Frere on Ceremonial, Part 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about ceremonial recently; my Fortescue arrived, but before I start posting anything on it, I’m taking the time to read through a little volume I discovered a while back but hadn’t yet read. It’s by the eminent Victorian liturgist W. H. Frere and it’s entitled The Principles of Religious Ceremonial. Written in 1905, the Ritualist controversies are the backdrop to it; nevertheless, some parts sound quite modern. It’s a valuable read and here are some snippets from it as I read along…

Introductory Remarks

  • “THE subject of religious ceremonial is one which has a special faculty for stirring strong feeling.” p. 1
  • “Here are two widely contrasted types. The world might be classified according to them ; for every one has his affinity either with the mind of the Quaker on the one side, or with the mind of the so-called Ritualist on the other. And every one who handles the subject of religious ceremonial will do well to think beforehand what his own affinity of mind is, and to make allowance accordingly. It is only by recollecting continually his own personal bias that he will be able to be fair and considerate to others.
    These two types of mind are not only widely separated ; they are also to a large extent inexplicable each to the other.” p. 3
  • “The broad general outlines of the history of ceremonial controversy have some thing to teach by way of caution and patience. Disturbances of this class seem to recur in cycles, and one phase of them follows upon another in a more or less regular sequence. The full cycle may be expressed by three divisions : first comes a period of experiment or innovation; after this has continued for some time, as the controversy attendant upon it dies down, there follows a period of consolidation and settlement; finally comes a period of quiet, tending to stagnation and formalism, before the cycle begins to recur.” pp. 4-5
  • “The real matter to be considered, alike in ceremonial and doctrine, is not whether it is Roman, but whether it is legitimate and true. For, after all, not everything that is Roman is wrong.” p. 7
  • “Ceremonial, it may be truly said, either safe guards piety or else degrades it ; and any changes in traditional ways bring within the horizon the peril that some may value the changes, not as ancillary to devotion, but for some less worthy reason for novelty’s sake, for their artistic beauty, and so forth ; and if so, degradation has set in.” p. 11
  • “Ceremonial is an external because it is an expression of an inner reality ; this reality is often of such a sort as to baffle expression by any other means. Reverence, for example, is more eloquently signified by the Publican’s bowed head than in any other way. Irreverence too is equally plainly signified by an attitude or a gesture. No other method of expression could be so expressive.” pp. 11-2
  • “It is therefore a form of blindness, not commonsense, that prevents a man from recognising that behind ceremonies there lie realities, principles, doctrines, and states or habits of mind. No one can hope to judge fairly of matters of ceremonial who does not see that the reason why they cause such heat of controversy is that they signify so much.” pp. 12-3
  • “It is difficult to say how far unity of doctrine and feeling precedes unity of ceremonial, or how far it follows it. Ceremonial is at one moment the outcome of doctrine, and at another the inculcator of it.” p. 13

Of Ceremonial in General

  • “A task has to be done : then it must be done somehow. That ‘ somehow ‘ may be good or bad ; therefore prudence suggests that a method should be
    devised and laid down. Ceremonial has begun.” p. 16
  • “The individual may, and if he takes enough trouble he can, avoid forming a ceremonial habit ; he can vary his methods to the extreme limit of all known permutations and combinations. But a body of people must be corporately bound ; and a ceremonial rule of some degree of strictness or laxity must govern all joint action.” p. 17
  • “No doubt in all ceremonial, secular as well as religious, some allowance must be made for differences of temperament and training. The manners of a foreigner must often seem over-demonstrative to the phlegmatic Englishman, and the ceremoniousness of Court functions over-pompous to a blunt country squire. But this principle does not extend beyond the securing of a modification in details; and ceremonial remains still undethroned as a universal law governing human action in every sphere.” p. 19
  • “It is evidently true that in the right sense ceremonial must be ‘natural’; but the question rises whether the ideal is that of nature untrained and unrefined,
    or of a refined and trained nature. For example, it is true with regard to social ceremonial that manners are not good unless they are natural. On the other hand, it is no less true that good manners do not come naturally, at any rate to
    people as a whole ; they are almost, if not quite, universally the result of careful and minute training in one form or another.” p. 20
  • “The art of ceremonial proficiency, be it in good manners or in good habits or in good drill or in good religious ceremonial, is best exemplified when it is most concealed, when the best rules have been so well acquired and assimilated that they have become, as we say, ‘ a second nature.'” p. 20

