THE ROMAN OPTION, Crisis and the Realignment of English-Speaking Christianity, William Oddie, HarperCollins, London 1997,xii+256pp, hbk, ISBN 000-628064-1, pbk, ISBN 000-628065-X, £16.99 (hbk)
YOU GET what you would expect from The Roman Option. The author of What Will Happen to God? and The Crockford’s File produces another of those books that you will all buy. Put it next to Michael Watts’ Through a Glass Darkly, Rob Marshall’s Never the Same Again and Joanna Bogle’s Come on In…It’s Awful and sit back and dream of the Roman Option that never was.
William Oddie, no doubt celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Crockford’s affair, set out to write a history of ‘the Catholic moment’, when the Anglo-Catholic movement walked straight through the ‘no’ lobbies of Church House, pushed past the champagne party in Dean’s Yard, turned their backs on Westminster Abbey, and, heading down Victoria Street, went into Westminster Cathedral. The Roman Catholic Church, in that ‘Catholic moment’, would have gained another 2,000 priests, as well as the not inconsiderable Anglo-Catholic laity. Meanwhile the Church of England, re-invigorated by the infusion of women ministers and the new possibilities of pan-Protestant dialogue, would have been ready to become as dynamically the Reformed Church of the nation as the Roman Catholic Church had become England’s Catholic Church.
‘This could be’, said Cardinal Hume, ‘a big moment of grace… the conversion of England for which we have prayed all these years’. As we know, this was either a romantic illusion or it was a prophecy that was bungled. If Oddie is to be believed, it was a bungled prophecy and it was the English Roman Catholic bishops who bungled it whilst, for once, the Vatican was ahead of things and urged the bishops to think imaginatively and apostolically. ‘What are the English bishops afraid of?’, Cardinal Ratzinger is reported as saying. Certainly we Anglo-Catholics were amazed that Cardinal Hume, whose religious authority regularly overawes the press, apparently could not get his fellow bishops to see things his way.
What is extraordinary about this book – and this is why you will buy it – is its inside information. I have it on good authority that the inside information about Roman Catholics talking to Anglicans is accurate, though I am not well enough connected to know whether the same can be said of the description of what Roman Catholics said to Roman Catholics. Nevertheless this is as near as we will get to a historical record of those heady days in 1993, leading up to the Low Week statement of the Roman Catholic Bishops, which some Anglo-Catholics found to be very disappointing indeed.
There were two things which I think are explored inadequately in this book. Not enough is made of the discussion of conditional ordination which, as is well-known, was the type of ordination which Dr Graham Leonard, former Bishop of London, received. Similarly there is not much, if any, discussion of one of the features of Anglo-Catholicism which make Roman Catholics very nervous, namely moral theology. Cardinal Hume is reported (not in this book, however) as saying that he can accept married priests and celibate priests but not those in between. Leaving that aside, there are Anglo-Catholic parishes which include divorced and remarried communicants, and even divorced and remarried former Roman Catholic communicants. Anglo-Catholic priests may be very dismissive of doctrinal liberalism but they are often liberal in their ethical opinions and pastoral practice, to the extent that moral theology has been a particular area of study for Anglo-Catholic priests recently converting to Rome.
Dr Oddie writes entertainingly: his polemic is measured and often gracious. He has a deep respect for Dr Carey, for instance, and sees him as almost a religious genius (p 216), acting as bulwark against moral relativism. Dr Carey is also the one, thinks Oddie, who could bring together liberal Protestants. Oddie has less time for some of the Roman Catholic bishops. There is the one, for instance, who turned down an Anglican priest who wanted to bring his whole congregation with him. (Was this, one wonders, one of those instances of Roman Catholic bishops being ‘collegial’ not only with each other but also with their Anglican colleagues? If so, was what ‘our’ bishops told ‘theirs’ the real reason why the ‘Roman Option’ belly-flopped? I digress.) There is another bishop, Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, who, according to Oddie, was sympathetic to the feminist agenda and hostile to opponents of the priesting of women. Hollis apparently said to some of his clergy, ‘Basil tends to go over the top rather: we had to claw him back from the edge of the precipice’ (p119).
