Aidan Nichols: The Ordinariates, the Pope, and the Liturgy (Part III)

1 07 2011

An edited version of Part III of Fr Aidan Nichols’s talk The Ordinariates, the Pope, and the Liturgy is now made available. It was originally held back due to some of the ongoing discussions about the liturgy used by the ordinariates which were taking place. We are grateful to Dr Nichols for allowing publication here. Readers may wish to read Part I and Part II first.

But when they come, how will they worship?  Here we must treat of the Ordinariates and the question of the Liturgy.   Most (suitably informed) people when they hear the phrase ‘the liturgical patrimony of Anglicanism’ will think among other things of robed choirs, harvest festivals, change-ringing, and the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge.  Above all, however, they will think of Thomas Cranmer.  But precisely this causes a problem, not merely because Queen Mary’s judiciary had him burned as a heretic but also (and more especially) because, for recent scholarship, Cranmer belongs firmly in the camp of the Protestant Reformers not least when it comes to his liturgical creations.   Cranmer wrote masterly prose, solemn, though with a tenderness the more poignant for being occasional.  Many of his phrases have passed over into the common treasury of the English language, and his better known prayers, or echoes of them, have come to mind for thousands of English people at critical moments of life.  But the transposition of his work into a Catholic setting is deeply problematic, above all in what concerns his Order of worship for the Eucharist, since it is in the Eucharistic Order, as I’ve already had occasion to mention in connexion with Pope Benedict’s theology, that the heart of Christian Liturgy consists.

There can be little doubt that the Order of Holy Communion in the English Prayer Book tradition – starting with 1549, and moving through 1552 to 1559 where some slight recovery of Catholic ground was modestly extended in 1662 – is hostile to ideas of Eucharistic Sacrifice and even Eucharistic Presence.  At the high point of radical Protestant influence, under Edward VI, it appears to have been because Bishop Stephen Gardiner of Winchester, a conservative on the Edwardine bench of bishops, argued that the First Prayer Book was susceptible of a Catholic interpretation that Cranmer determined to embark on making a more thorough job of it in 1552.  The great Anglo-Catholic liturgiologist Dom Gregory Dix describes in the final chapter of his The Shape of the Liturgy his own dismay on looking into the context of the two Edwardine Prayer Books in Cranmer’s other theological writings. ‘[I]t is only painfully and with reluctance that  have brought myself to face candidly some of the facts here set out, and I cannot but fear that they will bring equal distress to others’.[1]  The benign view of Cranmer’s liturgical revision taken by most High Churchmen (though isolated critical voices had never been completely lacking), and, after the Oxford Movement, by ‘Prayer Book Catholics’, was, so Dix concluded, historically unsustainable.  For Cranmer the Eucharist was instituted by Christ not so that his death might be offered to the Father but with the simple aim of its being remembered by us.  The Second Prayer Book is the Eucharistic counterpart of the magisterial Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone: in Dix’s words ‘the only effective attempt ever made to give liturgical expression to [that] doctrine’.[2]  Or as the then bishop of Ebbsfleet, Andrew Burnham, writes in his highly appealing study of the Liturgy, Heaven and Earth in Little Space, Cranmer was concerned to ‘consecrate the congregation and not the eucharistic elements’.[3]

All this explains the rise of the Anglo-Catholic demand for the supplementation of the English Prayer Book and indeed its quasi-replacement by some version of the Western Missal.  As to its content, the demand was doctrinally motivated, though it often took the form of a legal argument – namely, that the proper authorities of the two provinces of the mediaeval Church which formed the Ecclesia anglicana, the Convocations of Canterbury and York, had neither initiated the Prayer Books nor even authorized them except in the sense that they advised the clergy to make use of what was sometimes referred to as ‘the Parliamentary book’.

