WORSHIP AS A REVELATION
The Past, Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy Laurence Paul Hemming Burns & Oates, 192pp, pbk 978 0 860124 60 3, £14.99
I think my own interest in liturgical history began when I was a tiny boy learning how to serve in the Sung Mass at St James’ Church at Clacton-on-Sea, in the early Fifties. When the session was over, I began idly turning the pages in the English Missal. Before me there opened out a magical world of intricate complexity: vigils and octaves, commemorations and doubles-of-the-first-class; tables of concurrence and occurrence (little did I realize that one day I would reach the dizzy heights of compiling an ORDO) not to mention the various possibilities for combining prayers by Dr Cranmer with the Rite promulgated by St Pius V.
Less than two decades later, I found myself writing an essay, ‘How would you help your Incumbent to explain why his parishioners should adopt the rite of Series II?’ By now, I knew better than to wax eloquent on the commemorations to be added
to the Collect on a Sunday after Trinity and which of them should be sub una conclu-sione. Instead, I wrote a superb essay on the structural and euchological and rubrical simplicity, logic, and ‘primitive’ credentials of the new Eucharistic orders then being authorized. It must have been superb, because it received high marks, higher even than those achieved by my friend Dai Thomas (later to become Wales’s first and last Provincial Assistant Bishop; I got the Staggers Liturgy Prize and he got a mitre. I know which of these rewards I consider the more desirable).
Laurence Hemming’s book crystallizes feelings that have been growing: I now suspect that my instincts were sounder when I was an eleven-year-old than when I was an erudite twenty-six-year-old. Before the late Sixties, liturgical books were encrusted with the debris of centuries, full of cultural contradictions. Liturgical structures were ‘pointlessly’ complex and repetitious; one seemed only just to have finished confessing one’s sins with the prospect of forgiveness, when another bit of grovelling hit one from the pages of the altar book. The passages of Scripture seemed randomly chosen; not surprisingly, because any logic the ‘lectionary-system’ might once have possessed had been ‘disrupted’ by ‘dislocations’ more than a millennium before. So, in the late Sixties, how we welcomed a logical liturgy which we could explain with clarity to our educated congregations.
Things began to change a decade ago; for me, two writers stand out. Fr Aidan Nichols, a Roman Catholic Dominican, in his Looking at the Liturgy, torpedoed, well below the water-line, the whole concept of ‘Enlightenment’ Liturgy, according to which worship should be clear and logical and, above all, didactic; that it should be utilitarian, anthropocentric, and ethical. If you have not read it, I advise you to buy it now and do so. It is easy to read.
Among writers Fr Nichols mentions is an Anglican member of the ‘Radical Orthodoxy’ tendency, Catherine Pickstock, whose work was not consolidated into the form of a book until 1998. After Writing: on the liturgical consummation of Philosophy is a dense book and Pickstock is never afraid to coin new jargon of her own if nobody else has coined it for her. But with insight and erudition she demonstrates that the criticisms made of the classical Roman Rite by the previous generation of ‘modern liturgists’ are misguided and simplistic. With a methodology that would apply as much to Cranmer’s work as to the Roman Rite, she defends repetition, recommencements, and redundancy as indications of the oral nature of Liturgy, and writes interestingly about ‘Liturgical stammering’. Like Nichols, she believes that the ‘Enlightenment presuppositions which underlay the ‘reforms’ of Bugnini in the Roman Rite and of the Liturgical Commission in the Church of England are the errors of a generation ago; that the Liturgy of our own age requires a radically different attitude.
You could liken Nichols and Pickstock to gamblers who were betting on a colour which, in the person of Benedict XVI, has turned out to be a winner. Clergy now who want to be in the fashion of the moment are getting round to the West side of the altar again, and fishing maniples out of dusty drawers and peeping meditatively into long-disused altar books. Laurence Hemming’s Worship as a Revelation will reinforce their instincts and stimulate their thinking. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the way intelligent Roman Catholic liturgical writers are now going.