In The Roman Option Oddie is not critical of his new Church, beyond suggesting that Roman Catholics do not understand Anglo-Catholics and that Tablet readers have a series of agendas which would not be furthered were Rome to give a home to the black-suited troglodytes of the Societas Sanctae Crucis. He is accused by some of having packed his soap-box on the removal van and is anxious to rebut claims that he is right-wing (if anything I am more left-wing politically now I’m a Catholic, he says). Nor is he part of a right wing conspiracy of writers, he says, trying to bring about the downfall of the Church of England as the national Church (the writers named, says Oddie, hardly know each other). He is not even a member of the Tridentine Mass lobby (he attends the modern mass quite happily, he says), though he does enthuse about the Miles Coverdale translation of the Roman Canon, the best vernacular version there is, and provides it as an appendix.
He is clearly disappointed that a corporate response to the dilemma of the Anglo-Catholics has so far eluded Rome and, perhaps unusually for a convert (and perhaps because he has not become a Roman Catholic priest), he continues to speak up for members of his former community:
The assumption that Catholic Anglicans would carry on with their quarrelsome ways after reception into the Catholic Church showed a complete lack of understanding of what it was that had made them so difficult in the first place. Roman Catholic experience of the Anglican clergy who have so far come is that those who as Anglicans showed the greatest and most effective resistance to the Establishment have turned out to be the most loyal and obedient Catholic clergy. (p237)
I must say, I too have heard that Fr Peter Geldard, leader of the Catholic Group in Synod in 1992, is quietly and happily toiling as a Roman Catholic priest in Kent. I should be very surprised were he were involved any more in ecclesiastical politics.
William Oddie has not given up on the ‘Roman Option’. As a journalist he has kept in touch with recent Anglican developments – notably Porvoo and its challenge to the Catholic doctrine of apostolicity and the Kuala Lumpur statement and its challenge to the liberal agenda – and he shows his understanding of the politics of the campaign to create an orthodox Anglican province in the British Isles. He describes the ‘Pastoral Provision’ made by the Holy See for traditionalists in the USA in the early 1980s and gently challenges Cardinal Hume’s account, in November 1993, of why that ‘Pastoral Provision’ would not work in England.
There is the fear of English Roman Catholics being swamped by converts from Anglo-Catholicism. There is the perception that the ‘Pastoral Provision’ would work only in a much larger country. There is the suggestion that the ‘Pastoral Provision’ was too small an experiment to have given reliable results predicting future performance of the scheme. Finally there is the perception that, whereas American Episcopalians would be able to bring their church buildings with them, English Anglicans would not. Dr Oddie takes issue with the Cardinal on some of these points and thinks that the shared building agreement, as, for instance at St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road, is the way to accommodate former Anglo-Catholic congregations, without requiring that their members submit one by one to Rome and are required, one by one, to join congregations whose culture will inevitably feel very strange. There is certainly the matter of inculturation and it has not been best practice that Roman Catholics have tried to persuade Anglicans that to become Roman Catholics they must join a new culture. (Elsewhere in the world the Roman Catholic Church is trying strenuously to make links with existing cultures).
Time will tell whether the ‘Roman Option’ really is dead and gone and, indeed, whether it ever existed as more than a temporary administrative facility given by Rome to the hierarchy of England and Wales to receive convert married clergy without referring them severally to Rome. Time will also tell whether Anglo-Catholics, with their flying bishops, have any future at all in the Church of England. The next ‘Catholic moment’ no doubt will be when the Church of England consecrates women to the episcopate, as it must surely do soon. At that point, present provision for Anglo-Catholics finally collapses into incoherence, if it has not already done so, and we must hope that, this time, someone is ready with a plan for realignment that will give Catholicism in England the vitality that Evangelicalism currently enjoys. Something like that must happen if only because, for so many of us, it is a matter of conviction that the future is Catholic. Interestingly, the man who did most to keep Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England holds the same conviction, as he tells us in Confessions of a Conservative Liberal…
Andrew Burnham is Vice-Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.
THE NARRATIVES OF GOTHIC STAINED GLASS, Wolfgang Kemp, translated by Caroline Dobson Saltzwedel, Cambridge University Press, 1997, 260pp, hbk, ISBN 0-521-43240-5, £45.