The problem was not the Divine Office, the daily offices of Mattins and Evensong, which were generally regarded as successful adaptations to congregational worship of the ancient Offices of Matins and Lauds, on the one hand, Vespers and Compline, on the other: offices that had become in the mediaeval period mainly the occupation of monastics and cathedral canons.  Nor were the ‘occasional offices’ a difficulty, except in so far as the Burial Service omitted any explicit intercession for the souls of the departed (admittedly, not a minor matter).  The stumbling-block was the rite of Holy Communion, but since this was absolutely central in the Tractarian programme for a reinvigorated Church life, it became in time not a hurdle to be surmounted but a road-block requiring a diversion from the route.  Doubts intensified as to whether the original Tractarians had been right in regarding the Prayer Book as fit for use when considered as a manual of Catholic prayer.  After the anti-ritual legislation of the mid-Victorian era – the 1874 Public Worship Regulation Act, which saw the imprisonment of Catholic-minded clergy convicted of so-called ‘ritual offences’, for periods lasting from four months to a year – Anglo-Catholics sat ever more lightly to the Prayer Book regime.  They were increasingly willing to import prayers from the Sarum Missal, or even the Roman Missal as used by Latin Catholics of their own period, especially sections of the Roman or – as they sometimes termed it, with reference to its putative early history – the ‘Gelasian’ or ‘Gregorian’ Canon.  In this way they hoped to make good the deficiencies of the Prayer Book liturgy seen as an instrument for celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice with, as the fruit of the consecration, the Real Presence.  Where congregations might grow restive on hearing hitherto unknown and technically illegal adjustments to the Book, the added prayers were recited silently, or at any rate in a low voice.

Such anxieties about the Prayer Book Eucharist were not the only driving force behind the movement to look back to Sarum or look around at what Latin Catholics did in their own time.  Anglo-Catholics also felt a need to enrich the rather vestigial ‘Propers’ of the Prayer Book for the celebration of the great seasons and major festivals; to add ‘Commons’ for commemorating the different categories of saints; and to provide other texts for Masses on special occasions, notably funerals.  This led to the production of a flurry of Missals incorporating along with the official rites much material drawn from the Sarum or Roman (sometimes called ‘Western’) Use.  The study of the publication history of these various Missals is a complex topic to which a helpful guide was provided in 1998 by Archdeacon Mark Dalby.[4]  In effect, the 1662 liturgy, interpolated with some either silent or spoken Sarum or Roman prayers, became bit by bit the Roman Use or the Sarum Use, interpolated with some spoken Cranmerian prayers.

But there was not only the question of texts.  There was also the matter of ceremonies.  Anglo-Catholics held that ceremonial gave a practical demonstration of doctrine.  But what items could be regarded as legitimate objects for ceremonial deployment in an Anglican liturgy?  Putting this question sparked off a debate about what ‘ornaments’ could be used which paralleled the discussion, just described, about what texts were commendable.  The word ‘ornaments’, signifying not decorations but the kinds of things to be utilized in the course of worship, derived from the famous ‘Ornaments Rubric’.  That rubric was first printed in Elizabeth I’s Prayer Book, the Book of 1559, which specified that those ornaments should be employed which were in use in the second year of the reign of Edward VI.  Writing in 1908, F. C. Eeles, in an influential pamphlet, argued that the rubric referred to what was in place in 1548, when the Sarum Liturgy was in full flood in England, but minus those features of Sarum practice for which no ‘time of ministration’ could be found in Cranmer’s First Prayer Book, the book of 1549.[5]  This would mean, for example, that it was not lawful in Church of England worship to use the Paschal Candle, since the Sarum Holy Week services had been abandoned in 1549, nor should holy water be employed, because the First Prayer Book contained no blessing of lustral water, a precondition for this sacramental.  By contrast, the use of incense was lawful, Eeles proposed, since incense grains need no blessing, and thus they could not be regarded as implicitly suppressed by the 1549 book.  So likewise was the ‘Lenten array’, the buff-coloured cloths, decorated with symbols of the Passion, which were used to veil the altar and principal images in church in the Sarum arrangements for the Lenten season.  Given the ground-rules he had established, Eeles was embarrassed by the so-called Advertisements of 1566 and the canons issued in 1603 and 1604 by Convocation, for these specified very minimal vestments for the celebration of the Holy Communion (a surplice in parish churches, a cope in cathedrals).  Eeles took the view that such rulings were merely attempts to impose a minimum of decency in the Liturgy on Puritans.

