Andrew Burnham asks a leading liturgical question

SINCE THE introduction of the main provisions of Common Worship (CW) last December there has been much debate in Catholic circles – some in this periodical – about how suitable CW is for Anglo-Catholics. The points of view most frequently heard (by this bishop at least) have been, on the one hand, that only the Roman Mass will do and, on the other, that we must make the best use we can of CW. Unsurprisingly, the first view has been expressed mostly by those who already make significant use of the Roman Missal and the second view has been that of those who have relied to a greater extent on the Alternative Service Book 1980 (ASB). To give a fuller picture one should add that mysteriously, the ASB Conservation Society has members even amongst the Catholic constituency and that those who all along have preferred the Prayer Book continue to prefer it. New Directions seems to be an ideal place to hold a debate on some of the issues – it is, after all, one of the more widely read of church newspapers and journals – and I have been asked to set out some of the issues.

To declare an interest: Canon Jeremy Haselock, the Precentor of Norwich, and I have served on the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England and on the General Synod and have attempted, at every stage, to ensure that the liturgy of the Church of England can be used with integrity by Catholics. Furthermore, in compiling and publishing A Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion, I have pinned my colours to the mast by making extensive use of CW material, old and new. A reconciled and invigorated English Catholicism, it seems to me, would make extensive use of the treasury of liturgical English that we have: some of those who presently use only the modern translations of the Roman Mass are consciously preferring doctrinal clarity to beautiful language.

There seem to me to be three major issues and a number of smaller ones. The first of the major issues is whether material authorised by the General Synod of the Church of England since 1994, when the canon permitting the ordination of women as presbyters was promulged, should be regarded as authoritative by Catholics. The legal answer is relatively simple, the moral one less so. My own view is that, though the frequent charge of those who disagree with us – that we have a primeval fear of being `tainted’ – is untrue, that charge would gain some ground if we regarded all that the post-1994 Church of England says and does as, in principle, unacceptable. Indeed, how could we remain in the Church of England?

The second of the major issues is related to the first. How do we proceed if – as Bishop David Silk and Prebendary Michael Moreton have suggested – the Eucharistic Prayer we have most often used – the Third Eucharistic Prayer of ASB Rite A – has been recast in an unsatisfactory form? This argument – the doctrinal adequacy of CW forms – will find focus, in practice, in the Orders for the Eucharist but, in theory, it is applicable to all the CW liturgies – baptism, confirmation, funeral, marriage and the rest. Myself I am unpersuaded that Eucharistic Prayer B of Order One – the revision of the ASB Rite A Third Eucharistic Prayer – is now more unsatisfactory. Neither of these Church of England versions of what was the Hippolytan Eucharistic Prayer gives us clear eucharistic teaching. This argument will run on and raises certain questions. One is whether it matters that a prayer says all that it should. A related question is whether it matters if the words of a prayer are a weasel-like compromise between different, and incompatible eucharistic theologies. A third question is whether there can be any real objection to Anglicans using Roman Eucharistic Prayers if, as ‘The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity’ suggests, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are in agreement about eucharistic doctrine. The parishes which use the Roman rite for Sunday Mass except for the Eucharistic Prayer – which is Anglican – are conveying less of the Anglican ethos and less eucharistic teaching than the parishes which use CW for Sunday Mass but substitute a Roman Catholic Eucharistic Prayer.

The third of the major areas is less about doctrine and more about culture and language. The language of much of CW is certainly more elegant than much of the ASB but the accusation has been made that the language of CW is middle class and Southern. It has been suggested, for instance, that the CW Initiation rites are culturally inappropriate for certain contexts and one or two dioceses – Oxford, for example – have issued their own simpler versions of the rites. There would be those who think that the Roman Catholic 1970 rites, culturally and linguistically, are much closer to what is needed. Others would see those rites as the crude result of the policy of ignoring an existing liturgical vernacular and long for Rome to release the new ICEL Sacramentary.

As well as the major issues of authority, doctrine and culture/language there are a number of minor ones. Perhaps the most insistent of these is whether a church which combines Western and Eastern shapes of Eucharistic Prayer – A, B, C, E and D, F, G, H – is being comprehensive or just muddled. Is the Church of England in any sense an `Eastern’ Church? Everyone will have a different list of minor questions. Is it canonical to `improve’ Eucharistic Prayers with small verbal changes? Does it matter if, strictly speaking, it is not? Do the up-dated collects work? How should one commemorate uncanonised saints? Is it satisfactory to have to transplant `At the time of death’ liturgical material into funeral rites to make the rites Catholic? Can alliances between Catholics and Evangelicals survive doctrinal and liturgical disagreements? What happens if the use of exotic rites becomes a matter for clergy discipline?

I hope that I have set the scene for further debate in these pages and given some indication of my own views.

Andrew Burnham is Bishop of Ebbsfleet