THIS WELL-ARGUED and widely ranging book examines in very close detail barely a dozen windows from a handful of cathedrals in Northern France made during the first quarter of the thirteenth century. The period witnessed a unique proliferation of stained glass windows depicting in a sequence of images the lives of saints, certain parables or other biblical stories. Such narrative cycles were arranged within a physical armature system which broke up a single lancet into an ordered structure of quatrefoils or similar forms. This structure was exploited to produce a richly overlapping symmetrical texture of analogies and contrasts of both pictorial form and narrative event. In some of the windows an additional typological element was woven into the composition but Kemp is primarily concerned with those which are purely narratological and at the centre of this group is the Prodigal Son window at Chartres Cathedral.
In common with many windows depicting the lives of saints, there is a surprising emphasis on worldly life in the Chartrain Prodigal Son window. Over half of the panels are concerned with the protagonist’s life among the prostitutes and tavern gamblers, a characteristic which brings it close to the vernacular poetry of the period and suggests that the biblical text was not the primary source. Kemp draws convincing parallels between the gestural language of the windows and that of the jongleur, the street performer whose interpretations of biblical stories rivalled those of the clergy in much the same way as did the lay-preaching of translated scripture. Important here is the condition of ‘intertextuality’ where narrative media could very freely elaborate the old themes, transpose them on to different levels of tone and style, and exchange different techniques and accomplishments among themselves.
If the windows’ content and style owed something to vernacular, secular culture their structure had affinities with the clerical world of rhetoric, mnemonics and logic. This was an era which witnessed the highest achievement of philosophical logic and this logic was being developed for preaching purposes and internalized as a new structural doctrine by the same people who were responsible for the composition of…church windows. In addition to the vitrearii and their clerical advisors, the appearance and content of the windows was shaped by the donors who paid for them. For the first time, guilds were permitted to donate windows, imposing their tastes upon a Church which sought to overcome heretical competitors partly by celebrating more masses and building more altars. For Kemp stained glass becomes the focal point of contemporary trends.
The Prodigal Son window is exceptional for its lack of ‘signature’ panels depicting either an aristocratic donor or the activities of a trade and Kemp advances the startling hypothesis that it was paid for by the city’s prostitutes. Attempts by this wealthy and organised group to offer gifts to the Church were the subject of some debate among theologians as was their presence in the great cathedrals. Unable to portray themselves in a signature panel, is their appearance within the narrative to be measured against the gross self-advertisement of the wine-criers and vintners who littered the Cathedral’s St Lubin window with their own image?
Among the issues raised is the faithfulness of Christian art to its ultimate Biblical source and the degree to which theologians should attempt to police it. Kemp himself is fascinated by narrative as a phenomenon and considers stained glass to be the only medium of monumental proportions that was able to realize extended cycles in the Middle Ages by using a continuous and consecutive style. It probably contributed more than any other medium to the construction of a new textuality of the image. There was not as yet the psychological and topographical realism of Trecento painting but a realism of sequence and of logic single out these windows as a great landmark in the history of narrative. Neatly finished sequences practically never occur in art before this time yet from this point onwards an entire story becomes visible, independent of the text.
This work will primarily interest professional art historians and students who cannot read German, the language in which it was written in 1987. Apart from a curling dust-jacket, the book is well-produced. The 84 illustrations are all in black and white, a choice which might seem perverse but which reflects the author’s desire to refute the view that stained glass was all about light and colour and incapable of any ordered exposition of subject matter. Less explicable is the use of line drawings rather than photographs to illustrate some windows but they are conveniently placed within the text and the accompanying diagrams aid understanding considerably. The American editorial board of Cambridge Studies in New Art History and Criticism seeks to provide a forum for works that represent new approaches to the study of the visual arts and Kemp’s language and style may aggravate some readers. The translation reads well, despite American spelling, but the density of the writing and the use of semiotics jargon make it hard work. The argument is never superficial, however, and is well researched. The author is wary of drawing too many unequivocal conclusions and some of his hypotheses may be disproved as scholarship in the field progresses. Regrettably, few writers have commented on this book in the ten years since it first appeared, possibly because Kemp is not a medieval specialist. The 1993 Corpus Vitrearum volume on Chartres blandly footnotes its existence, taking on board some of the less contentious points while failing in any way to engage with the arguments head on. Perhaps its publication in English will break the silence.
Stephen Jackson is a curator in the Ceramics and Glass Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum and has responsibility for the collection of stained glass.