Eeles’ manifesto should be seen in the context of the publication of the findings of a Royal Commission appointed to look into the acrimonious disputes about worship both before and after the Public Worship Regulation Act.  Owing to widespread public distaste for the idea of throwing priests into prison just for their manner of worshipping God, the Act had rapidly become a dead letter but the problem it had been designed to solve, or at least limit, had not gone away.  The Commission’s findings, published in 1906, were that neither the texts nor the ceremonial envisaged in the 1662 Prayer Book were meeting the religious needs of the present-day of Church of England – a coded reference to the growing strength of Anglo-Catholicism.  This sage conclusion was followed by twenty years of ultimately pointless preparation of liturgical reform which culminated in the two proposed Prayer Books, 1927 and 1928, turned down with handsome majorities by the House of Commons.  In any case, the ‘deposited books’ had already been widely rejected by Anglo-Catholics.  Despite the concessions of the drafters to the Catholic element in Anglicanism (a more Catholic Eucharistic Order, prayer for the departed), Anglo-Catholics were affronted by the evident intention of the episcopate to use the new book to outlaw such practices as public devotions to the reserved Sacrament, and they considered the new Order far too unlike the historic Western Use to be a substitute for a Missal.  The revised books included a post-consecratory ‘epiclesis’ prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit to hallow not just those receiving Communion but the Gifts themselves (defended by the erudite student of the Sarum liturgy and bishop of Truro, W. H. Frere, on the grounds that it would make the Church of England a bridge between West and East).  But as one commentator noted, ‘When highly placed advocates of the new Prayer Book declared that the Canon would stop the sounding of bells and gongs at the words, ‘This is my Body, etc’, all chances of its acceptance by Anglo-Catholics as a whole vanished’.[6]

There was also another view.  Writing in 1923, in the midst of the projects of liturgical revision, in a pamphlet published by the Alcuin Club, a learned society of moderately High Church liturgists, Colin Dunlop accused Anglo-Catholics of introducing anarchy into the Church.  In What is the English Use? An Inquiry into the Principles underlying the Conduct of Public Worship in the Church of England, Dunlop wrote: ‘Within its own sphere the authority of the national Church must needs be final.  Every English clergyman was ordained on that understanding, clearly formulated, publicly proposed, and deliberately accepted.  In the exercise of this rightful authority the Prayer Book was compiled in the sixteenth century and revised again in the seventeenth.  Only on the supposition that the Church of England still posses that authority can it be revised again in 1923.  It is on the assumption that the Church of England possesses no authority to determine for its own members the version of Catholicism which they shall accept, and the rites and ceremonies which shall express that version, that Anglo-Catholics have brought the system of the Church of England into general contempt, and created a situation which is indistinguishable from anarchy.’[7]  For Dunlop, liturgical revision could only proceed by developing the Prayer Book, not by supplanting it, and a developed Prayer Book was not compatible with the ceremonial either of Rome or of mediaeval Salisbury.  This was the position (when they were consistent) of ‘Prayer Book Catholics’.

Anglo-Papalists, above all, had no intention of heeding these words.  In 1935 one of the best known of their clergy, Alban Baverstock, writing in collaboration with his confrere Donald Hole, in The Truth about the Prayer Book, declared the Tudor and Stuart books thoroughly compromised by the Erastianism of the manner of their introduction, as was shouted to the rooftops by the way the prayer for the king had precedence in the order of service over the collect for the day.  ‘It is the aim of this historical study’, their preface announced, ‘to show that the book itself was imposed by the State upon the Church rather than by the Church of England on her children, and that its authority is primarily derived from the State’.[8] Baverstock and Hole had their own interpretation of the Declaration whereby Anglican clergy bound themselves to use of the Prayer Book, which in its then most recent (1865) version read, ‘I will use the form in the said Book prescribed and no other, except so far as shall be ordered by legitimate authority’.  What was meant by ‘legitimate authority’ was of course Parliament, but the grammatical sense of the words allowed for the understanding that spiritual authority was in view.  For the writers, since no Provincial Synod had ever abrogated the ancient Missal, even allowing it had the power to do so, an alternative book, enjoying full spiritual authority, was available.  It was the Missal.[9]  They did not propose the wholesale abandonment of the Book of Common Prayer, but they did think it needed to be radically supplemented, and that the only justifiable way in which to do so was by approximation to what they described as ‘the only Rite which really possesses full canonical authority’.[10]  I have presented this background because it shows it is no simple matter to devise a version of the Anglican liturgical patrimony that is generally acceptable to Anglo-Catholics, never mind to the see of Rome.

