Some Western types

Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1961-74, was an undergraduate when he came to find in Anglo-Catholic worship the sense of mystery and awe, and of another world at once far and near.. .a sense that we were vividly in the presence of the passion of Jesus and also vividly near to heaven, to which the passion mysteriously belonged, so as to be brought from the past to the present.

He came to value communion after careful preparation at 8.00 a.m. and then High Mass at which (in that period) no-one but the priest took the sacrament. This set his mind free for pondering and adoring (Chadwick 1990:375). He expressed reservations about the Parish Communion movement which had swept Anglicanism by the time he was a bishop in the 1950s. He thought that people merely 'tripped along' to their communion, spiritually unready. He might have had sympathy with the old Scottish Presbyterian custom of Communion Sundays, which took place but once or twice a year. Ramsey would have wanted communion more frequently than that, daily indeed (a practice virtually unknown in Eastern Orthodox liturgical practice).

T.S.Eliot was also converted to Anglo-Catholicism, in his case because it provided a liturgical spirituality of confession, Mass and communion in which the profoundest scepticism was combined with the deepest faith. One was not signing a statement of faith, clothed in the ambiguities beneath the apparent clarities of language, but was caught up in a rite—Eliot compared it to a drama—in which one was not always asking for 'meaning' and 'the series of acts themselves may be the only justification for those who perform them'. He received communion with rapt devotion (Ackroyd 1984:163).

There have been those who have found the source of their private prayers in the liturgy. Lancelot Andrewes's private prayers are a mosaic of passages from Scripture, the Fathers and ancient liturgies (Brightman 1903). He prayed with his pen in his hand and did not like to use his own words. He thought extempore prayers, in the heat of the moment, might be unworthy of God's majesty and 'he wanted a historic formula to pray with; one tested by the Church and by time'. And this was also because 'he felt his own private prayers, however inadequate, to be part of something far bigger, a little living voice inside a multitude of voices praising' (Chadwick 1986).

The modern Liturgical Movement in the West has insisted on the communal nature of liturgical worship and that we should 'Pray the Mass' rather than 'Pray at the Mass'. We are to participate at each moment, gathered around the table, near to the priest or minister, aware of one another as well as of the bread and wine. The Church is the celebrant, not the individual ordained to preside. The emphasis has changed from the act and moment of consecration as the priest recites the words of institution over bread and cup, to the whole Eucharistic prayer, if not the whole rite, as being 'a holy action from beginning to end' (Kilpatrick 1983:83). This results in a very different eucharistic spirituality, participatory rather than contemplative, with less opportunity to 'ponder and adore'. It is less numinous, the Divine not 'up there and out there', but in the worshipping people of God, their reconciliation in Christ enacted at the revival of the ancient greeting of the Peace, rather than in the consecrated elements and the sacramental presence in them. It certainly attempts to bring liturgy to life and unites the Church around the altar with the Church in the world of human relations and political and social action.

Some of this was anticipated at the Reformation. The Reformers insisted on the congregation receiving communion and in both kinds (i.e. not bread alone, as for the past three centuries at least), while Cranmer does not speak of a prayer of consecration (i.e. drawing attention to the bread and wine themselves) in either of his Prayer Books (1549 and 1552). The term was applied to the third part of the anaphora of the Book of Common Prayer in 1662 at the instance of Caroline high churchmen. This was in reaction to what Protestants have regarded as the departure of the Roman Catholic Church of the high Middle Ages from biblical truth. The supreme moment of the Mass had become the elevation of the Host (i.e. the consecrated bread). To see that rather than to communicate was the means of grace and salvation. Before summoned to kneel and adore, the congregation might be lost in their own private devotions, perhaps from an appropriate manual—the origin of pews may lie in the desire to concentrate on these—or telling their rosary beads (or even discussing business in the nave). Eamon Duffy has disputed the conventional wisdom that medieval Western Christians were largely nonparticipants in a largely clerical liturgy as untenable over-simplification. The Mass permeated society, its themes were assimilated by the laity in a variety of ways, and if the Sunday Parish Mass was indeed celebrated at a high altar, distant from the people, the low Masses on weekdays, and often on Sundays simultaneously with the main service, were at side or nave altars where the action could be accessible to the worshippers. What is more, each Mass was framed within a series of ritual moments, at which the ministers, often carrying sacred objects, such as the Host itself at Easter, or on ordinary Sundays, Gospel texts, the paxbread, or sacramentals like holy water or holy bread, passed out of the sanctuary into the body of the church.

