack which contains much sand are my sins which are many; I have put them behind me so as not to be troubled about them and so as not to weep; and see here are the little sins of my brother which are in front of me and I spend my time judging them. This is not right, I ought rather to carry my sins in front of me and concern myself with them, begging God to forgive me for them.’ The Fathers stood up and said, ‘Truly, this is the way of salvation.’ (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 199-200)

In the field notes from the first great laboratory of Christian spirituality—the Egyptian and Palestinian deserts—I’m constantly amazed at how much discussion is given to not judging the sins of others. Abba Pior indicates the reason for this counsel. It’s not because what others do doesn’t effect us—it does. Rather, the issue is that judging others provides an opportunity to leave our own sins aside, to put off our own amendment of life, and to focus on the shortcomings of others.

In the main, I think that the Church’s moral teaching is mostly right. I don’t argue against infallibility because I’m an antinomian or lapse into situation ethics or because I think there should be no standards at all. There must be standards and I think the historic teaching of the church has done the best job of consistently safeguarding the central teaching required by the Gospel of Christ. I’m just not persuaded that its retention or continued teaching is infallible. From my years of concentrated study of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the teachers of the Church, I do believe that our truest guide lies in virtue as exemplified by the character of God as revealed in Scripture and in the sacramental life of the Church. Virtue and character are, admittedly, a little fuzzier than rules and commandments. There’s more to debate and there exist in the borders between virtue and vice strips—even swathes—of grey area. And, as one who does not believe in infallibility, that’s the price I have to pay.

I don’t believe that the teaching of the Church is supernaturally preserved from error. I do believe, though, that we are supernaturally aided and that the church has been supernaturally graced in those who have taught its teachings in both word and works. None of us have been—or will be—perfect and therefore our teaching will necessarily fall short. We as individuals and as a organization composed of flawed individuals will fail to proclaim in word and example the good news of God in Christ. And yet we do believe and confess that the Holy Spirit will never abandon the Church, will not leave us orphans. The Spirit and the Bride say “Come” and we will stumble towards that voice. As long as the Church remains faithful to that calling, we will not lose our way entirely. We may even walk a more direct path as time goes on. But our knowledge of that path and our apprehension of that path will always be provisional rather than infallible. Given our capacity for and our track record of self-deception we should start worrying the most when we believe ourselves to be most right. But our constant goal is the mind, the character, and the virtue of Christ. Thus, we once more join in asking for the inspiration that, as the book says: “we may think those things that are right, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Is This Constructive Diversity?: Responding to Cody Unterseher


There’s a new group blog up which looks quite promising. Whether of their own volition or in response to the New Liturgical Movement (or some combination of the two), a group of moderate mainline Catholic liturgists have begun Pray Tell. It’s not exclusively a Roman Catholic endeavor, though—a piece by an Episcopalian went up today.

Fr. Cody Unterseher presents a piece entitled Living with Diversity, Living in Charity. To my eye, it’s a piece designed to gently persuade Roman Catholic readers that liturgical diversity is possible within a given parish without the acrimony and rancor that such change can often inspire; different liturgical “factions” really can live together in peace. As an introduction to Roman readers, it is a calming voice that soothes those who fear social upheaval in liturgical spaces.

I enjoyed his piece and, following the various links, I suspect I’d quite enjoy worship at his parish (hark, a Dearmerite!). However, as an insider, I have some concerns with the picture that he presents.

I have four main concerns which I’ll introduce here, then lay out in detail below. My first point is that he creates an overly irenic picture of liturgical diversity. While he draws a quick sketch of the diversity within American Anglicanism, this diversity is less present in the description of his parish. My second point is that the presentation of the three worship options that he outlines are, in my experience, not considered equal options by the leadership of the parishes with which I’m familiar. My third point is that even this picture of diversity is, in fact, contained within a relatively narrow range for representing the Anglican heritage within the Episcopal Church. My fourth point returns more closely to the topic at hand and ponders how closely the Episcopal and Roman contexts map onto one another.

On Liturgical Diversity

The author begins with a quick nod to the standard threefold division of liturgical styles within the Anglican fold:

Episcopal parishes describe themselves variously as “high,” “low,” and “broad,” terms that reflect both preferences in liturgical style, and degrees of theological commitment to principles articulated during the reforms of the sixteenth century. And in spite of all the headline-grabbing difficulties in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, there remains a lot of room for positive, healthy diversity in expression, especially on the level of parish life.