This is true of Anglo-Catholicism globally – even if some versions of the Prayer Book, such as those derived from its Caroline variant in Scotland, and others in the former British colonies, are less objectionable, doctrinally speaking.  That said, one must also register a further bifurcation of the situation as between England and much of the rest of the English-speaking world.  In the course of the 1960s and 1970s, the Church of England obtained from the British Parliament a degree of independence to determine its own worship: thus the 1965 ‘Prayer Book (Alternative and Other Services) Measure’, and then in 1974 the ‘Worship and Doctrine Measure’.  The liturgical commission established by the Church was ultimately responsible to General Synod, and this gathering, democratically elected so far as the Houses of Laity and Clergy were concerned, constituted a faithful reflection of the three parties within Anglicanism whose existence and history the first part of this essay outlined.  Inevitably, then, Anglo-Catholics had their say in the process of devising or approving what followed: initially, the set of rites known as Series I, Series II, and Series III (from 1966 to 1973), next the 1980 Alternative Service-Book, and finally, in 2000, Common Worship.  All these efforts had one thing in common.  They abandoned the hopeless attempt to shape a liturgy acceptable to all the currents in the Church and devised instead books or, most recently, electronically available materials, consisting in a number of parallel rites among which an individual congregation with its pastor could pick and choose.  This for the first time allowed official liturgical books of the Church of England to be far more consonant with a Catholic Eucharistic sensibility, albeit of course on this laisser-faire, self-selecting, basis.  Strictly speaking, these were not revisions of the last English Prayer Book, that of 1662, but parallel rites.

At the same time, the expectations aroused by the reception in England of the agreed texts stemming from the first round of work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC I) and such events as the visit of Archbishop Michael Ramsey to Pope Paul VI and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Archbishop Robert Runcie, created a momentum whereby the great majority of Anglo-Catholic clergy rallied, seemingly spontaneously, to the revised Roman liturgy Paul VI had sanctioned in 1969.  Many of those in Forward in Faith U. K. who favoured the ‘Rita’ solution (‘Rome Is The Answer’) were, in effect, Anglicans of the Roman rite.

But by the 1970s and 80s, when the ralliement of English Anglo-Catholics to the reformed Roman books took place – by coincidence, just at the time that the new liturgical collections, elements of which were Catholicism-compatible, were starting to become available in England, things looked very different elsewhere.  The Anglican ‘continuing churches’ which, through the Traditional Anglican Communion, would form the lion’s share of potential entrants to the future Ordinariates overseas, had, by and large, already broken communion with mainstream Anglicanism in, for example, the United States and the former British Dominions in Canada and Australia.  They took with them into exile the ‘English Missals’ or ‘Anglican Missals’ of the Catholic Revival, translated as these are into Cranmerian English and interpolated with some genuinely Cranmerian prayers, as well as versions of the Prayer Book (Scottish, American, or ‘colonial’) which did not cause the same degree of controversy among Catholic-minded Anglicans as had the 1662 book in England.  Thus when in 1980 Pope John Paul II agreed to the establishment in the United States of a number of Anglican Use parishes under the terms of a ‘Pastoral Provision’ for former Episcopalians in that country, the liturgical text which emerged in this connexion, The Book of Divine Worship, reflected a good deal in the American Prayer Book tradition.[11]  In those days, prior to the promulgation by Pope Benedict XVI of an apostolic constitution ‘liberating’ the older Roman rite, Summorum Pontificum, it was not feasible to suggest integration with features of the Prayer Book rites certain elements proper to the older Roman books.  Instead, Prayer Book features were fused with elements of the Roman rite as reformed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, although a version of the Roman Canon in ‘Tudor’ English taken from one of the Anglo-Catholic translations was permitted alongside the modern language version.