(Duffy 1992:112)

Mass books for instruction offered moralized or allegorized meditations on the stages of the rite, some working out its correspondences with the events of the Passion, in the belief that, as one tract put it, 'the processe of the masse representyd the very processe of the Passyon off Cryst'. The Sunday Mass was surrounded with light and colour and music, which made the Reformers' liturgies seem over-solemn, verbose and stark in comparison. This was mitigated for Protestants by the vernacular and, eventually in England, by congregational singing (Whale 1936:161ff). Scripture read at length was new and exciting, its teaching seen as centring on justification by faith, 'a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort'.

The seventeenth-century Anglican understanding, turned into hymns in the next century by the Wesleys, is dominated by anamnesis, remembrance, which by faith makes worshippers the contemporaries of Calvary. The once-for-all Sacrifice is re-presented in the eucharist. These ideas are in fact anticipated in Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350-428) and are congenial to twentieth-century Catholic theologians such as Casel and de la Taille (Casel 1962; Yarnold 1972:219). We may find also a hint of Jeremias's exegesis of Christ's command: 'Do this that God may remember me', with its eschatological implications—that God will bring in the kingdom (Jeremias 1966:237ff). Anglican liturgical spirituality has often held that the belief that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ is a mystery about which we should be agnostic rather than devising scholastic theories (Hooker 1907: II: 328-31), while holding that in the sacrament Christ himself is given to his Church on earth in his real presence (Rattenbury 1948).

The Office

The Office, with its basis in the Psalms and the Bible, has for many centuries been a bridge between liturgy and spirituality. It is a liturgy of time, of daily prayer at set hours. In the early third century, Hippolytus commended seven daily hours for prayer to Christians at home or at work—on rising and before any work; at the third hour when Christ was nailed to the cross; at the sixth hour when there was darkness at noon as Christ suffered on the cross; at the ninth hour of the piercing when Christ slept in death; on going to bed; about midnight (though this will mean rising for a while from bed and possibly retiring for the purpose to a separate room, if one's partner is not among the faithful) for then, it is believed, all creation is for a moment still and in Christ's parable the bridegroom came; and at cockcrow (Cuming 1976:29-31). Origen (c.233) taught that to pray without ceasing was to combine action with prayer. 'Virtuous deeds and commandments fulfilled [are] included as acts of prayer.' This is why the whole life of the saint is one great unbroken prayer. 'That which is commonly called prayer' should take place not less than three times a day as with Daniel. Origen also stresses, with scriptural reference, the importance of prayer during the night, as does Chrysostom in Byzantium at the beginning of the fifth century (Oulton and Chadwick 1954:261-2).

After the end of persecution, when Christian assemblies became legal and public the morning and evening times of prayer began to emerge as pre-eminent and to be celebrated daily as public services everywhere, while as a general rule the other pre-Nicene hours remained as purely individual observances, increasingly becoming the activity of the especially devout and ascetic alone.

