Christopher Smith realizes that he would have been regarded by some as having moved away from ‘Scriptural Truth and Primitive Rites’
For the amusement of visitors, there hangs in my downstairs loo a photocopy of a page from a magazine called The Rock dated 12 May 1882. The Rock was one of a number of Christian journals that sprang up in the mid-nineteenth century, of which the Church Times is about the only survivor. The Church Times was established in 1863, the same year as the consecration of St Alban’s Holborn, and set itself to be the journal of the High Church party, but The Rock came from an aggressively Protestant stable. Somehow or other – I don’t think I’ve ever asked him how – that page from The Rock came to be framed on the wall of the flat of my college chaplain, Fr Jeremy Sheehy, and one day I asked to borrow it and photocopy it, so it is possible that priests and people in Manchester diocese may have seen it in a downstairs loo there, too!
The page in question is headed,‘The Centigrade Ritualometer’, and it takes a dim view of ritual practices going on in churches like ours. By degrees, ritual activities are more and more disapproved of, until ‘Scriptural Truth and Primitive Rites’ (0°) eventually gives way to ‘Rome’ (100°). It’s interesting and amusing in all sorts of ways, not least because of how different priorities seemed to be then from now. Quite significant on the way up, at about 17°C, and marked out in capital letters, is ‘HYMNS ANCIENT AND MODERN’. The accompanying text warns that, ‘Not until the absolutely false and pernicious teaching of Hymns Ancient and Modern is publicly avowed, and if not proclaimed from the pulpit, carolled from the chancel, is a really serious well-marked advance of error made’. I wonder what they would have made of the English Hymnal when it was published in 1906.
‘Procession of choir and clergy’ only gets you to about 5° (a little extra for including a processional hymn), but ‘Longer route for procession’ takes you to 10°. I thought of that at our Patronal Festival recently, when the beautiful Victorian banners also got an outing (18°), and we might be said to have laid on ‘Excessive Music’ (47°). Quite why ‘Offertory bags’ are in the twenties centigrade I don’t know, but I now feel I ought to introduce them (since we have baskets), and there are some things on the scale that have lost their significance with the changes in Catholic practice in the last half-century, like ‘Evening Communion abandoned’ (12°) and ‘Crossing at End of Creeds’ (45°). And one of those capitalised key moments, the next one up from ‘CROSS ON “ALTAR”’, is ‘SEPARATION OF SEXES’. It has, I imagine, been a very long time since any church in England requested or required that of its congregation, but in 1882 the practice registered at only 42°.
And I am always intrigued by what appears to be the tipping point for The Rock. At about 55°, again in block capitals, comes ‘NO PRAYER BEFORE SERMON’. Why such a big deal? In the Prayer Book, what immediately preceded the sermon was ‘Briefs, Citations and Excommunications’! But in the article’s text we read that from the time when this dangerous staging post is reached, ‘Henceforth no concealment is or can be necessary, and with increased speed, further progress is made, till the customary prayer before the sermon is discarded. At this point, some breathing time is usually necessary, for here is the very distinctly marked and rarely mistakable advent of unconcealed false teaching.’ Very quickly now flows ‘sacramentalism undisguised’, as church life is corrupted by guilds and sisterhoods (if only!), coloured altar cloths and eucharistic vestments (68°), wafer bread (75°), and (the last of the capitalised stages, at about 82°) INCENSE. Another degree and we arrive at ‘Entire Congregation Spectators at Mass’, which it really shouldn’t be nowadays, although from the priest’s point of view it occasionally feels like it, then Masses for the Dead, Confession, Transubstantiation, Purgatory and the Reserved Sacrament.
Where, then, is your church on the Centigrade Ritualometer? To be at 100° you must have gone to Rome, but you may find, having got there, that ‘Communion in one kind’ (99°) was put away in favour giving people the chalice some years ago. How times, and priorities, change. Nowadays you might find many of the externals that so exercised The Rock in all manner of CofE churches, but none of the theology, none of the teaching, that make a church ‘Catholic’. Nowadays, it seems to me, you need to know what underlies the teaching rather than relying on what you see. But that’s why we have SSC and our Society Bishops!
On the subject of patronal festivals, I recall a conversation with a friend a few years ago about the special hymns we sing at the celebrations on our feast days – you know the sort of thing, the ones peculiar to the parish and not in any hymn book. We have one about St Alban, Laud the grace of God victorious. We tend to know it by the name of its tune, Craggy Way, taken from the third verse:
Craggy way and steep and narrow,
Dark and drear the path of blood;
Cruel foes were pressing round him
As he touched the Jordan’s flood,
Yet he fought, a soldier valiant,
And the enemy withstood.
Like an ugly baby in the eyes of its parents, we think it’s beautiful. I just wonder, following that conversation long ago, whether it might be worth getting these hymns together to ensure that they don’t fall by the wayside. If anybody wants to email me with theirs, and its special tune if it has one, I can be contacted through the New Directions email or the St Alban’s Holborn website. Who knows – maybe the publisher of the pernicious Hymns Ancient and Modern would be interested!