IMMORTAL LONGINGS, Versions of Transcending Humanity, Fergus Kerr, SPCK, 1997 pp x + 213, £12.99
IN THOSE blistering commentaries on the nature of human existence that will surely never be superseded in their wisdom, poignancy and passion, Job addresses his God thus:
his days are determined, and the number of his months is with thee, and thou has appointed his bounds that he cannot pass. [14:5]
Thus it is not only that Man’s days are numbered, not only that they are filled with trouble but more so that the creature’s very existence is one of coming-up-against-bounds in all aspects of its life. This is the creature’s very enigma; its captivity in finitude as the philosophers will tell us. But as the creature is mired in its own finitude, so is it also sick with, or afflicted with dreams of a ‘beyond’, of a passion or power to transcend this mortal realm. We entertain desires to reach beyond ourselves, but more so we only ever reach beyond ourselves in entertaining such desires. This experience, and the stories we have told about it are as old as the hills. In Augustine the powerful currents of Pauline eschatological expectation flowed together with the Greek philosophical tradition in which the highest activity of the human mind – the creature in transcendence – was the practice of theoria; contemplation of the eternal verities. The fusion of these two currents was to yield a language and practice for interpreting the enigma of our finitude for centuries to come. But it should be noted that what stood at the heart of Augustine’s understanding of transcendence was not intellectual speculation but the cultivation of habits of prayerfulness.
Of late philosophers freed from the arid deserts of positivism and the pieties associated with ‘religious experience’ have, in a surprising way, began to attend once more to the experience and meaning of human transcendence; and – in a still more surprising way – have deployed again religious motifs – whether consciously or sub-consciously – to help their investigations along. A healthy catholic Christianity, on the look out for the signs of the times – fragile and elusive as they may be (but what was the ‘Diana phenomena’ all about?) – should not worry unduly about exploiting this opportunity. And this, in short, is what Fergus Kerr OP set out to do in his Stanton Lectures in the Philosophy of Religion delivered in the University of Cambridge in 1994-95.
Kerr is a keen critic and a fine theologian and while one could quibble over many points of his interpretation the execution of the task is exhilarating indeed. Kerr sets out to investigate the resurgence of the idea of human transcendence in a series of contemporary philosophers. Thus by chapter he engages with the work of Martin Heidegger, Iris Murdoch, Luce Irigaray, Stanley Cavell, Charles Taylor. These are all ‘big names’, whose philosophical reflections have and are having much influence upon contemporary academic debates today. Some of these philosophers are sympathetic to Christianity, some opposed and some – and this is perhaps the most interesting category – are doing remarkable things with the language and logic of the Great Tradition. All are investigated for the way in which they deal with our ‘immortal longings’ and in four out of six cases are gently reproved for entertaining rather too self-confident accounts of human transcendence.
Kerr’s argument is topped and tailed with Karl Barth (Chapter 2) and Rahner and Balthasar (Chapter 8). The movement it would seem is to some sort of renewed account of our natural desire for God. Kerr’s last chapter is particularly interesting in that he takes Rahner’s side against Balthasar in a debate (along of course with Barth) that has massively dominated twentieth century theology. But why buy this book, more settle down to read it?
A first reason would be its remarkable cover! One cannot help feeling that if SPCK set about producing all its books in this way then its sales would accelerate. But much more to the point Kerr’s book is an education in a theme which is fundamental to our very nature. What does it mean to talk of transcendence? What does this ineliminable experience of longing, of that ‘yearning that makes the heart deep’, tell us about ourselves and ultimately about God? These are themes that cannot be neglected, indeed the good health of theology may in part comprise in listening to what others outside of its fold have to say here and now. Theology should listen well – as Kerr does – but remember also that it has a particular gift to bring to its reflections – and that is the practice of a contemplative desire. This is what Augustine called the docta ignorati – that ‘educated ignorance’ in which our deepest longings for transcendence are met and formed into a Christ-like life.
David Moss in Director of Studies at St Stephen’s House.