(Bradshaw 1981:72)

Work prevented most people from keeping all the hours of prayer congregationally. Services morning and evening, with praise and thanksgiving dominant and with an element of penitence, since those soiled by the world's transactions needed God's forgiveness, were held 'daily at the place which the bishop appoints for them' (Cuming 1976:28-9). Because of its link with the authority of bishops, modern scholars have called this twice daily form 'the Cathedral office' (Baumstark 1958:111). The Office was also, however, the backbone of monastic prayer. Monasticism had pre-Christian antecedents, for instance in Judaism, and, it has been argued, was 'always simply there in the life of the Church', in the sense that there are signs from the start that some Christians felt called to a stricter observance of daily prayer. Origen, in the third century, envied Mary sitting at the Saviour's feet (Luke 10:38-42) and John who 'departed into the desert where the air was purer, the sky more open and God more intimately nigh'. But the overwhelming influence of monasticism began in the fourth century. It was an expression of the eschatological character of Christianity as an almost unconscious and instinctive reaction against the secularisation of the Church—not only in the sense of a reduction of her moral ideal or pathos of sanctity, but also of her entrance into the 'service of the world'—of the Empire, civic society and natural values which, after the downfall of paganism, were waiting to receive from Christianity a religious gloss and authorization (Schmemann 1966:102).

It began as a lay movement and was never primarily liturgical in its creativity. Most often it has accepted the currently authorized principles of liturgy, even though some orders have had their own rites. The eucharist has always been central and obligatory, but what has been of most significance for Christian worship is monastic devotion to prayer and psalmody expressed in the daily offices—at eight hours of the day and night as described already in Hippolytus (c.217)and then taken up in the rules of St Basil in the East and St Benedict in the West. It was a quest for perfection attained through unceasing prayer, understood, as with Origen, as including work. Accompanying prayer was the chanting of Psalms. Augustine once said that 'A love of psalmody gave birth to monasticism.' The Psalter was no longer used as a hymnbook as with the Jews and earlier Christians, with Psalms for suitable occasions being chosen out of it, but sung in 'course', that is simply in the order of the Psalter itself. The Rule of St Benedict divides the 150 Psalms among the Offices, so that they are all recited each week.

Not all the consequences of monasticism have been beneficial to Christian spirituality: sometimes it has appeared as an elite, even an affluent elite, apart from and superior to the life expected of ordinary Christians. Today, when vocations have diminished (after some nineteenth-century revival and its recovery in the Church of England), it is seen very much in relation to the Church as a whole. The exploration, practice and teaching of the life of prayer are for the good of all. Monasteries provide both powerhouses of prayer and havens of quiet in a frenetic world, and the common life is sustained by liturgy and office, free in certain ways from some of the dangers that beset other Christians. Monastic life seeks to represent what Christian community should be, while the other orders, with a base in community life under vows, venture into the violent and most depressed places of the earth with the love of Christ. But in its patristic and medieval heyday, there was a tendency that instead of life being prayer, as for Origen, and his Alexandrian predecessor, Clement, prayer replaced life. Liturgy was privatized. The eucharist became an ascetic act for the spiritual succour of the individual in his or her pilgrimage to perfection rather than the 'making real' of the Church in the eschatological feast of the kingdom (Schmemann 1966). Monasticism became the ideal to which life in the world should approximate. The fuller monastic office took over from the 'cathedral office', becoming the norm for the parish clergy. A particular form of spirituality, valuable for those called to it, came to provide a model for the ordered and disciplined prayer of those whose needs it did not altogether serve. Thus, in medieval Europe, monasteries were, somewhat paradoxically, both oases of gospel life within a society operating on lower standards and ideals to which clergy and devout lay people aspired.

The Breviary, which has undergone slow evolution since the thirteenth century, was intended as the prayer book for those using the monastic pattern in ordinary life (Jones et al. 1978:378f). It has been imitated outside Roman Catholicism. When Charles I's Queen, Henrietta Maria, brought over from France her Roman Catholic ladies-in-waiting to the Court, a wave of conversions to Rome followed, together with an interest in Catholic devotional forms. John Cosin, then a Prebend of Durham, compiled in 1627 a Liturgy of the Hours for members of the English Church, together with the penitential psalms, litanies, collects and prayers for various occasions (S tan wood 1967). Viciously attacked by Puritans in the years that followed, it never attained popularity. The Book of Common Prayer was already established as the flagship of the Church of England, with its two daily offices, of which Evening Prayer, with its fusion of the Breviary services of Vespers and Compline, is considered one of its masterpieces.