He also explains the presence of Rites I and II in our parishes for the benefit of his Roman readers:

When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer appeared, it included two series of services: “Rite I” in traditional (though faux) Tudor-Stuart English, and“Rite II” in contemporary English. Some parishes adopted one, some the other, and some made use of both. Likewise, some parishes adopted a versus populum style of liturgy, with the celebrant facing the congregation over the altar, while some retained ad orientem or eastward-facing worship.

This is a non-controversial assessment of what you’ll find within any given Episcopal parish. What I will raise, here, however, is a point which the author makes but fails to develop. He states here, accurately, that “Some parishes adopted one, some the other, and some made use of both.”  In the first quote above, he correctly notes that “Episcopal parishes describe themselves variously as ‘high,’ ‘low,’ and ‘broad,’…” and that’s the beginning of my concern.

Episcopalians tend to group themselves by parishes. There is tremendous diversity between parishes, but we typically do not find the span originally described—high, low, and broad— and the diversity represented by these factions within parishes as exhibited in their public liturgies. I’ll unpack this further in a moment.

As a demonstration of the irenicism prevalent at his parish, Fr. Unterseher describes the following procedure:

The parish I serve, in a suburb of New York City, makes use of a mix of these styles every Sunday: the early Eucharist is eastward-facing and uses Rite I texts. The principal celebration is also eastward-facing, but uses the modern language of Rite II. And at the evening Eucharist, celebrated in contemporary English, the the congregation gathers closely around all four sides of the freestanding altar. Each of these styles, each of these approaches has historical precedent, and can be justified by sound theology. Moreover, each approach has been adopted for significant and carefully considered pastoral reasons. Taken together, our three regularly scheduled Sunday liturgies represent a large cross-section of American Episcopal worship.

Both the description here and pictures of the parish (look—riddel posts!) make clear that this is a High Church parish. The dead give-away even without the pictures is an eastward-facing principle service. Many Broad and most Low Church Episcopalians would not stand for this—and east-facing Eucharists at Broad Church parishes are rarer than hen’s teeth.

From his description it looks like he has indeed incorporated services of two styles at his parish: High and Broad. The first two are High while the evening service seems to be Broad (gather ’round the altar being a now-classic piece Broad/Progressive ceremonial) and possibly unvested clergy.

Yes, there is a cross-section represented here, but it’s also unusual. In my experience most parishes will strongly identify with one of the three camps, and all of the liturgies will reflect that view. The choices at my current parish, for example are Broad, Broad, and Broad. (This is most evident on the very rare occasions when they think that they’re being “High”—which ends up being a Broad caricature of High.)

One blend which I have seen recently is Broad parishes introducing Low services with worship bands and such. The parish near our house does this as does the congregation where M is at the moment. Tellingly, these services tend to be 1) in two different spaces (it’d be really hard to do “authentic” Low in a sanctuary with riddel posts!) and 2) the congregations tend to be distinct with little cross-over. I’d suggest that Broad can go either way, but that you won’t—and probably shouldn’t—find a Low parish incorporating a High service and vice-versa. And this reality seems to undermine the irenicism Fr. Unterseher describes.

I do congratulate  Fr. Unterseher on achieving the diversity he has at his parish but this does not represent the norm in our church.

Liturgical Inequalities

Fr. Unterseher does acknowledge that his parish may be unusual (and I think it is) and further states that his parish understands all three of their services as equally valid expressions of worship:

Noticeably absent, however, is the divisive acrimony that often attends communities with multiple liturgical styles. Everybody knows that they are part of one parish, one church, one body. This is not the case in every Episcopal parish, and I won’t pretend that either the church as a whole or the parish doesn’t have fissures around some significant issues. But regarding the parish, I suspect that when it comes to worship, we’ve simply refused to buy into the posturing that so often seems to go along with issues of liturgical difference, and becomes so evident in conversations about liturgical reform. We refuse to suggest that one style is more “authentic” or more pleasing to God than another.

This statement warms my heart. If only this were so everywhere… The situation I’m familiar with where three services is the norm the inequalities are evident and sometimes even stated.