PROPAGANDA AND SUBVERSION IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, R A Mason, SPCK 1997, ISBN 0-281-054015
THE SECOND Book of Samuel begins with the account of the death of Saul and Jonathan in the battle of Mount Gilboa. Within this account there is the moving lament of David over the death of the two men. We are told that the lament was written in the Book of Jashar and that it was to be taught to the people. But why should a poem lamenting the end through death of a beautiful friendship be of such importance? The immediate context of the poem suggests an answer. By killing the unfortunate Amalekite who brought what was undoubtedly for David the welcome news of Saul’s death, David sought to distance himself from the event and its repercussions. In other words the whole account and the lament within it was a piece of political propaganda designed to forestall adverse reaction on the part of Saul’s family and supporters. In any event, it seemed to have worked, for we hear of the Elders of Israel coming to Hebron to offer kingship to David. But this is not the only motive behind the account: much later an author or authors who came to compile a History of Israel and Judah incorporated the story for their own purposes. This History which runs from the Book of Deuteronomy to the end of the Second Book of Kings was written, at least in its final form, to explain why the Jews found themselves in Exile in Babylon without temple or king. The Historian saw David as the ideal king whose descendants were to rule Judah for ever. Here was a message of hope which needed the unsullied picture of David’s rise to power. This too, was political propaganda combined with an ideology of kingship which was later to transform itself for propaganda and ideological purposes into Messianism.
The influence of politics and ideology upon the literature of the Old Testament has long been recognized and has been highlighted in such works as R E Clement’s Abraham and David (SCM) and Moreton Smith’s Palestinian Parties and Politics that shaped the Old Testament (Columbia University Press 1971), among others. However, over the past decade or so there has been a renewed interest in political propaganda (and subversion) in the literature of the Old Testament. The tradition, Judean, Israelite and Priestly, of the Pentateuch, have been studied from the point of view of their political content by the American scholars Robert Coole and David Oud (various 1990-1991). More recently there has been the renewed debate about the early history of Israel in Marc Zvi Brettlen The Creation of History in Ancient Israel (Routledge 1995) and in Keith Whitelam’s The Invention of Ancient Israel which carries the ominously contemporary sub-title The Suppression of Palestinian History (Routledge 1995).
However all these books and monographs together with contributions to learned journals deal with particular biblical books or with more specific areas interest. As such they have been of interest to scholars and students of the Old Testament.
In Propaganda and Subversion in the Old Testament Dr Rex Mason, who is currently President of the Society for Old Testament Study, has written a wider and ‘systematic’ study of the ‘theo-politics’ behind and within the Old Testament. Dr Mason’s contribution to this field of interest will be essential reading for students and scholars alike, and they will find the detailed notes at the end of the book a mine of information for further study. But Dr Mason’s lucid style will appeal to a wider readership for whom it will undoubtedly bring life to the arcane pages of the Old Testament.
Dr Mason has in effect offered us a handbook to this fascinating subject covering in turn Israel’s varied traditions and institutions. He begins with a detailed study of propaganda and subversion in the wider field of the ancient Near East, that is, among Israel’s neighbours. Propaganda and subversion, he argues, is not simply to do with the cut and thrust of politics, but also involves sociological and religious institutions (p 8). Of course in Israel, as elsewhere in the Ancient Near East, these illustrations were very much inter-related. The following chapters deal in turn with priestly propaganda, the propaganda and subversion to be found in the writings of those who held the principles of the Book of Deuteronomy, and then the subversive roles of the prophets and visionaries [the latter have been much debated since Paul A Hansen’s theory of conflict between Priests and the Visionary success as to the prophets forward in his Dawn of Apocalyptic (Fortress Press 1975)].
The only (minor) criticism this teacher of Old Testament texts has is that Dr Mason’s book does not contain a biblical Reference Index requiring it to be read from beginning to end, but that has been an informing and enjoyable exercise, and much to be commended to scholars, students and lay folk alike.
John Davis is Vicar of New Hinksey and South Hinksey, Oxford, and teaches Old Testament studies at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.
REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY IN NRSV, Sundays and Festivals, Principal Service Lectionary of the Church of England, Mowbray, Cassell, London, xiii + 1266 pp, ISBN 0-304-33697-1 (lectern edition), 0-264-67457-X (pew edition), 0-264-67456-1, (CD-ROM)
THE NEW Church of England Sunday Lectionary (RCL NRSV) is not only an immeasurable improvement on the ASB Lectionary but even, I think, a slight improvement on the 1969 Roman Lectionary. Much ground was lost, it could be argued, when the Catholics in General Synod failed to persuade the General Synod of the 1970s to adopt the new three-year Roman lectionary, which was already proving itself ecumenically amongst those not allergic to the adjective ‘Roman’.