Let me select tasters to tempt you. (1) Hemming raises the question of the value of non-communicating attendance at Mass and questions ‘frequent communion without accompanying cat-echesis’. (2) Basing his argument on the work of our own Dom Gregory Dix , he makes a powerful case for the old form of the ‘Mass of the Presanctified’ on Good Friday. (3) He questions the modern preference for clean, uncluttered liturgical observances -one saint to be observed on one day, with no liturgical window for other saints or octave days or major ferias. I am reminded that our Tractarian Fathers were unworried when Lady Day coincided with Good Friday: their sermons simply combined the themes. A messy calendar is a gold mine of diachronic and synchronic allegiances and synthetic possibilities. (4) Hemming believes that Biblical Studies as taught at universities are bunkum. Quite rightly, he sees Liturgy as God’s Revelation and as taking precedence over Scripture; he establishes the centrality of Temple theology for Christian worship and draws on Margaret Barker to open up an Aladdin’s cave of new and exciting ways of doing Scripture.
Hemming argues that the post-conciliar reforms did not begin the problem. He sees the 1962 liturgical books as already deeply corrupted; Pius XII did no good at all to the Holy Week rites; even Good Pope Pius X in his alterations to Calendar and Breviary began the rot. I would go further: when Urban VIII in the 1620s had the Office Hymns rewritten in Augustan Latin, the first faltering steps were taken that led inexorably to the Age of Bugnini. To draw again upon Dix [Shape p. 588], the crucial turning point was the invention of printing. This made possible the instantaneous imposition of radically altered liturgical texts. It enabled Cranmer, in 1549, to defy the resistance of all but a narrow Protestant elite and to impose a novel liturgy more or less overnight on an entire country, and only three years later to impose a substantially different version of it.
Hemming, readers will be relieved to learn, proposes no new and immediate Liturgical Revolution. But his book is an important stage in the radical rethinking now in progress – a rethinking that is already affectingpraxw. The assumptions of the 1960s no longer rule the roost, although Piero Marini’s hagiographic tirade last year about St Bugnini suggests that the oldies, the liturgical hippies, aren’t giving up without a struggle. Yet such admirers of the revolutionaries of 1969 are ill placed to insist upon the immutability of a status quo.
AN ANGLICAN COVENANT
1 Theological and Legal 1 Considerations 1 for a Global Debate Norman Doe
Canterbury, 272pp, pbk 978 185311 904 0, £16.99
As we know, a Code of Practice could only possibly work if there were already a shared agreement about the essentials, and if there were a pre-existing foundation of trust between the two parties who would be working the code. Neither of these are the case within the Church of England over the issue of women bishops.
On this question, we are in solid agreement with the extreme liberals, at least about the irrelevance of a code. They argue that there is no need for one, since under the new dispensation there could not be (as a matter of justice and law) any permissable disagreement over women bishops, and any goodwill and generosity that was needed, for those who require a bit more time to adapt to the new reality, would already be on offer (and no code could add to it).
We argue that if the gap is unbridgeable – if a woman bishop is unacceptable not because she is a woman but because she is not a bishop – then no bridge or code can make any difference, and if history has already proved the truth of what the Manchester Report calls ‘a deficit of trust’, then again a code is powerless to change the facts on the ground.
So how is an Anglican Covenant any different? Proposed by the Windsor Report in 2004, this ‘Covenant for our Provinces’ has been circulating in a number of drafts and responses ever since. Could it act as a means or focus of unity for the Anglican Communion? Its real problem, as for a Code of Practice, is that it could only be sure of working if it were not needed, if the conditions it sought to achieve were already in existence.
If it is still a realistic prospect, this book is a valuable text book for the whole process. It has a full history of the proposals so far, a summary of the various responses, an evaluation of the arguments for and against its several aspects, and a comparison with other ecclesial and ecumenical parallels.