The early Rite I Mass is explicitly for the “old folks” and the assumption and hope is that this demographic and the service will die out together. I find the timing of the service to be the literally marginalizing issue here. It’s very difficult for me as a father to get myself and my girls ready and out the door for a 7:30 AM service. When I wake them up for it, I pay for it with cranky tired behavior later in the day. And yet—this is the service I’d rather attend at my current parish. If I do, then we have to go home and come back two hours later for Christian Ed. Why do few families show up at this service? In my context, at least, it’s because the logistics are torturous.

Interestingly enough when we went to the cathedral in Atlanta, there was a 9 AM Rite I service which led right into the Sunday School hour. The chapel where it was held was always full to bursting and I’d guess it was equally split been the expected “old folks” and families with small children. Despite the big Rite II choral Eucharist going on right across the hallway.

The evening service tends to be the one identified as perfect for children and families and (unlike Fr. Unterseher’s parish) has the “contemporary” music (of the ’80’s and 90’s). Despite this conception the demographic that seems to dig it the most is the Baby Boomers.

What I’m suggesting is that while some liturgical diversity may exist between early, middle, and evening services, not only do the groups tend to be distinct, but the early service with its Rite I language tends to be tolerated as a short-term inconvenience (although I note they’ve held on in most places for lo these thirty years giving the lie to the theory that only old folk like them).

The Breadth of Diversity: The Case of Morning Prayer

The third point I’d like to raise is breadth of diversity represented. It’s a little off-topic from the article itself, but I couldn’t help but notice it… All three of the services at the example parish are Eucharists. As a result, there’s a certain limitation of the true diversity of Anglican liturgy at that. In fact, it demonstrates the way that liturgical diversity has been flattened across the board since the release of the ’79 BCP.

I’m in hearty agreement with and very supportive of the norm laid down by the ’79 book: Holy Eucharist should be the principal act of worship in Episcopal parishes on Sundays and Holy Days. However, there’s no law that says that a parish can’t do both Morning Prayer and the Eucharist. From looking around the Episcopal Church you’d be excused from thinking that such a law is written in stone. One of the key treasures of the Anglican Patrimony has been effectively cut from the public worship experience of Episcopalians over the last thirty years.

A genuine and helpful move towards liturgical diversity would be the inclusion of a Morning Prayer service before the principal Eucharist on Sundays. But that’s not on the radar for 99% of the church.

The Roman and Episcopal Contexts

I don’t know that the Episcopal situation described here maps onto the situation that faces liturgical diversity in the Roman Church. The elephant in the middle of the room is the culture war.

Liturgy is all too often one wing in a broader battle, and outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible disposition. From my outsider’s view, the battle-lines seem to be much more firmly fixed within the Roman context than the Episcopal. That is, some of the most progressive churches I have attended have been High Church—St Luke in the Fields, NYC springs instantly to mind; some of the most conservative churches I have attended have been High Church—Mt. Calvary, Baltimore likewise appears. In the Episcopal Church, liturgical preference does not map directly onto the social and theological beliefs that tend to generate the true acrimony that liturgical wars appear to produce.

Of the admittedly small number of traditional liturgy Roman churches that I’ve visited, and from the discussions I frequent on the internet, traditional liturgy tends to travel with social and theological conservatism. I have not met a progressive Roman Catholic who is for traditional liturgy, the use of Latin, ad orientem celebration, and the usus antiquor.  These are seen as signs of the counter-revolutionaries who seek to depose Vatican II. I can, however, rattle of a list of progressive Episcopalians who favor all of these (with the recognition that our true usus antiquor is Rite I/the 1662 BCP rather than the Traditional Latin Mass…).

It is this cultural divide that makes me most wary of the picture that Fr. Unterseher paints. I need more convincing that the liturgical lines in the Roman Church are more fluid than they appear.

Summing Up

In summary, I think that Fr. Unterseher’s piece presents an idealized view of worship within the Episcopal Church. Charity in liturgical diversity is possible, but is unusual. First, finding actual diversity between parish services is rare. Second, parishes tend to self-select and identify with one style or another. As a result the diversity and charity tends not to have to happen. Third, I’m not clear that our situation maps onto the situation for which Fr. Unterseher is writing. Deeper cultural and social issues afflict liturgical change in the Roman Church in ways that they do not in ours.