Of Religious Ceremonial

  • “…religious ceremonial is action Godwards, and therefore demands the highest possible degree of excellence.” p. 22
  • “it is often to be observed that in churches where the puritan tradition is strong, and where pale horror would creep over the face of the minister if it was even suggested that he was a ‘Ritualist,’ there does exist a well-defined ceremonial. . . . It is all highly individual ; it rests perhaps on nothing else but the vicar’s own ways or oddities ; it has possibly no relation at all to the traditions of church worship ; but it is ceremonial for all that; and it differs from the ceremonial of the ‘ Ritualist ‘ only in being based on no authority, in
    being the result of individual caprice, and possibly further in being ill conceived, or even, it may be, grotesque in character.” pp. 26, 27
  • “Public worship, besides being individual, is also essentially corporate : it is the approach to God not of a merely fortuitous conglomeration of individuals, but rather of an organised body. Just as the Court in its attendance on the sovereign is a body performing a corporate action round his throne, so the worshipping Church is a body performing acts of corporate worship round the throne of God; and it is this conception rather than the individualist view which underlies the major part of religious ceremonial.” p. 27

Congregation and Ministers

  • “One can hardly fail to see, even in the dim obscurity which surrounds all early liturgical history, that the tendency to deprive the people of their part of the service, by making it so elaborate that it was of necessity confined to the choir, was one which showed itself at very early stages. . . . Yet, in spite of all such changes, the old ideal still remained, viz. that all should contribute their
    share to the corporate Christian worship ; and it is not too much to say that without any doubt this is the only true ideal of Christian worship. . . . Then the relics of the Liturgy which remained were conglomerated into the hands of the
    celebrant and formed the Missal, or compound sacerdotal book ; the participation of the faithful disappeared, and the resultant service was rightly
    called ‘ Low Mass,’ for it represents the low- water mark of eucharistic service, and is a painful contrast to the true but almost lost dignity of the
    old celebration of the Holy Mysteries, with the full and intelligent co-operation of all the faithful, each in their several spheres and grades taking their own proper part in the adoration of Almighty God.” pp. 36-7
  • “Now there is a very close connexion between the multiplication of Eucharists and the decay in the manner of celebration. It is only in special circumstances, as for example in monastic or collegiate or cathedral churches, that it has been possible to retain the old ideal together with a daily celebration. In ordinary circumstances a choice had to be made between the two things, the multiplication of celebrations and the retention of the old ideal. Here, roughly speaking, the East and West parted company, for the East kept the ceremonial ideal and denied itself the advantage of daily celebrations, while the more utilitarian West sacrificed the ceremonial ideal to the practical advantage of
    frequent communion and daily Mass.” p. 38
  • “Other similar changes go alongside with this and influence the history similarly in the direction of decay. The spread of the Church into country
    places and the multiplication of village churches made it impossible to go on looking upon the bishop as the normal celebrant of the Eucharist, as was the case in the early days. When a priest took his place at the altar, the service was ipso facto less, not exactly because the priest was less in dignity than the bishop, but rather because the whole character of the assembly was altered.” p. 38
  • “For in practice, as the Church grew, and small churches and parishes belonging to special shrines or connected with landed estates took their place
    in the Christian economy side by side with the town churches, the materials were not available for the old solemnity of the Liturgy. For choir and
    ministers the parish had to make the best shift it could with whatever materials were available ; and when it became necessary to define the lowest terms which should be considered possible for a celebration of the Eucharist, the minimum requirement was fixed at two persons, the priest and a clerk to
    serve him. And so we come to the duet.” p. 39
  • “The multiplication of Low Masses of this sort had, no doubt, many advantages ; especially as chantries and chaplains multiplied, the convenience of numerous classes of working people who wished to attend daily was met by two or three services daily at different hours. Whatever may rightly be said derogatory to the character of such daily worship at the Holy Eucharist in the pre-Reformation days, there is no doubt as to the extent of it; all classes of persons thronged the churches daily, especially in England, where an Italian