All this meant that when with the promulgation of Anglicanorum coetibus a small liturgical commission was established, with responsibility from the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to see to the needs of a new situation, some difficulty was experienced in establishing a template likely to be acceptable to all and sundry.   Overwhelmingly, English Anglicans had abandoned both the Prayer Book Eucharist and that of the English Missal tradition.  They had accepted the reformed Roman liturgy, often with a few variations (such as the placing of the Sign of Peace before the Offertory) supplied from modern Church of England liturgical revision, as well as, typically, including the most beloved of such short Cranmerian texts as the Prayer of Humble Access.

The English members of the commission were thus faced with a quandary so far as the Eucharistic rite of the Ordinariate was concerned.  Although Anglicanorum coetibus conceded that the Ordinariate’s members could make use of the Roman books, the emphasis of the text lay on the provision of ‘books proper to the Anglican tradition’, once these had received approval from the Holy See (thus Anglicanorum coetibus III).  But for the Eucharistic rite, there was for English Anglo-Catholics no suitable book that came to hand.  This is why it was proposed to produce an Order generated by the same principles that had animated, in the Roman liturgy, the redaction of the Missal of Pope Paul VI.  The principles are often labelled, not inaccurately, ressourcement, ‘going back to the sources’, and aggiornamento, ‘bringing up to date’The English Prayer Book tradition was to be Catholicised by reference to its own principal ancient source – the Use of Sarum – while at the same time taking into account the best elements of contemporary worship available, whether from the Roman Missal of 1969 (but now in its third edition) or from modern Church of England best practice.  In this process, what was objectionably Protestant about the Prayer Book Eucharist would vanish away, yet what would remain would still testify to ‘Anglican patrimony’, albeit in the new context of canonical as well as doctrinal and sacramental union with the Latin church.  This describes, then, the draft forwarded in March 2011 for recognitio by the Holy See.

Baverstock and Hole had declared that in their opinion, revision of rites must wait until the ‘personnel of the Church of England has been more fully converted to the Catholic Faith’.[12]  For this to take place they foresaw two steps.  The first was disestablishment of the Church; the second was ‘pressing towards the goal of the Oxford Movement – the attainment of Catholic Reunion under the Primacy of the Holy See’.[13]  The setting up of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (altogether freed from State supervision and united with Rome) created just the conditions in which substantial elements of the English Liturgy of the pre-Reformation period could be married with those features of the Prayer Book that still held the affection of many, together with the best products of Roman rite revision and its Church of England counterpart.  The result may be considered the sort of Eucharistic Order Cranmer might well have established had he been doctrinally orthodox (and lived in the twentieth century).

There were no comparable difficulties attached to the other texts in the proposed English book: the daily Offices of Mattins and Evensong (to which, following the example of the 1928 proposed Prayer Book, an Office of Compline and a Day Hour were added; the Litany; the Lectionary (for the Office as well as for the Mass), and rites for marriage and funerals – though the inclusion in the latter of explicit prayer for the departed (and not simply for the bereaved) was strengthened by the addition of the Sarum rites for the commendation of the dead person which followed on the Requiem Mass.  The calendar proposed was the current seasonal calendar of the Church of England, itself of Sarum origin, together with the cycle of festivals as found in the 1970 General Calendar of the Roman rite, and a number of English or British commemorations, in excess of those in the National Calendar for England and Wales (though not necessarily exceeding the total number if saints in the local calendars of English and Welsh [and Scottish] dioceses were to be added together).  There was one unusual feature of the Office of Mattins.  Following contemporary Church of England precedent, the second reading at Mattins could be drawn from post-biblical sources.  In the context of the Latin church, the Roman rite Office of Readings is an obvious source for these, but the book drafted for the English Ordinariate contains an alternative cycle for Sundays and feasts taken from insular sources.  A number of these are taken from patristic writers (Bede, Aldhelm), mediaeval sources (John of Ford, Mother Julian, Nicholas Love), and English Catholic martyrs (Fisher, More, Campion), but the larger number derive from the Anglican patrimony (the Caroline divines and their Restoration successors, the Tractarians with particular reference to Newman, and a selection of later Anglo-Catholic writers).  It is, as it were, a testimony to what might have been had the English Reformation proceeded on Catholic lines, as did the Catholic Reformation in much of Continental Europe.  No Baptismal liturgy or liturgy for Confirmation has been provided, on the twofold ground that Anglicanism has not produced a version of such a liturgy which has endeared itself to its faithful, and also that there is something especially fitting about the use in an Ordinariate of the rites of the Roman liturgy for Christian initiation, as a sign of belonging to the wider Latin church (and thus to the Catholic Church as a whole).  The same congruence might well be ascribed to the use of the Ordination rites of the mainstream Latin church.