There’s one more point that I must make though, and it involves my hopes for further posts at Pray Tell. Most clergy don’t have the liturgical knowledge or interest to make the diversity work—and that’s what Fr. Unterseher didn’t talk about (yet) and where I hope he goes in the future.

From just a quick look at his parish’s website, I notice that the worship page has a succinct explanation of what the Sarum Use is and an explanation of eastward celebration. There’s catechesis going on here! There’s teaching and explanation that 1) these differences in worship actually do exist and 2) there are real reasons why they are different—they are expressing something theologically.  That’s got to happen to make liturgical change, liturgical awareness and liturgical diversity work. I look forward to seeing more on this in the future!

Roman Missal Translation Push-back

From the Jesuit magazine America comes this article. Some gems incude:

Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me then that I would live to witness what seems more and more like the systematic dismantling of the great vision of the council’s decree. But I have. We Catholics have.

For evidence, one need look no further than recent instructions from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments that have raised rubricism to an art form, or the endorsement, even encouragement, of the so-called Tridentine Mass. It has become painfully clear that the liturgy, the prayer of the people, is being used as a tool—some would even say as a weapon—to advance specific agendas.

No! What? Liturgies being used a tool to advance agendas? I’m shocked–shocked, I tell you!

This leads me to pose a question to my brother priests: What if we were to awaken to the fact that these texts are neither pastoral nor ready for our parishes? What if we just said, “Wait”?

. . .

What is at stake, it seems to me, is nothing less than the church’s credibility. It is true that the church could gain some credibility by giving us more beautiful translations, but clumsy is not beautiful, and precious is not prayerful.

Now this is true…

The reaction of my friends should surprise no one who has had a chance to review the new translations. Some of them have merit, but far too many do not.

Grammar trouble… Is the “them” in the second line the translations or the reactions of his friends?

What if we, the parish priests of this country who will be charged with the implementation, were to find our voice and tell our bishops that we want to help them avert an almost certain fiasco? What if we told them that we think it unwise to implement these changes until our people have been consulted in an adult manner that truly honors their intelligence and their baptismal birthright? What if we just said, “Wait, not until our people are ready for the new translations, but until the translations are ready for our people”?

. . .

I offer the following modest proposals.

What if pastors, pastoral councils, liturgical commissions and presbyteral councils were to appeal to their bishops for a time of reflection and consultation on the translations and on the process whereby they will be given to the people? It is ironic, to say the least, that we spend hours of consultation when planning to renovate a church building or parish hall, but little or none when “renovating” the very language of the liturgy.

What if, before implementing the new translations, we do some “market testing?” What if each region of bishops were to designate certain places where the new translations would receive a trial run: urban parishes and rural parishes, affluent parishes and poor parishes, large, multicultural parishes and small parishes, religious communities and college campuses? What if for the space of one full liturgical year the new translations were used in these designated communities, with carefully planned catechesis and thorough, honest evaluation? Wouldn’t such an experiment yield valuable information for both the translators and the bishops? And wouldn’t such an experiment make it much easier to implement the translations when they are ready?

In short, what if we were to trust our best instincts and defend our people from this ill-conceived disruption of their prayer life? What if collegiality, dialogue and a realistic awareness of the pastoral needs of our people were to be introduced at this late stage of the game? Is it not possible that we might help the church we love avert a debacle or even disaster? And is it not possible that the voices in the church that have decided that Latinity is more important than lucidity might end up listening to the people and re-evaluating their position, and that lengthy, ungainly, awkward sentences could be trimmed, giving way to noble, even poetic translations of beautiful old texts that would be truly worthy of our greatest prayer, worthy of our language and worthy of the holy people of God whose prayer this is? (If you think the above sentence is unwieldy, wait till you see some of the new Missal translations. They might be readable, but border on the unspeakable!)

“What If We Just Said No?” was my working title for this article. “What If We Just Said, ‘Wait’?” seems preferable. Dialogue is better than diatribe, as the Second Vatican Council amply demonstrated. So let the dialogue begin. Why not let the priests who are on the front lines and the laypeople who pay the bills (including the salaries of priests and bishops) have some say in how they are to pray? If you think the idea has merit, I invite you to log on to the Web site and make your voice heard. If our bishops know the depth of our concern, perhaps they will not feel so alone.