    visitor was astonished at the universality of daily attendance at Mass.” p. 40
  • “The character of pre-Reformation Service-books in England was especially calculated to keep up a good deal of the old ideal. While continental mass-books very constantly contemplated nothing better than Low Mass, the English books always had High Mass in view. Indeed, this is so much the case that it is a matter of great difficulty to reconstruct what an English Low Mass was like before the Reformation, since the Service-books make little or no provision for it.” pp. 41-2
  • “Liturgical worship must be co-operative and corporate. It is a false sacerdotalism that seeks to comprehend as much as possible in the one pair of
    hands of the priest or celebrant. It is always a gain that, with due regard to structure and liturgical principles, the services should employ many persons in divers functions. The clergy and other ministers, servers, clerks, and choir, all have their own part. The different parts of the ceremonial action must be harmonious ; but, so long as this is the case, it is no harm, but only good, that different people should simultaneously be doing different things. A good deal is needed to get rid of the false idea of the duet of parson and clerk, or parson
    and choir, or even parson and congregation. For example, it is far better that the psalms, when read, should be read as they are sung, from side to side,
    and not as a duet; that the lessons at Divine Service and at the Eucharist should be assigned to different persons ; that the first part of the Litany
    should be sung by clerks ; and that many other survivals of the old ideal be retained. And most of all it is desirable that the true ideal should be
    so clearly set before the congregation that it may become less of a cold critic of a ceremonial which it does not understand and perhaps dislikes, and more
    of an active and hearty participant in a great act of corporate and co-operative worship.” p. 41
  • “The Kyrie and Creed at the Eucharist, and the psalms in Divine Service, are the special parts which both can be made, and ought to be kept, congregational ; and where psalms are congregational there is great gain in singing them for ‘ Introit ‘ and ‘ Communion,’ as well as the best possible authority for doing so.” p. 47
  • “But when the congregation has its own part it must not grudge others their part, nor expect to follow or share in all that others are doing ; such an expectation is a very common cause of complaint on the part of the laity, and it results from the misconception of the idea of corporate worship. No one expects or demands that on the stage only one actor should move at a time ; and if this is not expected on the stage, where all is done for the benefit of the audience, and adapted to the spectator’s capacity for taking in the situation, far less is it to be demanded in religious ceremonial, which is done not for the benefit of the congregation, but for the honour of Almighty God ; and where, therefore, there is no need, as in the other case, that it should be adapted to the congregation at all, except so far as to be decorous and uplifting in its general effect.” pp. 47-8
  • “The Eucharist is one homogeneous and continuous action, and goes forward, if one may so say, like a drama; it has its prelude, its working up, its climax, its epilogue. The Divine Service has no such unity ; it has a series of different actions which are not necessarily closely connected, and might almost equally well be placed in any other order as in their existing order. If the Eucharist may be called, in regard to the nature of the structure of the service, a dramatic action, the Divine Service may be called by contrast meditative or reflective. But, great as is this difference of nature between the two, they are alike in their ideal of corporate worship, and alike in requiring that the whole body of the faithful should as far as possible, and in very various degrees, co-operate. And in both cases this work of worship done by the Church on earth is a work in co-operation with the heavenly hierarchies in their celestial worship, whether it is the definite sacrificial climax of the Eucharist or the subsidiary work of preparation and thanksgiving, which, properly speaking, is the essence of the Divine Service.” p. 48

5 thoughts on “Frere on Ceremonial, Part 1

  1. AKMA

    Gah — you, sensibly, linked to the web page; I can’t download it here in the UK unless you link to the download button itself. Maybe not even then, but I was hoping it might work.

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