Thursday, 27 November 2014

Cheap aspiration or theological virtue?: hope and the Advent collects

To return to Father Hunwicke's reflections on the Advent collects:

Modern Anglican revisers are surely right to transfer Cranmer's collect for Advent 2 to a 'Bible Sunday' outside Advent so that it does not interrupt specifically ‘Advent' themes. They retain his Advent 3 collect because it suits the 'John Baptist' themes which the Three Year Lectionary retains on this Sunday. In my view, this collect, again, is too verbally prolix. Our Lady is the theme of Advent 4; Common Worship offers a Beta Minus composition to reflect this and misses the opportunity, seized by Rome, to use the familiar Angelus collect of which Cranmer provided a superb translation (March 25).

The removal of Cranmer's Advent II collect - "Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning" - from the Advent season does have a rationale, as Fr Hunwicke indicates.  However, a case can be made that the collect's thanksgiving for the gift of the Scriptures is appropriate to Advent, placing Scripture in the context of the story of prophets and patriarchs, and their hope fulfilled in the Christ.  Scripture is not abstract, propositional truth: it is this story, of this people, of this hope.

The Advent III collect - "... who at your first coming sent your messenger" - may be regarded as "verbally prolix", but it (like that collect for Advent I) situates "now in the time of this mortal life" in the context of the divine drama.  As an address given in Durham Cathedral on this collect notes, its author - John Cosin - superbly combined a number of Advent liturgical themes:

Cosin shows excellent awareness of the liturgical setting. The liturgical season is Advent; Cosin draws on the traditional association of Advent 3 with the ministry of John the Baptist. He beautifully combines the double emphasis in Advent on Christ’s first coming and his second coming. And as Advent 3 falls near the Ember Days, he relates the ministry of the Baptist to the ordained ministry of the Church.

As for Advent IV, Cranmer's collect (in 1549 and 1552, retained in 1559 and 1662) was a translation of a collect from the Gelasian Sacramentary.  It is rooted, then, in the Church's ancient prayer of Advent hope.  Common Worship retains it as the collect for Advent II.  The CofI BCP 2004, unfortunately, decided to retain it only for Order One on Advent II, providing a somewhat banal contemporary language collect for Order Two.

The contemporary language collect provided in many Anglican rites for Advent IV, reflecting on Our Lady, is not, we might suggest, the failure indicated by Fr Hunwicke.  It locates Our Lady in the context of the Advent hope - indeed, it celebrates her as the exemplar of Advent hope.  There is also an alternative worthy of consideration, an alternative proposed by the CofI BCP 2004.  Its Advent IV traditional language collect is Cranmer's original Advent III collect, taken from Sarum:

Lord, we beseech thee, give ear to our prayers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our heart, by our Lord Jesus Christ.

As the address in Durham Cathedral, quoted above, notes:

In the early editions of the Book of Common Prayer, today’s collect [i.e. Advent III] was Cranmer’s beautiful translation of the medieval Sarum prayer, which we hear to Adrian Batten’s evocative setting each year at the conclusion of the Advent Procession.

It is a beautiful and evocative prayer, and the CofI BCP 2004 use of it on the last Sunday of Advent, in the days around the winter solistice, has particular resonance.  Even if not used as a collect, retaining its liturgical use in some manner e.g. the Advent Procession, is surely to be recommended.

What is striking in considering the Advent collects of many contemporary Anglican rites, is the recognition of the continued power of the 1549-1662 compositions and translations.  They situate us, in the early 21st century, in the drama of Advent hope and judgement.  Amidst the commercialism and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism of the culture's celebrations through the weeks of December, they recall the Church to discern, re-receive and celebrate what Peguy stated:"hope ... is a theological virtue" (emphasis added).  Not a vague, cheap aspiration.  Hope flowing from the confession of Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection.  "He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead."  A piercing virtue, re-shaping our desires and loves, as we are placed within the divine drama, made manifest in the story of Israel and the Church, of saving, renewing judgement.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

"A superb catechesis of the meaning of the season": Cranmer's Advent collect

As Advent fast approaches, Anglicans can look forward to the drama of Cranmer's Advent collect.  An address given for Advent Compline in Durham Cathedral in 2009, explores how the collect situates us in the divine drama of the season:

As Christians we live out our lives between these two decisive Comings, both of which Advent anticipates, and we embrace his coming to us now. Suddenly, we are part of the story, part of the working out of God's purposes; we find our place in the divine drama 'now in the time of this mortal life' ...

But by God's grace, we find our place in this world, in history, in this life, in the human story, in the divine drama. By grace we see our humanity raised to the heights; by grace, we articulate our hope in God's future. And by grace, we are changed to become what we are, children of light, children of day.

And so in this solemn hour of compline, as darkness surrounds us, we see light, we pray for grace.

It is a wonderful summary of the drama, power and beauty of the Advent collect.  Which leads us to Fr Hunwicke's comments on the collect:

For Advent I, Cranmer composed a stately expression of the Advent themes - indeed, some of its phrases are reminiscent of parts of the post-Conciliar Roman Advent prefaces. When it used to be said at least twice daily all through Advent, it must have provided a superb catechesis of the meaning of the season. Nowadays it usually only gets a showing on the Sunday, and I rather wonder whether it says too much for one collect used once (... we could use it throughout Advent to conclude the Intercession).

"A superb catechesis of the meaning of the season."  Why would we contemplate abandoning such a potent expression of the Anglican liturgical tradition?  Restoring the Advent collect to the daily office - either as a second collect or as the unchanging collect at Mattins and/or Evensong - would be a significant step toward retrieving this "superb catechesis".  Fr. Hunwicke's suggestion that it be used during Mass throughout the season to conclude the intercessions offers another means to restore its use.  We might also consider it as a post-communion for weekday Masses through the season, mindful of the words of Zizioulas, "The Eucharist is ... the Lord's coming again and the day of judgment, live".

The obvious cultural and subsequent liturgical pressures on Advent limit the time available to capture the imagination with the drama of Christ's threefold appearing - in Virgin's womb; at end of the ages; and "now in the time of this mortal life", in sacrament, scripture, stranger, poor and neighbour.  This requires potent liturgical prayer, with imagery and poetic phrases capable of grasping the cultural imagination.  Cranmer's Advent collect is a compelling example of such liturgical prayer and its daily use throughout Advent surely offers much for enriching the Church's prayer, teaching and witness during the season.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

"The Anglo-Catholic path is one that foregrounds transcendence ..."

Haligweorc offers some thoughts from a TEC perspective on why catholic Anglican parishes and communities should have a preference for Rite I (Cranmerian English) over Rite II (contemporary English):

1. A sense of historical continuity. For me, to be Anglo-Catholic and to hold an Historical Approach isn’t just about the pre-Reformation period. I dislike pretense, and there are those who would like to pretend that the Reformation never happened, and that we can or should go back to celebrating pre-Reformation liturgies the way it was done then—just with comprehensible English. However much this might thrill my inner Sarum geek, it simply doesn’t and won’t work as a way of being church now. A key notion of the Historical Approach is that the tradition is an inheritance; the things handed on to us have worked for centuries. Yes, things are different; yes, the culture is different; but humanity is still fundamentally the same.

The Rite I liturgies put me in touch with a larger church. Knowing that I am praying in the same words that spiritual ancestors used one hundred, two hundred, four hundred years ago is valuable. This helps me get a concrete notion of baptismal ecclesiology—I pray in consonance with those baptized centuries before I ever came into being. When praying the Daily Office or participating in the older form of the Rite I Eucharist, I am conscious that I am being formed as an Anglican through the experience of sharing in those words and rites.

2. A superior expression of transcendence. As I’ve argued before, here and here, I believe that the Anglo-Catholic path is one that foregrounds transcendence as a means of connecting with God and God-stuff. To shamelessly plagiarize myself, here are some paragraphs from the second link that cut to the main point for our purposes here:
When we come at the question of environment and the vestments by way of a worldview, and worldview as a way of proclaiming and enculturating the kingdom of God, we can see what we do and what the other choices are, in a new light. So for the sake of argument, let’s consider two options next one another. On one hand we have a stereotypical Anglo-Catholic setting and service; on the other hand we have a stereotypical evangelical mega-church setting and service. (My goal here isn’t to put down either one of them—it’s to draw some very big-brush comparisons…)
Our overall impression of the Anglo-Catholic service is that we are encountering things that are initially unfamiliar. In comparison with other buildings, the Gothic church has an odd shape and layout. The ministers are wearing strange clothes. The place is outfitted with crucifixes and candles and thuribles and a bunch of other things you normally only find in a goth shop. The music is played on old instruments. The language and terminology may be unfamiliar; the internal logic of the rite isn’t similar to other meetings we’re used to experiencing. By way of contrast, the evangelical mega-church does everything it can to feel familiar. The room looks like it may well be a regular auditorium with stadium style seating and potted plants. The ministers are dressed in street clothes and tattoos. They’ve got guitars and a drum kit. Both the language and internal logic of the rite are what you might find in a typical pop concert.
Now – what do these two environments communicate about the worldview that they are expressing? About the proclamation of the gospel in relation to the modern secular culture? The way I read it, the Anglo-Catholic service is foregrounding a theology of the transcendent. The environment is fundamentally and intentionally discontinuous from contemporary culture. The message is that the values and world of the gospel are likewise discontinuous from our everyday secular world. A transformation is required in order to cleave to the mind of Christ. To me, it’s a visual reminder of Isaiah’s words: my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts. Some people will tell us that we’re not being accessible. That’s not how I’d frame it. I’d rather say that we’re bearing witness to a mystery, and inviting people to come and learn about that mystery with us.
The way I read the evangelical mega-church environment, it foregrounds a theology of immanence. This environment is fundamentally continuous with contemporary culture – but with a twist. The message is that the values and world of the gospel can be seen from here, we just may not be there yet. A tweak is what’s needed. To me, it’s a reminder that God is in our very midst. This is accessible, it’s a kissing cousin with modern culture—but my concern is, where and how is the line being drawn? Where is the Gospel demand to something new, something radical?
Now, this is not to say that either one of them have a lock on transcendence or immanence. It’s a matter of emphasis, but also a legitimate difference of theology. We have chosen a different way.
The use of “traditional” language is a clear sign that we are operating with a different frame of reference from the everyday world. It is understandable—but noticeably different.

3. Greater beauty. As a lover of language, I find the Rite I liturgies to be more beautiful. I think that they have a superior flow of language, better use of assonance and alliteration,  better attention to balancing clauses than what we find in the Rite II liturgies. To a degree, the syntax of traditional language helps this happen. That is, the verb endings help with assonance and rhyme; certain stock phrases contribute an inherently better balance to sentence structure. In a culture that still (rightly) sees and reads Shakespeare as one of the best poets of all time in any language and where the King James Bible is a deep part of our vernacular, traditional language reads as elevated language which reads as poetic language. Following Dearmer and others, I see beauty as a necessary part of our worship of and witness to God. Therefore, the more beautiful option is the better option to my way of thinking.

While this will undoubtely resonate with catholic Anglicans in the CofE, the situation in the CofI is not quite so straightforward.  Our Order One in the CofI BCP 2004 is 1662, language and content.  Order Two is contemporary language, but restores the ancient Western shape of the eucharistic rite.  Now, there is a place for the 1662 eucharistic rite in catholic Anglican spirituality and liturgical practice.  Its penitential and contemplative tones, the collects flowing directly from the ancient Latin rites, the teaching of the Prayer of Humble Access and the post-Communion prayers, can all contribute to a deepening eucharistic spirituality in catholic Anglican parishes - albeit not as the rite for the main Parish Mass.  But, as the normative rite for the celebration of the eucharist, 1662 is clearly not preferable to the catholic shape restored by the CofI's Order Two.

We might note, however, that almost certainly catholic Anglicans will use Order One (1662) for Evensong, rather than contemporary versions.  This is another aspect of retaining traditional liturgical language in the worshipping experience of the parish.

A case can be made, however, that Haligweorc's three criteria could also apply to contemporary eucharistic rites, such as the CofI's Order Two.

"A sense of historical continuity" - as already implied, there is a sense that this is so because the CofI's Order Two restores the ancient Western shape of the eucharist.  What is more, the use - in contemporary language - of the collect for purity, the summary of the Law, many of the 1662 collects (e.g. think of the Advent collect), the introduction to the Blessing ("The peace of God ...") outside the seasons, indicates significant aspects of how Anglicans have prayed over generations have been retained.

"A superior sense of transcendence" - what Haligweorc's says of how catholic Anglicans celebrate the Eucharist could also apply to an Order Two Mass: "Our overall impression of the Anglo-Catholic service is that we are encountering things that are initially unfamiliar. In comparison with other buildings, the Gothic church has an odd shape and layout. The ministers are wearing strange clothes. The place is outfitted with crucifixes and candles and thuribles and a bunch of other things you normally only find in a goth shop. The music is played on old instruments. The language and terminology may be unfamiliar; the internal logic of the rite isn’t similar to other meetings we’re used to experiencing."  In other words, the strangeness of the eucharistic celebration - the sign of transcendence - need not necessarily disappear, or be diluted, because the eucharistic rite is in contemporary language.

"Greater beauty" - this is indeed perhaps where contemporary language rites are weaker, but poetic beauty is still present, particularly when liturgical language is contrasted with the language of the media, the business meeting, politics, or popular entertainment.  To take one small example.  The post-communion prayer for Advent I in the CofI's BCP 2004 includes the following: "God our deliverer, Awaken our hearts to prepare the way for the advent of your Son ...".  Not only is this not how the culture speaks (deliverer, awakened hearts, advent), but it also has the means of capturing our imagination through the use of imagery which echoes the rich Scriptural fare set before the Church during Advent.

Perhaps what is being suggested here is an Anglican form of what our Roman brothers and sisters have called the 'Reform of the Reform'.  Emphasise the continuity between our contemporary rites and both classical Anglican rites and ancient Western rites.  Abandon the physical and linguistic iconoclasm of a past generation, celebrating contemporary rites with the emphasis on transcendence, and 'strangeness' as the sign of this.  Delight in - and use to the full - beauty and poetry when it is present in contemporary liturgical language.

Monday, 24 November 2014

"Look towards the east, O Jerusalem": ad orientem in Advent

For those of us who routinely celebrate versus populum, a liturgical suggestion for Advent from the RC diocese of Lincoln in the United States:

Since ancient times, Christians have faced the east during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to remember to keep watch for Christ. Together, the priest and the people faced the east, waiting and watching for Christ. Even in Churches that did not face the east, the priest and people stood together in the Mass, gazing at Christ on the crucifix, on the altar, and in the tabernacle, to recall the importance of watching for his return. The symbolism of the priest and people facing ad orientem—to the east—is an ancient reminder of the coming of Christ.

More recently, it has become common for the priest and the people to face one another during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest stands behind the altar as he consecrates the Eucharist, facing the people.  The people see the face of the priest as he prays, and he sees their faces. These positions can have important symbolism too.  They can remind us that we are a community—one body in Christ. And they can remind us that the Eucharist, at the center of the assembly, should also be at the center of our families, and our lives.

But the symbolism of facing together, and awaiting Christ, is rich, time-honored and important. Especially during Advent, as we await the coming of the Lord, facing the east together—even symbolically facing Christ together at the altar and on the crucifix—is a powerful witness to Christ’s imminent return. Today, at a time when it is easy to forget that Christ is coming—and easy to be complacent in our spiritual lives and in the work of evangelization—we need reminders that Christ will come.

During the Sundays of Advent, the priests in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ will celebrate the Mass ad orientem. With the People of God, the priest will stand facing the altar, and facing the crucifix.  When I celebrate midnight Mass on Christmas, I will celebrate ad orientem as well.  This may take place in other parishes across the Diocese of Lincoln as well.

In the ad orientem posture at Mass, the priest will not be facing away from the people.  He will be with them—among them, and leading them—facing Christ, and waiting for his return.

(And an important reminder via Project Canterbury of Bishop Grafton's words: "To the objection that the priest is thus standing with his back toward the people, it is a sufficient answer that he is doing not otherwise than the priest in the front pew is doing to the priest in the pew behind him; for all the baptized and confirmed are sharers, in their degree, in the priesthood.")

Saturday, 22 November 2014

"Lewis' masterpiece": Balthasar on C.S. Lewis

Today is for many Anglican provinces the commemoration of C.S. Lewis (although not, perversely, in Ireland - the Church in which he was baptised).

I wonder if the most striking theological reference to Lewis is to be found in Hans Urs von Balthasar's Dare We Hope "That all Men be Saved"?.  Discussing a critic of his own understanding of hell, Balthasar states:

... if Herr Hermes lightly dismisses the testimony that I refer to by Karl Rahner, then that of C.S. Lewis - whom he approvingly cites - which forms the constant theme of Lewis' masterpiece The Great Divorce, might provide him with material for reflection, or perhaps the words of Cardinal Ratzinger ...

(Dare We Hope "That all Men be Saved"? Igantius Press, 1988, p.56)

Friday, 21 November 2014

The pan-sacramental vision of Keble's 'Christian Year': joy, grief and the Church's prayer

For Keble, the physical landscape and the changing seasons have a sacramentality in which is 'hidden' the grace of the Triune God.  Discerning this sacramentality is the work of the heart, moved by faith, hope and love.  This is also the case with what we might term the emotional landscape of human lives.  Here too is sacramentality.

In addition to providing verse for the temporal and sanctoral, Keble also does so for the occasional offices of the Book of Common Prayer.  For Keble, these liturgies unveil the sacramental presence in our emotional landscapes.  Thus, he states of "wedded Love":

There is an awe in mortals' joy,
A deep mysterious fear.

Our emotions as we approach a wedding - the sense of high significance, meaning, and purpose - are a sacramental experience.  But this is only unveiled through the liturgy of the rite of matrimony:

E'en wedded Love, till Thou be nigh,
Dares not believe her gain.

This through the rite of matrimony, "wedded Love" becomes the experience of "All blessings of the breast and womb/Of Heaven and earth beneath".  Our awe and fear in approaching marriage is unveiled, and we encounter the delight and gift of blessing.

Similarly, the mother's joy at the birth of a child speaks of an event that has meaning beyond mere reproduction, mere scientific fact:

... to-day this hallow'd air
Is fragrant with a mother's first and fondest prayer.

In the liturgy for the Churching of Women, this "fondest prayer", this "dear affection", participates in Triune Love and becomes a sign of Pentecostal grace and a foretaste of eschatological hope:


Only let Heaven her fire impart,
No richer incense breathes on earth ...

O what a treasure of sweet thought
Is here! what hope and joy and love
All in one tender bosom brought,
For the all-gracious Dove
To brood o'er silently, and form for Heaven
Each passionate wish and dream to dear affection given.

If joy in marriage and the birth of a child has a sacramental significance, so too does grief.  Keble's ends his verse on the Visitation and Communion of the Sick, with a reflection on the sense of loss following death:

O soothe us, haunt us, night and day,
Ye gentle Spirits far away ...

What is striking here, of course, is how doctrinally inappropriate such language is.  "Haunt us".  "Spirits far away".  It is, however, the language of grief (even in a secular age): the longing for presence, for death not to be that which entirely severs relationship.  It is such emotions which are gathered up in the Paschal Mystery to become the communion of saints:

Ye gentle Spirits far away,
With whom we shar'd the cup of grace.

There is also the silence of grief and loss.  This Keble in his verse for the Burial of the Dead, unveils as echoing the "still, twixt hope and fear" which would have greeted Christ's command to the widow's son, "Arise":

E'en such an awful soothing calm
We sometimes see aligh
On Christian mourners, while they wait
In silence, by some church-yard gate,
Their summons to the holy rite.

We might also wonder about the silence which fell on the women as the fled from the empty tomb in Mark 16:8 - in other words, a pregnant silence, a sign of Resurrection.  As Keble continues:

And such the tones of love, which break
The stillness of that hour,
Quelling th' embitter'd spirit's strife - 
"The Resurrection and the Life
"Am I: believe, and die no more."

The mourners' silence of grief is unveiled by the words of the funeral liturgy to be the expectant arena for Resurrection hope.  Our very silence in the face of death and loss is sacramental sign of Resurrection.

In his discussion of the significance of The Christian Year, Newman referred to its celebration of "what may be called, in a large sense of the word, the Sacramental system; that is, the doctrine that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen".  The Christian Year both 'makes strange', through re-enchantment, and then unveils, through sacramental discernment.  Newman says:

When the general tone of religious literature was so nerveless and impotent, as it was at that time, Keble struck an original note and woke up in the hearts of thousands a new music, the music of a school, long unknown in England.

Re-publishing The Christian Year and distributing it in parishes, schools and universities is not what this short series of blog posts has been implying.  Early 19th century poetry (and not particularly good poetry, at that) is not the means of evangelisation in the 21st century.  However, we too live in an age which the "general tone" of much Christian literature, art and presence is "so nerveless and impotent".  And we too, amidst the "strange secularism" of this age, need to rediscover "a new music ... long unknown", in which we can discern natural landscape and emotional landscape as the very stuff of grace and redemption, in which and through which the Triune God is present.  To this end, we would do well to again listen to Keble the poet.

Christopher Snook's study says of Keble:

This conception of the natural world as sign and symbol of the supernatural was central to the Tractarian aesthetic.

It is this aesthetic - and the artistic means of sharing it - which, if it can be rediscovered by contemporary catholic Anglicans, could have the potential to meaningfully to speak to a "strange secularism".

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The pan-sacramental vision of Keble's 'Christian Year': the saints of autumn & winter

In his verse for the saints' days which fall in autumn and winter, Keble again draws us to discern the deep, hidden sacramentality of the created order in a time of decay and darkness.  His poem for St Matthew's Day does this, not with specific reference to the passage of the seasons but rather concerning urban life:

These gracious lines shed Gospel light
On Mammon's gloomiest cells,
As on some city's cheerless night
The tide of sunrise swells,
Till tower, and dome, and bridge-way proud
Are mantled with a golden cloud,
And to wise hearts this certain hope us given;
"No mist that man may raise, shall hide the eye of Heaven."


Even amidst the grime and smog of the city, sunrise can yet be experienced, seen, felt - the "wise heart" can here discern hidden Light and Hope.

On All Saints' Day, Keble tells us how "the shadows sleep on every slanting hill".  What we see is shadow, quietness, decay:

How quiet the woodland scene!
Each flower and tree, its duty done,
Reposing in decay serene.

But autumnal decay and quiet, shadows and darkness heighten our sensitivity to and discernment of things unseen (and here we have echoes of Hallowmas Eve):

Sure if our eyes were purg'd to trace
God's unseen armies hovering round ...

On the shortest day of the year, 21st December, the old calendar celebrated St Thomas.  When darkness is at its deepest, the Church celebrated the apostle who most dramatically confessed the Resurrection.  Keble captures

Thus, ever brighter and more bright,
On those He came to save
The Lord of new-created light
Dawned gradual from the grave;
Till passed th' enquiring day-light hour,
And with closed door in silent bower
The Church in anxious musing sate,
As one who for redemption still had long to wait. 


We wait in darkness and silence, but in that dark wait we behold the gradual dawn of Light.

Speaking of the Incarnation of the Word, Pusey declared:

All His attributes He veiled and hid.

This is the beauty of Incarnation and thus of sacramentality.  Humanity is not overpowered by this hidden God, we are enticed.  We are not blinded by overbearing Light, we are given to glimpse, momentarilty taste, and thus glimpsing and tasting to desire yet more.  It is this sacramentality which Keble perceives manifested amidst the smog of the city, in the decay and shadows of autumn, in the darkness of deep winter.