Take just one problem: amendment. How, in what circumstances, and by whom could an Anglican Covenant once accepted be amended? It cannot surely be the case that provinces would ratify a Covenant document over which they have no further control, ever. Not a great deal of work has been done on this. Fine words about a covenant evolving like a marriage are not very helpful: they may be true, but how is this effected in practical terms? This book devotes only two pages to this question.
Among the possible procedural models, it suggests the following ecumenical parallel, ‘The constitution of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches may be amended by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the delegates in attendance at any meeting of the General Council, providing the proposed amendment has been transmitted to each member church and to members of the Executive Committee, at least one year before it is submitted for approval.’ Hmm.
One of the problems of a Covenant is that it might only be acceptable if it were not needed. But even if it were accepted, would it not then require a whole new organizational complex in order to maintain it? We would move from talking about the falling apart of the Anglican Communion to talking about the fragmenting of the Anglican Covenant. It would become another thing-in-itself, one stage further removed from the Church.
HUMANAE VITAE FORTY YEARS ON
A New Commentary
Family Publications, 224pp, pbk
978 1871217 78 0, £8.95
The pontificate of Paul VI falls neatly into two portions: five years of vigorous activity, steering the Second Vatican Council to its close, reforming the perennial Roman liturgy almost as if it were his personal possession as successor of Peter, re-avowing priestly celibacy, and upholding the continuity of Catholic doctrine in the Credo of the People of God.
Then in 1968 came the cataclysm of Humanae Vitae, after which he never wrote another Encyclical, and retreated into a state of Hamlet-like indecision and nervous debility, as in his own words the smoke of Satan entered the sanctuary of the Church.
Commentators as eminent as Cardinal Martini and as erudite as Professor Nicholas Lash see Humanae Vitae as the fundamental cause of the perceived current crisis of authority in the Latin church. Withdrawing the question from the scrutiny of both the Council and the Synod of Bishops, setting aside the majority view of his own Commission, Paul VI took into his own hands the responsibility for deciding that the ban on artificial contraception should stand, and endured in his own person the bitter consequences of dissent and outrage which followed.
It is worth remembering how it was the Anglican Communion that first abandoned the previously universal Christian moral condemnation of artificial contraception at the Lambeth Conference in 1930. A succession of Protestant denominations did the same during the 1940s and 1950s, although as late as 1958 it was still illegal to send artificial contraceptives via the postal system in the USA, and even in 1964 their sale was banned in Massachusetts and their use a criminal offence in Connecticut (how did the Kennedys manage?).
What prompted the re-evaluation of the traditional doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church was the invention of an effective contraceptive pill in 1960, and the concurrent awareness of the global consequences of perceived over-population which Paul VI addressed in his Encyclical of 1967, Populorum Progressio.
The moral, doctrinal and legal history of the way in which Christian thinking about contraception has evolved is all set out in John T. Noonan’s magisterial and exhaustive work Contraception, republished in 1986. Woodall’s book does not purport to do the same. Instead it provides a new translation of the Encyclical with a parallel commentary to the text and a more general commentary appended to the end.
Both at the time and subsequently the reasoning shown in the Encyclical for the conclusion it reached has been seen as inadequate: for some, this has been the ground for their dissent; for others, a lacuna filled by the John Paul Us Theology of the Body. Woodall falls firmly into the latter camp, and there is much here not only on the teaching of the Encyclical itself, but also on the authority of the Magisterium which proposes it.
Things look rather different to us than to those who hoped for a relaxation in the discipline of the Church in the 1960s: underpopulated and ageing European nations impose ever-increasing tax and welfare burdens on the economic activity of the young, and the freedom given to women to control their fertility has meant that they are now required to fit in the exigencies of child care and nurture around the demands of the market. No one thinks that we have got marriage and family life right in the West, and it is perhaps most especially to a rueful Western audience that Fr Woodalls book will make most sense.