It could also be argued that the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) of 1992 was worth waiting for. For evangelicals its additional provision makes it suitable for a ‘principal service’ which is not eucharistic. For liberals there is an extra track of Old Testament readings which allow the Old Testament to be read in its own right, without making it complement the Gospel. (It could be argued, however, that, if it does not complement the Gospel, there is little point in reading the Old Testament at the Eucharist). For catholics there is the essence of the Roman Lectionary (though the two lectionaries are not as close as is sometimes believed), with additional provision and many of the advantages a revision affords.
The Church of England has not taken over the RCL itself without alteration. Though there was a decision not to so alter its provision that the lectionary could no longer be called the RCL, there are occasional adjustments: altogether something approaching 150 new lessons are added, some of them as alternatives, some as provision for festivals and days beyond the scope of the RCL. On the Second Sunday before Lent, in all three years, there are new Creation readings, in recognition of the lack of Creation material in the RCL (which was out before the Celtic craze consumed us). Eight of only 17 readings from Revelation have been added by the Church of England. John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery, is not in the RCL, though it becomes the alternative Church of England gospel for Ash Wednesday on all three years. Much of this is gain.
Hodder and Stoughton are publishing an NIV version of the Lectionary, which will suit Anglicans who prefer to believe that the Apocrypha does not exist. Though catholics may long for the Revised Standard Version, they will find, in my view, that after twenty years’ public reading of the Jerusalem Bible, the NRSV is stylish. There are, of course, some places where its inclusive language would distort, or at least change, the meaning. It will be necessary to keep an RSV nearby to resort to at these points. When I used the NRSV at the parish mass for two years, I backed it up with the AV at certain times, particularly Christmas.
The Mowbrays lectionary product is in some ways a first draft. It would have benefited from more passionate editing and no doubt we shall be seeing a second edition before 2002 (see below). In the hope that this and other reviews will assist the publishers in the process of planning a second edition, the following remarks are offered. My suggestion is to buy the lectern edition but not the pew edition, and certainly not a pew edition for every pew.
There are some obvious inaccuracies. I cannot believe note 7 on page xiii. It tells me that St John the Evangelist may be transferred from 27 December 1998 to Friday 12 June 1999. Come to think of it, the plain sense of that note (and pari passu other notes) is that the First Sunday of Christmas is on a Friday: ‘[First Sunday of Christmasl Kept as St John the Evangelist unless transferred to Friday 12 June]’. It would help if the notes were in clear English and the mistakes removed.
‘Calendar’ (pp xi ff) gives us the dates of Sundays year by year up to 2002, whereas the official Church of England Calendar, Lectionary and Collectsgives us dates until 2025. This suggests a short shelf-life for RCL NRSV and makes it an expensive item.
There are typographic disappointments too. The Church of England has developed a Calendar house style which is not a publishing decision of Church House Publishing but an intrinsic part of the General Synod report on Calendar, Lectionary and Collects. We need to learn it: Principal Feasts and other Principal Holy Days are printed in BOLD UPPER CASE. Festivals are printed in Bold typeface; other Sundays (for some reason) and Lesser Festivals (logically) are printed in ordinary roman typeface. Commemorations are printed in italics. Whereas the Church of England Calendar gives us THE EPIPHANY and The Baptism of Christ, the RCL NRSV Calendar gives us more than one type, including The Epiphany and The Baptism of Christ and, for that matter, Easter Day in one of the lists. How will we ever learn the system?
The lay-out of the readings gives us a space between every verse, regardless of sense. It is not a mistake that my copy of the NRSV Bible makes and it won’t help public reading. Nor will it help singing of the Gospel (now making a come-back). For singing it is the punctuation and not the break between verses which needs to be highlighted. Nevertheless, the presbyopic will find the typeface itself helpful: I can read the RCL NRSV lectern edition without my glasses, and that’s a blessing.
There is an introduction to each reading – ‘A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans’, ‘Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew’ – but no conclusion. The cunning will infer that the Church of England has not yet finally decided every detail of its eucharistic rites and that, whereas ‘A reading from…’ and ‘Hear the gospel of…’ are likely runners, there is some doubt as to whether ‘This is the Word of the Lord’ and ‘This is the Gospel of the Lord’ will prevail over ICEL’s ‘The Word of the Lord’ and ASB’s ‘This is the Gospel of Christ’. No doubt, with no endings given, there will sometimes be no ending and sometimes unusual endings. Plus ca change…
Since most of the readings will be used at sung eucharists, I was surprised to find no alleluia verses. The Roman rite permits the omission of alleluia verses when they would be said rather than sung, indeed is likely in the new English Sacramentary to require that alleluia verses are omitted if they are not to be sung. The provision of alleluia verses, if it were only a selection of fifty or a hundred printed together in the middle of the volume, would have been very helpful, not least in the rediscovery of the alleluia verse of which the rubrics of Rite 1 give a hint.