Now since I’m not a Roman Catholic, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am, however, a person who cares deeply about liturgy, about the worshiping community, and how to connect the two in mutual reinforcing relationships for the edification of the Church.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a veteran of the post-Vatican II years. One of his greatest regrets is the way the “reforming” party shoved the changes down the throats of others with no regard to those whose liturgical lives they were altering. He said, “We knew so strongly that we were right—but at the same time there was a little voice in the back of my head telling me that what we were doing was wrong.”

His fear and what he cautioned me against was the exact same thing happening from the other direction. Yes, good liturgy is a critical part of forming people in Christ and what we push for may well be absolutely right—but is the act of pushing absolutely right?

I don’t know what the right way to proceed is, but it is evidently clear to me that some of the methods of liturgical reform in the past century are examples of how not to do it rather than how to do it.

So, like I said, I’ll be watching these developments with interest.

Breviary and Kalendar Observations

If you’re interested in the inner workings and shifts in the history of the breviary and associated liturgical bits, you must not miss the series that the NLM is running. Today’s hits a major point: the changes to the breviary under Pius X—the first major modern liturgical meddling.  Here’s a bit in particular from the discussion of the kalendar:

In the Middle Ages, there was no idea of a General Calendar of Saints’ days to be observed universally. To be sure, there were many feasts which were observed universally, such as the principal feasts of Our Lady and the Apostles, the four great doctors of the Latin Church, and several of the more famous early martyrs and confessors. However, there was an enormous amount of local variation to calendars, which were regulated by local bishops and cathedral chapters with almost no direction from Rome. For this reason, one also finds some interesting gaps in medieval liturgical calendars, especially in regard to “new” Saints. The first Saint ever formerly canonized by the Apostolic See, Ulric of Augsburg, was never celebrated with a feast day in Rome itself. Pope Gregory IX, who reigned from 1227 to 1241, canonized both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. Despite the tremendous importance of these two religious founders to the life of the later medieval Church, neither appears in the 1556 edition of the Sarum Breviary, or the 1501 Breviary of Bamberg, (to give just two examples); in many other places, they were kept as mere commemorations. The same Pope once called the great preacher and miracle worker Saint Anthony of Padua “the Ark of the Covenant” while the Saint himself was still alive, yet his feast is missing from many late medieval calendars, and indeed, is not included in the 1568 Roman Breviary.

The Use of Rome had already been adopted by the Franciscans at time of their foundation, and was spread by them far beyond the confines of the Pope’s diocese. The new orders of the Counter-Reformation era such as the Jesuits and Oratorians also followed the Roman Use, and it soon became the standard liturgical form for all new religious orders and congregations. The Pian reform of the Roman Breviary was also taken on by innumerable dioceses throughout Europe and the newly-evangelized Americas, creating a liturgical uniformity much greater than had been known before Trent . The Catholic Church of the Tridentine era was particularly concerned, of course, to lay greater emphasis on the cult of the Saints, which had been so thoroughly rejected by the Protestant Reformers, and to add to the ranks of the heavenly intercessors its own great heroes. Therefore, when Saints like Ignatius of Loyola and Philip Neri were canonized, their feasts were more or less universally and immediately adopted, unlike those of their great medieval predecessors.

None of this will come as a surprise to medievalists but rather informs us on when and how the late and new uniformity occurred. It also explains what I have discovered—that the current Roman kalendar is simply unsuited for modern Anglicans however Rome leaning—the main current of unformity occurs after our departure thus quite a large percentage of saints in the kalendar are not part of the common heritage.

Big News from Rome

Looks like it’s finally happened! I was skeptical up to the last moment and am still trying to sort out the full story, but it looks like Rome is indeed accepting the Traditional Anglican Communion.


  • why nothing from Zenit yet? Here’s the official word that there’s going to be a forthcoming even more official word.
  • Why exactly was ++Rowan present? Especially as this news—as far as I can tell—pertains to Anglicans not under his jurisdiction…
  • The response from Forward in Faith.
  • Some English Anglo-Catholic bishops already  have a timeline put together: decide to move by Feb. 22nd, 2010.
  • Some healthy reminders on the size and scope of this change from Br. Stephen.
  • As I’ve said a few times today in various places, I think the major shift here is conceptual rather than actual. It changes the way  the relationships between Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Orthodoxy are configured.

More to follow as data becomes available.