Three reservations stand out: firstly, many enthusiasts for Pope John Pauls Theology of the Body tend to over-egg the pudding in an embarrassing way which perhaps reflects a celibates-eye view of the quotidian marital experience. Is it really a sign of the contraceptive mentality to have separate bank accounts?
Secondly, the distinction pressed between avoiding conception by using natural methods and preventing it by using artificial ones still seems less straightforward to this reader than it does to Fr Woodall: in presenting the doctrine, the technical ingenuity of the preferred natural methods does seem as intent on preventing conception as some of the more straightforward artificial techniques.
Thirdly, it is puzzling and unsatisfactory to read the convoluted attempts to grade the Encyclical on a notional scale of Infallibility: having a Magisterium is meant to help, and for the status of the teaching to be still in some way unclear forty years after its publication is not a good advertisement for the authority behind it.
Edward Norman has pointed out that Anglicans have completely forgotten about the moral consequences of artificial contraception since 1930. This book will serve as a useful primer for those interested to know how Roman Catholics committed to the teaching of Humanae Vitae now defend it in the light of the last Popes exegesis. For Catholic Anglicans at least, this is of more than simply academic interest now.
GOD, GAYS AND THE CHURCH
Human Sexuality and Experience in Christian Thinking Edited by Lisa Nolland et al.
Latimer Trust, 250pp, pbk 978 0 9463079 3 7, £9.99
Back in my thirties, as a lecturer in Christian Ethics, I was particularly interested in the challenges of sexual ethics. Though this area rarely came up in lectures, they were the overriding personal concern of the undergraduates I was teaching. What did the Church have to say to a pre-Aids, contraceptive-using generation of young people? It was endlessly fascinating helping them through their dilemmas and temptations and confusions. Thirty years later, and it has all got a lot more political and a lot nastier, and I am also a good deal older. Frankly, my dear, it is hard to give a damn.
Thirty years ago, the questions and answers were personal. Sexual ethics was part of growing up, a means of establishing personal identity, of filling in the elements of a self definition, somehow avoiding the tired (pre-contraceptive) mantras of older generations or the casual amorality of dull secularists. I would still maintain that the careful consideration of sexual ethics was a major element of evangelization; it was part of the proclamation of the Christian Gospel to intelligent young people. It was a genuine challenge: I can still remember my first ‘abortion crisis’, so vividly that I could probably paint the young woman from memory, though I have not seen her for decades. The Church had something real to offer, a demanding morality perhaps but a deeper understanding of the human condition that lazy ‘situation ethics’ I simply did not answer.
Then it was personal: I now it is political. I don’t I doubt that young people still have to work out their own moral behaviour, but the issues have taken on a more abstract I flavour – justice, rights, I equality – that require adherence but allow for I little discussion. It is into I this altered context that this strange book is introduced.
I found it oddly troubling, while at the same time being impressed that it was prepared to tackle issues more generally regarded as outside the realm of discussion. It is a collection of essays, mostly from America with added British input, about various aspects of gay sexuality, experience and morality, largely from an Evangelical perspective. It is in other words for those who are genuinely – and personally- concerned with such issues. Not me, nor those like me, who do not actually give a damn.
The personal testimony of an anonymous young woman who describes herself as ‘post-lesbian’ was, to me, somewhat creepy and unconvincing, and almost voyeuristic. The more abstract and non-personal article ‘Unexpected consequences: the sex-ualization of youth’ was excellent – challenging and creepy in an entirely different way. This mix of sociological analysis and the counter-cultural personal experience makes for a powerful and unsettling book.
It is not for me, nor for most people, but for younger people, personally troubled by what one writer has correctly diagnosed as ‘the paradox at the heart of gay culture’, and personally challenged by the Lord Jesus and his higher vision of the human person, created in the image of his Father, then it may well be extremely helpful. I am glad it has been written (for others).