The Office retains its use amid all changes in the Churches and the world. Twentieth-century Free Churchmen have commended it as a help in dry seasons and an anchorage in the wider Church. Nathaniel Micklem, the Congregationalist, devised morning and evening offices, which used his own tradition of hymnody as well as devotions from the centuries (Micklem 1941). The British Joint Liturgical Group produced proposals resulting from a lengthy discussion of the Office, the first edition introduced by a Baptist, Stephen Winward (Jasper 1968). These ecumenical efforts have not caused general satisfaction. There is a feeling that Protestants use the Office for edification, whereas for some Catholics it is not at all didactic, or emotional, but an impersonal offering to the glory of God apart altogether from feeling and experience, or else an act of identification with the Church (Thornton 1957). Paul Bradshaw wrote in 1981 that we need to discover and create a truly 'cathedral' office, not necessarily by reconstructing what was done at Jerusalem or Antioch or wherever in the fourth century, but by using insights provided by historical study in order to establish the essentials of our pattern of daily prayer and spirituality and then express these in forms appropriate to our own age.

(Bradshaw 1981:153f.)

The Psalms

In spite of the near absence of Morning Prayer in the Sunday worship of present-day Anglican and Methodist Churches and diminished congregations at Anglican Evensong, there is among many devout Christians an increased appreciation of the Psalms. Jesus himself quoted them according to the tradition of the Gospels and used them to interpret his own mission. The evangelists read them as illuminating his life story. Psalm 22 underlies the Marcan and Johannine narratives of the Passion. They express what George Herbert, in the seventeenth century, called the 'bitter-sweet' of Christian experience:

I will complain yet praise;

I will bewail, approve;

And all my soure-swet days

I will lament, and love.

Some feel that the Psalter is incongruous for Christians, as did John Burnaby in a fine essay on 'Christian Prayer'. The Psalter owed its place in the Church's liturgy 'primarily to the ease with which it lent itself to interpretation by the early Church as prophetic of Christ'.

It has established its hold by the supreme beauty and truth of many of the Hebrew hymns and prayers which it contains. But the type of Klagelied, of complaint or expostulation, to which not less than a quarter of the psalms belong, is animated by a temper which even the most reckless allegorizing can scarcely baptize into Christianity.

(Burnaby 1962:235-6)

The imprecatory verses, bringing down curses on the writer's enemies, are a particularly acute problem. They have been bracketed in the 1928 Prayer Book and elsewhere. John Wesley considered them 'highly improper for the mouths of a Christian congegration'; and Bishop Gore, earlier this century, said that no amount of singing the Gloria at the end could make them Christian. To allegorize—in Psalm 137 for instance, with 'Babylon's children' as our sins and Christ as the rock against which they should be dashed—seems an evasion and an escape from historical reality. What must never be forgotten is that the Psalmists are often calling on God to establish divine justice, and many of the Psalms are the cries of the poor, the oppressed and the needy. They cannot easily condone the violence done to them and to others. Modern users have seen them as all too relevant to our times: those who perpetrated the Holocaust cannot simply be excused, or their iniquities condoned by easy talk of forgiving love. The Psalmists do not propose to take vengeance into their own hands but rather demand God's action. And yet in these prayers for justice there is all too obviously human sin, that which is incompatible both with the teaching of Jesus and with God's atoning action in him.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Path To Positive Thinking

The Path To Positive Thinking

Finally, The Ultimate Guide To Changing Your Life Forever... Get Your Hands On The Ultimate Guide For Live Improvement Through The Art Of Positive Thinking And Let It's Magic Change Your Life Forever! Discover How Ordinary People Can Live Extraordinary Lives Through The Power Of Positive Thinking

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment