Looking again at the liturgy

The Book of Divine Worship
Newman House Press, 974pp, hbk
0 9704022 6 0

This American publication, dedicated to Pope John Paul II, comprises ‘elements of the Book of Common Prayer revised and adapted according to the Roman Rite for use by Roman Catholics coming from the Anglican Tradition’. It has the approval of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America and is confirmed by the Apostolic See. It is to meet the needs of an American situation, but it demonstrates how a true liberality can allow a genuine flexibility in liturgy for the cause of unity. While this is an interesting development ecumenically, the sheer physical size of the book makes it impractical for use in the pew and impossible for use when travelling.

One would have expected such a publication to have a commendatory and explanatory preface, and some history on the origin of this significant publication. It is a disappointment not to have this. Instead, the book opens with the Calendar of the Church Year as used by Roman Catholics of the Anglican Tradition in the dioceses of the USA. The Daily Office lectionary that is arranged in a two-year cycle follows this. Three readings from Old and New Testaments are provided for each Sunday and weekday in both cycles. The psalms are arranged on a seven-week pattern throughout the year, except for seasonal exceptions. Antiphons drawn from the psalms, from the opening sentences in the Offices or from scriptural passages may be used with the psalms or canticles.

Two Rites are provided for the Daily Offices in morning and evening in traditional and modern English, alongside a Midday Office and Compline. The structure of these Offices is that with which Anglicans are familiar, in canticle, antiphon and psalmody, Old and New Testament lessons, creed, versicle and response, and collects. Compline is similarly familiar. The Litany in traditional language echoes the Prayer Book, with some additional petitions for the prayers of Our Lady and the Saints.

The Proper of the Church Year includes the appointed Collect and Prayer over the Gifts for Sundays, Holy Days and Various Occasions, alongside some special propers. The readings for Sundays are to be taken from the Revised Roman Missal. There are optional rubrics before each rite.

Basically Eucharistic Rite One is the 1928 American BCP Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist with the contemporary Roman Canon substituted. Rite Two includes parts of what has been described as ‘the abominable Rite II from the 1979 ECUSA ‘BCP’, including the ‘contemporary psalter’ of horizontally inclusive language’ There is also a Traditional Psalter. There are two rites for Baptism, Holy Matrimony, and Burial of the Dead.

The Book draws heavily on the Episcopal Church’s Revised Book of Common Prayer 1979, especially for parts of Rite I (in traditional language), and Rite II (in contemporary language). The Catholic Church at various levels has rejected proposals for the use of other inclusive language psalters, such as the revised Grail and New American Bible versions, as well as those of the New Revised Standard Version and ICEL. Now the authorities in Boston and Rome have approved, or turned a blind eye to, the Episcopalian inclusive language psalter, limited to Anglican Use Roman Catholics when they choose to use the contemporary language Rite II.

From the Roman side, it has been noted that in the Latin Rite Church modern translations have been given of the Novus Ordo for use in the English-speaking world. The language and structure of the Anglican Use as a whole provides beautiful English that is very dignified for worship, the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare. A Roman school of thought thinks that the Novus Ordo may have gone too far in simplifying the liturgy. This is not the case with the Anglican Use, which is a fuller liturgy than the Novus Ordo while remaining fairly accessible to the congregation.

In the Second Vatican Council Decree on Ecumenism recognition is given to legitimate developments in some non-Roman ecclesial communities that can find a place in the Roman Church. The Anglican Use is an example of this, because not everything that has happened in Anglicanism since the Reformation has been ‘bad’ or ‘un-Catholic’ or Protestant.

Permitting the use of Elizabethan English and Anglican-style liturgy, the Roman Church makes the transition to Catholicism easier for Anglicans. There is precedent for liturgical variation in pre-Reformation times when within the Western liturgical tradition there were the Ambrosian, Gallican and Sarum Rites. In the Book of Divine Worship the Anglican Use can be given the opportunity to influence the liturgy of the Roman Use in the English-speaking world. This is an important liturgical and ecclesial development that purists may refrain from condemning before having tried it over a period of time. Not having used any of these liturgies in their present form, one must hold one’s criticism.

Arthur Middleton is a tutor at St Chad’s, Durham.

Edited by Alcuin Reid osb
St Michael’s Abbey, 160pp, pbk
0 907077 42 0, [£11.95]

These proceedings from a Liturgical Conference in France, complete with colour photos of the worthy prelates, professors and religious in conversation with the good Cardinal, is not of obvious interest to the ordinary Anglican. Do not be put off by the superficial appearance. There is a real energy, as well as serious scholarship, in these presentations. Far better than a generalist’s introduction, these top-of-the-range essays and the seriousness of the discussion, give a vivid picture of the problems of the liturgy in the early twenty-first century. You may not agree with their conclusions, but it is quite clear (in a way that it isn’t with most Anglican equivalents) that these men know of what they speak.

The question they were considering might be summarized as ‘What is (or should be) the common worship of the Roman Rite?’ For those of us who despair at the sanctioned chaos initiated by the jokily named Common Worship, there is encouragement in the realization that the do-it-yourself, multiple-choice confusion is also a real and persistent problem in the Roman Church. Not merely to learn that we are not as wretchedly beyond redemption as most Anglo-Catholics suggest and suppose, but that there is a way through to greater order and consistency.

It takes more than a Pope to stop priests and people taking the pick and mix approach. John Paul’s recent decrees on the celebration of the Mass have seemed, as reported in both the Catholic and secular media, to be a collection of commands and prohibitions. Read these papers to gain a sense of what is behind these orders and regulations.

The most arresting intervention comes from a layman professor of philosophy, in a subtle but passionate plea for what one might call the first of the Vatican II rites, the one that got squeezed out by Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae, namely Blessed John XXIII’s 1965 Rite. Too much alteration, even for the very best of reasons, he argues explicitly, can only lead us away from the tradition which has been passed down through the generations. And implicitly, the Church would have been better off if it had never authorized the second version.

‘The reform of the reform’ is the central theme of the conference – how to be faithful to Vatican II, how to clean up the current confusion and return to the ideals of the Council itself. It is as though we were to say, for all the merits of Common Worship, let us acknowledge that the chaos which has ensued is more dangerous than anything we may have gained; let us instead draw back and make only the smallest, most necessary revisions to the 1928 Rite, so that we can return to the tradition.

It is a powerful theme, and compellingly argued. Liturgy can only grow as, and within a tradition. To throw away a Rite which has been hallowed by the tradition cannot be permitted, for it would enshrine a break that would, in the end, cut us off from the Primitive Church itself. That which we have in common, not only with each other in this generation but with those before us, is of deeper value than so much of what we believe to have ‘discovered’ in recent decades.

The great advantage the Romans have over the CofE, shackled to its own reformist creation the General Synod, is an episcopal authority, to carry conviction in liturgical renewal. Before, therefore, you wish to cross the divide to greener pastures, read how little even that authority can achieve in the face of a liberal agenda. And be amused, as a spectator, at the frisson of anxiety that passes through the conference at the whispered suggestion, ‘What if Luther was right?’ What if his ideas on the sacrifice of the mass were essentially correct? Ratzinger strides forth with his Thomist, logical exposition of what the Reformation monk had misunderstood. Rome is right, the truth restored, and yet… he is not that convincing.


Evangelical Anglicans in a Revolutionary Age 1789-1901
Nigel Scotland
Paternoster, 404pp, pbk
1 84227 231 4, £19.99

Whoever said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it could have had in mind Evangelicals in the twenty-first century. I am still trying to get over meeting one experienced and intelligent colleague recently who claimed never to have heard of Apostolicae Curae. For people like this, Nigel Scotland’s Evangelical Anglicans in a Revolutionary Age should be required reading.

Scotland’s book provides a comprehensive survey of Evangelical Anglicanism in the period from 1789 to 1901 under various topical headings, ‘Politics and the Social Order’, ‘Revivalism and the Keswick Convention’, ‘Ritual Controversies’, and so on. Within this structure, we are introduced to the key figures, some familiar, such as William Wilberforce and JC Ryle, others less familiar, such as Spencer Perceval, the only British Prime Minister ever to have been assassinated, whose tomb happens to be in my old home church of St Luke’s, Charlton. This book is therefore immediately valuable simply as an overview of the period and the key issues and people involved.

Its greater value, however, is in highlighting the similarities between Evangelical experience then and now, and the need to learn from the mistakes they made as well as their successes. Even in the nineteenth century, there was a divide between Open and Conservative Evangelicals, although not along exactly the same lines as today. There was also a Charismatic movement, which gave rise to the immensely influential Keswick Convention. Socially and politically, Evangelicalism was far more powerful than today, able to muster supporters in Parliament and galvanize action for the spread of the Gospel and the improvement of society. And there were even Evangelicals in the Church hierarchy willing to promote Evangelicalism in the areas of ministry under their care, rather than simply ‘listening to all sides’.

Yet in case Evangelicals of today should hanker for past glories through rose-coloured spectacles, Scotland also brings out the weaknesses of the movement — a tendency to ‘top down’ reform of society based on the existing distinctions, a Sabbatarianism with which many today would be theologically at odds, and an inclination to moralism which emphasised behaving before believing. The Clapham Sect’s ‘Society for the Suppression of Vice’, which sounds as if it belongs in modern Iran, exemplified all three tendencies. Worst of all though, was the recourse to law in the clash with Ritualism which perhaps did more than anything else to promote the latter!

Evangelicals and others who want to understand where the Church is going today would do well to read Scotland’s book. And if they learn from it, they may succeed in ways that Evangelicals of an earlier generation finally failed.

John P Richardson

Edited by Mark Oakley
SPCK, 144pp, pbk
0 281 05329 4, [£7.99]

There are often books we do not like, or ones with which we strongly disagree, but really bad books are quietly forgotten about and set aside; a review is not generally appropriate. This, however, is so bad, that I have begun to grow sentimentally affectionate towards it. Each month I pass it over, but cannot quite bring myself to throw it away, so let me commend it to you for its awfulness.

It is, as the title implies, a collection of readings for weddings. The first section, with readings from the Bible, is fine. You will find a slightly fuller selection in Common Worship: Pastoral Services, also in the politically-correct New Revised Standard Version, so not much new here. The third section offers some hymns. Would you be surprised to find ‘All things bright and beautiful’, Jerusalem, ‘Morning has broken’, ‘O Jesus I have promised’? No, for it is exactly the list every couple brings in their mind, remembered from school days. Said couple might find a slightly wider selection from the hymn book in the church in which they hope to get married.

The second section is the heart of the book: something old, something new, all things borrowed, but nothing blue. Let us pass over in silence an excerpt from one of the editor’s own wedding homilies, and head straight for that classic The Prophet. Does your heart warm to this standard text from that Middle Eastern serial adulterer, Khalil Gibran? The manner in which he asks his partner to give him space (so that he can go off and break his marriage vows?): is this what you enjoy at weddings? The editor at least has the grace to admit in his introduction that he ‘was growing rather tired’ of hearing it time after time, but not apparently the good sense to omit it, or at least subvert its quasi-scriptural authority by telling us a little about its origins.

It comes with a commendation from the Poet Laureate, ‘Mark Oakley’s selection is exemplary: surprising but appropriate, tender but unsentimental, dignified but vivacious.’ OK, so I am wrong. Go out, my friends, and buy it; and what will you find? The bog-standard mishmash that every couple I have ever interviewed over the past few years has already, or will very shortly download from the internet in ten minutes.

Part of the excuse is that the selection is intended to be personal, light-hearted, humorous (‘It is my belief that God likes a good chuckle’) and therefore immune to any criticism (with tone) from crabby clerics such as myself. Frankly, that is cheating; to call your selection ‘personal, light-hearted and humorous’ is no more than a ruse to avoid all possible criticism. As he says himself, ‘At a time when fewer people are choosing to be married in church, it seems vital that we use our imagination a little bit more.’ I quite agree.

That SPCK should be putting its name to this banal collection of the dumbed-down obvious is surely an odd change of course for a teaching and missionary organization that has been serving the CofE for over three centuries. If ‘the Church’ can offer no more than this frothy flim-flam, is it any wonder people are less keen to get married in church?

Now then, with a review like that, how can you not go out and buy this little gem!


A poem by Wendy Cope, from Readings for Weddings, voted the best/worst reading for a wedding in an unscientific survey at the rectory:

If you ask me ‘What’s new?’, I have nothing to say,
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but it’s better today.
I’m content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough In my turbulent past:
Tears and passion – I’ve used up a tankful.
No news is good news, And long may it last.
If nothing much happens, I’m thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you’re after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

I don’t go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you don’t need to find a new lover?
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more,
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I’ve found a safe mooring,
I’ve just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.

Mission-shaped church
CHP, 170pp, pbk
0 7151 4013 2, £10.95

This is a report from a working group of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council on church planting, and fresh expressions of church in a changing context, commended by General Synod for study, to help shape diocesan, deanery and parish mission strategies. It contains a helpful analysis of the challenges currently facing the mission of the church in England and provides some instances of creative good practice in responding to them.

There are geographic pockets of 2,000–5,000 people who have no church within ‘pram-pushing’ distance, not least in the new housing estates springing up in the South East, who could be reached with a little planning and reshaping of things. The report celebrates the effectiveness of small groups meeting in secular venues. Where the church is recovering confidence that by divine mandate she is a ‘reproducing community’, growth is occurring. Spiritual resourcing networks such as Franciscan Tertiaries, Holy Trinity in Brompton, Iona, New Wine and Taize are proving to be special gifts of God at this time.

Is it true that this report undermines the parish system and Sunday obligation?

Mission-shaped church is strong on the need to engage with non-geographic secular networks but presents this engagement as supplementary to the essential thrust of geographically centred parish ministry. In the same way building up midweek cells of the church from these networks is more a creative response to busy weekends than indifference to ‘the Lord’s people gathering on the Lord’s day around the Lord’s table’.

How does the report challenge us?

Our churches need to seek more courage and space from the Holy Spirit to go and inhabit secular networks. Much faith sharing engages with the 30% of people nearest to the church but we need to be more passionately and imaginatively involved with the unchurched 60%. Churches need to supplement a ‘come to us’ with a ‘go to them’ strategy which involves a degree of repentance. The theological section of the report builds precisely such a call to repent from the traditional marks of the church – one, holy, catholic, apostolic – which reveal her true nature and missionary vocation.

The report recommends regional centres devoted to cross-cultural mission. It challenges bishops to give apostolic authority to fresh expressions of the church and to use their cure of souls to foster church planting when it crosses parish boundaries. It challenges those involved in ministerial training to give more attention to the role of leadership, lay and ordained, and to be more alongside leaders in missionary situations. Mission-shaped church issues a reminder that a third of the English are under 25 and that leadership at every level needs to reflect this.

Where might one challenge the report?

The use of ‘church’ without the definite article attempts an escape from the institutional, downgrading the ‘givenness’ of the church to a more functional view. Is it true to say ‘mission is the mother of theology’ – surely it is contemplation? There is little mention of the sacraments. The report says fresh expressions like ‘cell church’ were not originally designed to stimulate growth but to channel and develop it. Whence this growth? Mission-shaping is linked to the quality as well as the creativity of church life. It occurs as part of a spiritual movement out of the wells of Holy Church, allied to the renewal of traditional disciplines of Christian believing. Society’s indifference to the Church does indeed demand a mission-shaped church but this mission shaping is inseparable from the long slog of building up Christ-shaped holiness.

John Twisleton is Chichester diocesan mission & renewal adviser

D Price & C Ryrie
Lutterworth, 160pp, hbk
0 7188 2042 3, [£12.99]

Ever since the 500th anniversary of the birth of William Tyndale in 1494, we have had a rash of books on the early translations of the Bible into English up to and including the Authorized Version. It is a crowded market. All credit, therefore to Price and Ryrie for producing an excellent and highly approachable introduction. They have avoided the rather reverential tradition of noble and courageous Protestants making their stately progress towards the crowning glory of the English language; the story, as they show, is more interesting than other studies had suggested.

Its particular advantages over other such surveys are three-fold. It is profusely and well illustrated, so that one can actually see what they are talking about, and get a feel of what those early printed Bibles were about. Secondly, it is very positive about the Douay-Rheims Version, the Catholic translation of the Vulgate during Elizabeth’s reign, whose failings have been well rehearsed before, but whose merits have not been so well told; it is a nice irony that its influence in Protestant England was especially promoted by the popularity of a detailed refutation of it by William Fulke, Doctor of Divinity – its text had considerable influence on the AV, thanks to his reprinting of it.

Most helpfully, this introduction explains why there were so many translations between Tyndale’s beginning in 1525 (fifty years after the first German printed Bible) and 1611. The authors pay close attention to the commentary and accompanying notes that nearly every edition possessed. The ones that failed to last or extend much influence, such as the Geneva Bible, were largely let down by the shrill polemic of their marginal notes. Bible translation was not just Bible translation in the age of the Reformation. The Word of God was proclaimed and understood within the Body of Christ: one’s conviction about the latter had no little influence on one’s translation of the former.

It may not look as sober and academic as other studies, but this undoubtedly shares the extraordinary risks and excitement and difficulties of an enterprise we take for granted in our own life of faith. It was nearly five centuries ago, but it is a story well told. SR

Edited by Douglas Dales
Canterbury, 110pp, pbk
1 85311 570 3, £7.99

This is an anthology of the writings of Alcuin of York, who died on 19th May 804 in Tours, episcopal seat of St Martin. A Northumbrian, born around the time that Bede died, he exemplifies the great richness of that early Anglo-Saxon tradition, the discipline and rigour of the scholarship, the utter commitment to the word of Scripture, the uncompromising loyalty to the Roman Church. And in his case, the powerful influence he was able to exert on the Church in Charlemagne’s empire.

Alcuin’s greatest achievement was the editing of a sound, standard text of the Latin Vulgate, but he also wrote extensively on liturgy and reveals a real Ssensitivity to the pattern and importance of Christian education. He is the kind of theologian we crave today. His writings are not, however, easy to read; they are dense and demanding, and not well known.

This selection certainly brings this great English scholar to a wider audience, for Dales is a reliable (and increasingly prolific) editor of the Anglo-Saxons. All the same, the excerpts are offered with only minimal context and no scholarly apparatus, so that each passage seems to float free on its own. Like a single poem on a page, each item is what it is, and one has to respond, or not, as the occasion moves one: it is difficult to apply any critical judgement. As a collection of prayers, it is certainly to be commended.


A priest’s prayer before celebrating the mysteries by Alcuin of York, in A Mind Intent on God

May these gifts be offered to you, holy Lord and Father, by my unworthy hands, for I am not fit even to invoke your name. May these offerings be made, however, through the holy and life-giving name of your Son, and may they ascend before you like incense with a sweet savour. For what unworthy minister can offer you anything worthy, unless he first shows penitence for himself in so great an office? But you are the God of many mercies: do not condemn us, we pray, by the testimony of your mouth, but strengthen us by the comfort of your fatherly kindness. May you always renew and reform us by your own hands from the downfall of our sins. My soul invokes you, for you made me: do not forget one who has often forgotten you, or desert one who seeks after you, for you are the life that cannot die.

Jenny Diski
Little Brown, 216pp, hbk
0 316 72526 9, £14.99

The simplest description of this novel would be a feminist rerun of the OT patriarchs, the third of a trilogy, but it is more subtle than that. This is an imaginative and powerful retelling of the scriptural stories, with a clear progression. It begins powerfully with the story of Isaac. Not only is he a wimp next to his wife Rebekah (obvious), he is a virtual nonentity next to his powerful father Abraham, and next to his second son, Rebekah’s favourite, the clever and ambitious Jacob. Diski keeps close to the biblical details and offers a convincing picture of his sad weakness.

We gain a glimpse of what is to come by the honesty of her feminist critique. If the men are so bad, which they are, some of it will rub off on the women who share their lives. As Rebekah ages, she loses the vitality of her homeland, where she only had to fight her brother, and, as Isaac’s wife, slowly descends into real bitterness and anger. It is well told.

The core of the book is the rivalry between Jacob’s two wives. The initial deceit practised by Laban upon Jacob on his first wedding night when he (unknowingly) beds Leah rather than his beloved Rachel blossoms like blood in a pool of water, until it has tainted and corrupted not only the two sisters, but all whose lives they watch over.

As one of a delicate disposition, I did not manage to finish the novel. I was too timid to want to discover what would happen in the end, as we spiralled down into a increasingly pessimistic view not just of men and God, but of women, life, the universe and everything. This is a genuine wrist-slasher!


On the way back from Mount Moriah. From After These Things by Jenny Diski

So a sheep died that day instead. But Isaac did not survive. Certainly, Abraham treated him as if he were dead. He untied his son without a word and proceeded to make a sacrifice of the sheep. Then he turned aside from the place and walked back the way the two of them had come. Isaac followed, limp and shuddering with shock Abraham said nothing, not a syllable, as he walked back at a faster pace than his shattered son could manage to the lads waiting with the donkey.