I must complain too about the psalms. The decision was taken to use the ECUSA psalter, ‘adjusted to comply with British orthography and inclusivized with reference to human beings by the Society of Saint Francis’ (page iv). The attractions of this psalter are clear. It is copyright-free (cheap to publish therefore). It is being tested in that popular field trial, Celebrating Common Prayer. It has enough resonances of Coverdale to please the English ear, yet it is not close enough to Coverdale to infuriate. (Close relations are usually more infuriating than distant ones). Yet I am not sure that it is wise to suggest that this psalter will be the liturgical psalter of the future. We do not yet know. In my view it would have been far better either to have used the Grail version (and thus attracted Anglo-Catholics to move on from the 1969 Lectionary to the RCL) or, since this is a temporary publication, run a field trial for the new ICEL psalter (which, since it will probably be used by Roman Catholics soon, deserves our attention).
Since Lent, Holy Week and Easter, the Church of England has made a mess of responsorial psalmody, and the practice is again misunderstood here. Some musical expertise is needed. Take Psalm 116, for instance (p 164). It is typical of many. The response is required after one verse, then after three verses, then after two verses, then after three verses. Not only will a congregation, hearing the psalm read, not be able to judge naturally when the response is due, but a musical setting of the verses (whatever the method of chant used) would require irregular line lengths and ingenious pointing and would still sound unrhythmic. The first thing a musician would do in setting the psalm would be to put the responses in different places: after the second, fourth, sixth and eight verses. Half the chant would then be needed for the ninth verse before the final response. The great gain rhythmically would outweigh any slight loss of meaning. This is an improvement on what has been provided hitherto. The device of bracketing a second line allows musicians to set two lines – a musical sentence – whilst requiring of congregations at said masses only the ability to memorize one.
RCL NRSV is certainly worth a try. Ignore its psalms for sung masses and continue with the psalms and alleluia verses you already use. For said masses, use the psalms but pencil in the response indications either after every two verses throughout a psalm, or after every three verses throughout a psalm, as the sense suggests. Avoid Track One Old Testament readings in Ordinary Time, the series of Old Testament readings given as alternatives for Sundays in Eastertide and Old Testament alternatives to apocrypha readings. In the ‘Festivals’ sections (pp 1059-1154 and 1219-1252) remember that, in catholic usage, only one of the two readings before the Gospel is needed, except for 1 January, 19 March, 25 March, 23 April, 24 June, 29 June, 15 August, and 6 August and 14 September on Sundays. You will find Thanksgiving for Holy Communion (Corpus Christi) (pp 261ff) but nothing for All Souls’ Day. For most weekdays you will still need the Roman Lectionary.
Management of liturgical change is a complicated task. With hindsight I think we should have gone a bit slower. Had the new Calendar, Lectionary and Collects been authorised by the House of Bishops from Advent 1998, rather than from Advent 1997, we should be starting properly with Year A. We should then have had time to produce, as a separate report, a weekday lectionary, which the Synod Publishing Group might then have bound up with the Sunday and Festivals provision. The lack of weekday provision, in my view, is endangering the successful entry into orbit of the Sunday and Festivals provision: the clergy need a complete system and are complaining that they do not understand what is being provided. What is worse, some of the published almanac material is at times misleading and at times wrong.
With another year between final approval and publishing, we should have been nearer to having come to a common mind on the question of modern liturgical psalter and Mowbrays would have been able to sell us all a better product. It would perhaps be in its final form and many of my points would have been dealt with by a longer editorial look. I fear that, liturgically, we are being mesmerized by the year 2000. If we are to produce things of enduring worth, we should slow down a bit, learn from the trials about helpful presentation of content as well as the content itself, and spend a year or so between notification of authorization and publication to make sure that printed and electronic resources, including those of publishers other than Church House Publishing, are as helpful as they can be.
Andrew Burnham teaches liturgy at St Stephen’s House and is a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission.