John Hunwicke asks some leading questions about liturgy and legality

Clergy undertake to use liturgical rites authorized or allowed by Canon. Assuming that many of them are honourable men, they probably feel easier if they have a sense that there is some correlation between what they do in Church and what ‘Canon’ prescribes – although they do not always share the policier mentality which has often characterized episcopal liturgical interventions since the Catholic Revival. But the emergence of Common Worship – widely regarded as deeply flawed from the point of view of Catholic Eucharistic theology – has raised the question of how far it is lawful and honourable for the inferior clergy to vary or even disregard what General Synod dumps in front of them The following enquiry is, for convenience, based on the (not altogether self-evident) assumption that the current code of Canon Law in these two Provinces is itself binding and is the ‘Canon’ referred to in Clerical subscription.

Canon and custom

Canon Law is not like the Code Napoleon. It relates to the life of Christ’s Body on earth, in which the guidance of the Spirit is often found in the customary life of the faithful. Nicaea: ‘let the ancient customs prevail’; St Thomas Aquinas: ‘custom has the force of law and abolishes law and is the interpreter of law’; Heidt: ‘Canon laws only have that authority given them by the ecclesiastical tradition within which they are enacted.’ Our comfortable Anglican tradition has not generally taken much notice of Canon Law (a doctorate in Canon Law is not among us, as it is among Roman Catholics, the passport to rapid preferment); the Canons of 1604 were a dead letter for – literally – centuries before they were legally abolished: and nobody bothered. In our own time, the Measure Bonds of Peace was cheerfully and very consensually passed, deliberately making space for those who denied the validity of women’s priesthood, without anybody – apparently – worrying in the least about the fact that it drove a multitude of coaches and horses through Canon A4. In the area of public worship, ‘what we’ve always done’ or ‘what I was taught when I was a curate’ has always mattered more to priests (and bishops) than a dispassionate and logical examination of legal regulations.

This is in fact rather good sense. Dix: ‘from the beginning until the sixteenth century, broadly speaking, the sanction in the liturgy was not ‘law’ but ‘custom’.’ Even in the superlegal Roman system before Vatican II, ‘a usage contra legem can obtain the force of custom even against the rubrics’ (O’Connell, 1940). So let us consider how our present Code has, in fact, functioned in the life of our community; and let us do so frankly from the perspective of the degree of discretion allowed to the officiating minister and with a frank prejudice to discover that our easy, common-sense Anglican instincts have not been rendered illegal.

Recent provisions

A crucial role here is played by two documents, containing a great deal of liturgical matter, Lent Holy Week Easter (1984; LHWE in what follows) and The Promise of His Glory (1990; PHG in what follows). The materials contained fall into two distinct categories:

(1) services and materials making provision for circumstances not covered in BCP or ASB; such as, for example, forms of the traditional Holy Week services; and

(2) materials for use in circumstances for which BCP and/or ASB already had made adequate provision. An example here would be (PHG pp132–3) prefaces for Advent – seven of them. ASB had already, ten years before, provided (p154) two prefaces for Advent.

LHWE and PHG were ‘commended’ by the House of Bishops with mention of Canons B4 and B5. The crucial point here is the distinction made above between (1) and (2). Canon Law did give the bishops the authority to make provision for occasions not covered in the liturgies authorized by Parliament and General Synod. So category (1) materials were within the authority of the bishops to authorize. But Canon Law gives no authority whatsoever to the bishops, on their own whether individually or collectively, to make variations or add alternatives to forms of service, except on occasion for which no provision is already lawfully made. To put it bluntly and specifically: when the bishops ‘commended’ (category 2) those seven Advent prefaces, they were very liturgically ignorant if they were under the impression that Advent was ‘an occasion for which no provision is made in the BCP or by the General Synod’. So what were they up to in commending them?

Episcopal ‘suggestions’

Let us assume that the bishops were not concerned simply to encourage widespread breaking of the law of public worship just for the sheer hell of it (a shame really). A reading of Canons B4 and B5 reveals that there was only one paragraph which doled out authority to anybody to make variations in already authorized services. It was Canon B5. 1. ‘The minister [who is to conduct the service] may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of service authorized by Canon B1 according to particular circumstances.’ This discretion was the discretion of the minister (words in brackets represent later additions to the texts originally promulgated). There was and is nothing to say that he can only make ‘variations’ which have received ‘commendation’ from his diocesan or from the House of Bishops. The discretion is his and his alone; the only qualifications are that his variation ‘shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England [in any essential matter].’ The bishop’s only possibility for intervention in the business is post factum ‘if any question is raised … it may be referred to the bishop’ so that he can advise pastorally (not juridically).

So those seven Advent Prefaces (and other such LHWE and PHG materials as unauthorized greetings; unauthorized confessions; unauthorized lectionaries; unauthorized invitations to communion) can only have had the authority of episcopal suggestions to the clergy of variations which the clergy might wish to consider and adopt in the exercise the discretion which rests solely with ‘the minister who is to conduct the service’.

I repeat that the minister’s discretion is unfettered. It is not limited to materials which the bishop or the bishops have vetted, commended, been told about, or probably-wouldn’t-mind-me-using. So if a priest wished to add, on his own authority, another seven prefaces to this repertoire of Advent alternatives, he would be entirely within his competence in doing so. What the bishops did in 1984 and 1990 was in fact to define, by supplying a large number of examples, the very considerable breadth they accorded to the formula ‘variations not of substantial importance’.

Common Worship

Can such ‘variations’ still be made, now that we have Common Worship? Yes. The liberty is to make ‘variations’ in any form approved by General Synod (see Canons B5.1, B1.1(d), B2.1). Is the liberty confined to the categories encouraged by the bishops in LHWE and PHG – Greetings, Confessions, Lectionaries, Prefaces, Invitations? No. Remember, the bishops had no legal authority for what they did in LHWE and PHG. The discretion is the minister’s, and his alone. It is a discretion ‘to make and use variations … in any form of service’. ‘Form of service’ is defined (B5.5 and B1.3iii) as ‘any matter to be used as part of a service’.

That’s interesting, isn’t it? In a number of dioceses more or less any ‘variation’ is countenanced in the rest of the Mass, but the bishop rather likes the Eucharistic Prayer after the Sanctus to be according to a form authorized by General Synod. Perhaps this is because of doctrinal sensitivities involved here… these formulae get picked over syllable by syllable in General Synod. However, the plain words of Canon exclude any idea that some parts of the liturgy have a more (or less) canonically ‘protected’ status than the rest. It is true that Canon B.5.3 expects that variations should not be indicative of departure from the doctrine of the Church of England ‘in any essential matter’ – but that word ‘essential’ would be a legal minefield. Surely, it would exclude the use of Mother-language for God the Father, since that would be so gross a contradiction of all those Creeds and of the Articles. But, in the field of Eucharistic doctrine, ARCIC at no point hinted that any Anglicans had any problems with Roman Eucharistic Prayers. Recently the House of Bishops (Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity, 2001) have re-emphasized the substantial agreement of Anglican and Roman Eucharistic doctrine (true, they were a little paranoid about ‘tight’ Roman use of Tridentine terminology; but that can hardly apply to Roman forms more than 1200 years older than Trent). More interestingly still, they wrote approvingly of the ability to Anglicans ‘with a good conscience’ to ‘say a heartfelt Amen’ at the end of Roman Eucharistic Prayers.

Invisible mending?

So it is far from easy to see how exception, legally, could be taken to either of the two following courses of action with regard to the Eucharistic Prayer post-Sanctus:

(1) ‘Invisible mending’: modifying a few syllables in the Common Worship Eucharistic Prayers so that they ask the Holy Spirit to come down upon the elements so that they become the Lord’s Body and Blood, which we then offer.

(2) The use of more satisfactory prayers from elsewhere within Catholic Christendom’s great liturgical tradition: from other Anglican Provinces, or other communions, or other centuries.

It is in the context of (2) that much interest is at present concentrated on the Roman First Eucharistic Prayer – the Canon Romanus. This is the ancient Eucharistic Prayer of the Western Church, found in an early form in St Ambrose; brought to Canterbury by St Augustine and used exclusively in the Church of England until 1549. As soon as the theological insights of the Catholic Revival started to feed through into liturgical practice, this prayer (or part of it) was interpolated into the rite of 1662. Since in those days it was said silently, this could be done without causing a lot of comment in congregations: and it happened in quite ‘moderate’ and ‘surplice and stole’ parishes as well as in ‘extreme’ contexts. (When in the 1970s Rome ordered the Eucharistic Prayer to be said aloud – and added new alternative prayers – Anglican parishes which had been proud to be ‘Western Rite’ tended to follow Rome in these matters.)

The Burnham question

Bishop Andrew Burnham has laudably raised the interesting question of which of these is the better:

(a) Using RC ICEL translations for most of the Mass; but nodding in the direction of General Synod by using an ‘authorized’ Post-Sanctus; or

(b) Using authorized translations and texts for most of the Mass, but substituting a more satisfactory Post-Sanctus.

(a) means you will be using lousy English for most of the Mass and lousy theology in the Eucharistic Prayer.

(b) means you will be using comparatively decent English for most of the Mass, and more acceptable Theology in the Eucharistic Prayer.

It seems to this writer that there is no contest!

Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite

The ancient Canon Romanus is available in at least two translations. There is the modern-language ICEL rendering found in the standard Roman books. In addition, there is a traditional language version apparently put together by the young Miles Coverdale in elegant Tudor English. This has been authorized in America for use in Anglican Churches which have corporately united with Rome. Rome has there permitted the use of the (American) BCP verbatim – but with Coverdale’s Canon Romanus taking the place of the Prayer of Consecration. This is called technically ‘the Anglican usage of the Roman Rite’. Michael Moreton has pointed out that while Common Worship formulae may have ‘legality’, the Canon Romanus has ‘authority’; and that its use could be tested – trendy language here – by ‘reception’.

I have myself used Coverdale’s version pretty well daily for some time, initially it seems long and ‘strange’, but one soon develops an efficient – I hope, not irreverent – speed; and even at 7.40 am in front of a voluntary student congregation it has not seemed embarrassing.

As I conclude this piece, the text flickers through from Rome of Liturgiam Authenticam – the Holy See’s latest initiative to prevent liberal liturgists from perverting Catholic worship under the guise of ‘translation’ and ‘inculturation’. I love its emphasis on fidelity to the classical and biblical formulae; its insistence that politically correct agendas must not be smuggled into ‘translations’; and its desire for genuine dignified vernacular liturgical dialects to emerge. Those whose natural instincts incline them to the direction in which the Western Church is now moving could be nicely ahead of the game if they used Common Worship ‘Order One (traditional)’ with Coverdale’s Canon: and this would offer Anglican Ethos without Reformation hang-ups!

For clergy where this might not seem the pastorally obvious solution, would it not be a good idea for our Integrity, semi-formally, to draw up delicately titivated versions of some of the Common Worship prayers, so that there might be a measure of common practice among us?

John Hunwicke, is Head of Theology at Lancing College, and compiles the Tufton Press ORDO