"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Reflections on Worship

One of the interesting aspects of attending the Chant Institute during the last week and a half was attending eight daily Roman Catholic Masses at St. Joseph’s College. Most of them were in the Gaspar Center (named for the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood), which is essentially a classroom for choral music that happens to have an altar right in the middle of it, but one Mass was in what once was the college’s beautiful 1905-built chapel. While it was delightful to be in the presence of the precious Body and Blood of the Lord every day during my time away, these Masses also served as a sad reminder of the divisions in Christendom. I had to be satisfied with a blessing while my RC friends there (90 % of the Institutes students) received the Sacrament. As a result, my longing for a healing of the breach between Rome and orthodox Anglicanism is stronger now than ever.

But based upon my observation of these RC Masses, there is an area where I now feel Anglo-Catholicism has been positively served by our separation from Rome—liturgical ceremony and devotional piety. Please don’t misunderstand me. The overwhelming majority of the RC participants in the Institute struck me as devout and serious-minded about their faith, and by choosing to participate in an intensive course on Gregorian chant they had already shown themselves to have an above-average interest in traditional worship practices. And I have no reason to doubt that the priests who celebrated these Masses were godly men. (I never detected even the faintest whiff of heresy during the eleven days I was at St. Joe’s—can you imagine that if they were ECUSA priests?!) I have a high personal regard for all these fine folks. Rather, despite the fact that these classmates of mine were among the best informed and personally devout of RC laymen in the United States, I cannot help but conclude that the beauty of the Mass that the Roman Catholic Church inherited from the Middle Ages has largely been squandered in this country.

It was as if beauty had been systematically stripped from their worship (except for the chanting we were doing, which seemed almost an alien intrusion into the contemporary setting—I gather that it is rare to hear Latin Gregorian chant in American RC Masses at the parish level today). The vestments worn by the priests looked as if they had been made from polyester curtains and were tailored by the costumer for a sixties era Sci-Fi show (though I believe one of the priests celebrated in only a white cassock-alb and stole, which at least had a classical simplicity in its favor). The chalice most commonly used also looked like something out of the original Star Trek, while on other days they used a glass one that was a bit more attractive. Only a minority of the congregation kneeled at the prayer of consecration (and they were predominantly conservative college students from the Univ. of Chicago), and only a few of the RC’s present specially reverenced the elements at the elevation. During the course of the entire Mass most of the congregation crossed themselves only once or twice, typically at the very beginning and end of the liturgy. It seems clear to me that bodily displays of reverence, which are all but universal among Anglo-Catholics, have essentially disappeared among contemporary Roman Catholics in the U.S.

And it is rare to find an Anglican church building that has as little concern for beauty as the worship spaces we used last week. Most of our Masses were celebrated on an altar in the middle of a sixties-era classroom (there was a fire alarm where the crucifix should have been), which hardly assisted me in lifting up my heart to the Lord. But it is down right heart breaking to see what was done to the formerly lovely, century-old chapel at St. Joseph’s. At one time it had a dozen altars, but in the seventies they ripped them all out, leaving only vacant space in place of the high altar. Above the side area where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a simple wooden tabernacle there is now a green and yellow mural of an abstract chalice and stalk of wheat. One can only imagine the majestic environment in which worshippers there once praised the Living God.

As one former Anglo-Catholic who has recently decided to swim the Tiber told me recently, on aesthetic grounds today’s RC worship is “a vast waste land.” Based upon my experiences last week, I understand where he is coming from. So while I fervently pray for a reconciliation of the separated portions of the Western Church (and look forward to a day in the not too distant future when Rome and the East are reunited), I also pray that we Anglo-Catholics are able to retain the beautiful, prayerful traditions of worship God has entrusted to us. It looks like the Roman Catholic Church may need us around as faithful stewards of the Tradition when they finally wake up and discover what they have done to their worship practices and spaces.


Blogger Julian said...

It was really weird when they were saying vicious things about stoles being too short and chalices being made out of glass... only to hold up the Star Trek chalice as an exemplar...

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like this was a bittersweet experience for you Randall. Glorious yet simultaneously sobering . I don't know whether to be envious of you or saddened.

Chad Nusbaum

8:22 PM  
Blogger The Common Anglican said...

What is the RCC's position on Anglicans/Episcopalians receving the Eucharist in their churches? I have always thought that only churches in Communion with Rome and Eastern Orthodox Christians could partake, but I have never been certain of this.

10:50 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

As a general rule, Anglicans are forbidden by RCC Canon Law to receive the elements at an RC Mass. However, these recent comments (drawn from http://toshare.dynup.net/en/Eucharist.htm are interesting.Cardinal Kaspar heads the Vatican's ecumenical relations office:

"The National Catholic Reporter[11]http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/ of 27 May 2005 informed that Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was asked on 19 May 2005 whether Catholics should invite others to share in the Catholic Eucharist, so as to foster Christian unity. He responded that, at a minimum, to invite a non-Catholic to receive communion, "we must share the same faith in the Eucharist. At the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the community answers 'Amen', meaning, 'I agree.' Everyone has to ask, 'Can I really say 'Amen' to what is said and done according to Catholic understanding?' These restrictions are not external, disciplinary positions of the Church. They are an explication of this 'Amen'. Otherwise it would be dishonest to go to communion. I would say the same to many Catholics. Does your life correspond to what this Eucharist is? You have to reflect about this, do penance and conversion, and so on. We do not invite all Catholics, either. It's a very hard question of conscience."

Citing the final canon of the Code of Canon Law, Cardinal Kasper also pointed out that the supreme law of the church is the salvation of souls. A person must be treated as an individual and not simply as an example of some general category. Thus under some circumstances, Catholic pastors are permitted to administer the sacraments, including the Eucharist, to non-Catholics. "This seems to me an appropriate response to the contemporary situation," he said. "It allows bishops to reach prudent pastoral decisions in particular instances. … Spiritual questions cannot be regulated by canon law alone. We need pastoral wisdom and the discernment of spirits."

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

I was caught up in the liturgical streamlining and mall-ification of RC liturgy for a time before being attracted to Anglicanism in my mid-20s. It really seemed to be a kind of groupthink, where everyone was making the same changes under the same assumptions that everything we'd been doing and how we'd been doing it was awful and holding us all back from something.

I really think that the vernacular and the expanded lectionary were the best changes of that era. Too bad so much else went with those (like beauty, or like a sense of unity not just with each other but with those who had gone before).

The only way I could go back (I'm not planning to) would be to join an Anglican Use parish.

10:05 AM  

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