The early English ecumenist Father Henry St John, of the Order of Preachers, on his death in 1973, left among his papers a moving ‘testament’, possibly written as early as 1964.  The son of a Herefordshire ‘squarson’, he had studied at St Stephen’s House in Oxford, sat at the feet of Darwell Stone at Pusey House, taken Anglican Orders at the hands of the bishop of Exeter in 1915, served his title at St Mary’s, Penzance.  Then, through reading Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, he decided he must seek to enter full communion with the Catholic Church.  From Hawkesyard, the Dominican house of studies in Staffordshire, he enlisted as a private soldier in the Great War, survived the mud of Passchaendale, and, when the Armistice came, entered the English Province of the Order which had taken responsibility for his instruction and reception.  I record here the first and last words, respectively, of his Testament.  This is how it opens: ‘Few Catholic priests can have had such concentrated Anglican antecedents and background as mine were.   I can truly say that all the best things in Anglicanism are still in me at every human level, intuitive, affective and intellectual, integrated now into my Catholicism.  These have been incorporated into my Catholic life, and I am very sure, perfected by it.  But the roots of this composite are thoroughly Anglican, and I am deeply grateful for the ethos of the Church of England and its doctrine which had penetrated and built up the family, parents and brothers and sisters, in which I was bred.’[14]  And here is how it closes: ‘Our vision of the future must be that one day there will still be the Catholic Church, the same in its essential structure and truth.  Towards unity with her the Churches now outside the Catholic Church will move.  The Church will open wide its arms and accept all that is good and true in custom and in usage, in ways of thinking, worshipping and government that these Churches have practised and valued in their separated life.  By this the Church of Christ will be greatly enlarged and enriched.  All that that the Catholic Church now stands for will still be the substance of the Church’s structure. In less essential things, there will be a far wider variety of custom and usage, as there was in the early days of the Church’s history.  As I look back over more than 50 years, during which history has been in the making, that must be the vision of our ecumenical hope and prayer’.[15]

[1] G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (London: A. and C. Black, [1945] 1982, 2nd edition), p. 670.

[2] Ibid., p. 672.

[3] A. Burnham, Heaven and Earth in Little Space. The Re-enchantment of Liturgy (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2010), p. 32.

[4] M. Dalby, Anglican Missals and their Canons: 1549, Interim Rite and Roman (Cambridge: Grove Books, 1998).

[5] F. C. Eeles, The Ornaments Rubric. A Short Account of its History, with a List of the Ornaments it Requires (London: Mowbray, 1908).

[6] W. K. Lowther Clarke, The Prayer Book of 1928 reconsidered (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1943), p. 46.

[7] C. Dunlop, What is the English Use? An Inquiry into the Principles underlying the Conduct of Public Worship in the Church of England (London: Mowbray, 1923), pp. 18-19.

[8] A. Baverstock and D. Hole, The Truth about the Prayer Book (London: Williams and Norgate, 1935), p. xii.

[9] Ibid., p. 78.

[10] Ibid., p. 80.

[11] The Book of Divine Worship. Being 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 (Mt. Pocono, PA: Newman House Press, 2003).

[12] A. Baverstock and D. Hole, The Truth about the Prayer Book, op. cit., p. 80.

[13] Ibid., p. 81.

[14] H. St. John, O. P., ‘The Testament of an Ecumenist’, The Spode House Review 9. 102 (1973), p. 3.

[15] Ibid., p. 8.



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