Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fit for Purpose? - II

Over at Deborah Gyapong's blog, Foolishness to the World, there has been some discussion (this being the latest) in posts arising out of my posting Fit for Purpose? (which concerned what parts of the classical Anglican Eucharistic service constitute an acceptable and orthodox Anglican Patrimony suitable to bring into the Catholic Church) which I wrote almost a month ago.  Here is my latest reply to the issues raised by a Canadian interlocutor there, whose name I know not, but whose scholarship I respect.


Let us now establish what is at issue here.  Having opened the classical BCP – never mind that few now use it, whether here in Australia, or in the UK; and of course Canada has its own BCP (not that there it is used much either), and likewise for other corners of the Anglican Communion – I looked to see what of its Patrimony, as regards the Eucharist, was “fit for purpose” or, rather, doctrinally orthodox, and thus assimilable for use in the full communion of the Catholic Church in union with Peter.  I left aside High Church ceremonial, and all such considerations; I left aside all old attempts at fitting together the Holy Communion from the BCP with the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Mass; I looked at the BCP Communion Office, and (to my satisfaction at least) showed how virtually all of it could be suitably adapted for use as part of a variant of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Mass – which is confirmed by finding precisely that done in the already-existing Book of Divine Worship for use in the USA by Catholic parishes following the Anglican Use. But I did note that some parts of the BCP’s Eucharistic rite would not pass the test of orthodoxy: above all, the Prayer of Consecration; also, some phrases in other parts needing rewording or deleting (such as the second half of the words of administration of the Sacrament, which date from the notoriously Protestant 1552 BCP).

As I think I may have mentioned, if any Anglican liturgy were found acceptable in toto for the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, it would be that found in the Scottish BCP of 1929; or again, that of the Nonjurors, as drawn up in 1718.  But to be frank, the latter was never used but by a tiny remnant for a generation three centuries ago; and the former is not so much used even among the tiny Scottish Episcopalian denomination any more (having been replaced in the main by odder more modern liturgies).

However, as the Prayer of Consecration in the 1662 BCP consists of a thankful remembrance of the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, followed by a prayer that those receiving the bread and wine would be partakers of His Body and Blood, and then a recital of the Institution Narrative, it is clearly insufficient to express Catholic doctrine about the Eucharist – instead, it well inculcates receptionism (Hooker’s new heresy) and the Protestant tenet that Christ’s Sacrifice is not made present here and now in the Eucharist, but was offered up once for all.  Whatever may be claimed, rather tongue-in-cheek it may seem, in Sæpius officio (wherein its Anglican authors had the bare-faced cheek to claim their mutilated remnant of a Eucharistic Prayer, being as it is derived from the Roman Canon, is somehow clearer in its exposition of Catholic doctrine than the hallowed and most ancient Canon itself – a rude claim, be it noted, that falls under a Tridentine anathema against any who would impugn the Canon of the Mass), the Prayer of Consecration in the 1662 BCP is manifestly heretical: indeed, how could it be otherwise, since it was specially designed to teach novel doctrines.  If a priest in valid orders pronounced it, it would of course serve to consecrate the Sacrament validly – but just as plainly it would be grievously sinful to use such a prayer.

The learned Canadian who has replied so courteously to my initial foray has, I think, mistaken me in a way: for he surely realizes that, while offering oneself up in union with Christ is excellent and holy, and to adore with all worship Christ as one receives the Sacrament is but our bounden duty, and to consider reading the Ten Commandments as a restatement of the Covenant (though that be pious), is still not to acknowledge that the 1662 BCP’s Prayer of Consecration is hardly a suitable Eucharistic Prayer: Taylor and Cosin and many other Anglican divines privately hoped for a better, as their drafts at the time of its imposition demonstrate: they and such worthies as Johnson, Vicar of Cranbrook, while defending the validity of the 1662 service and what they saw as its orthodoxy (an attempt I charitably seek to sympathize with, yet unquestionably reject), felt that the 1549 was arranged in the proper order, and had been mucked with in deference to Continental Protestants, and had not been returned to in 1662 only because of the hopes of reconciling Protestants to the newly-restored Church of England, hopes that proved abortive.  Their liturgical heirs, the English Nonjurors (who died out) and the Scottish Episcopalians (who survived persecution and still survive in small numbers), therefore restored the rightful order as they saw it to the Eucharistic Liturgy.

Quite frankly, to say that all the Anglican attempts to restore the older and more Catholic order of the Liturgy, by producing a fuller Eucharistic Prayer, are somehow lesser than Cranmer’s project, more ambiguous even, is to be manifestly contrarian and to oppose all serious liturgical scholarship.  Protestant Anglicans may be pleased by the 1662 BCP’s Eucharistic rite: Catholics will never be, and it is hardly ecumenical to put forward something that most Christians – the Catholics, the Orthodox, and members of other ancient Eastern churches – would see as not a true and proper Eucharist at all.

Even if the 1549 BCP’s arrangement of the Prayer for the Church, the Prayer of Consecration (including a rather more acceptable epiclesis, praying that the elements may “be unto us” Christ’s Body and Blood, which is capable of bearing the interpretation that the bread and wine not merely subjectively but objectively cease to be bread and wine, and truly and wholly become His Body and Blood) and then the Prayer of Memorial (i.e. Anamnesis) and Oblation were used, it would still constitute a Eucharistic Prayer that is mala sonans – suspect and disturbing, because it was Cranmer’s first chopping about of the immemorial Canon of the Mass.  The later Scottish tradition, drawing on the abortive 1637 BCP for Scotland, and refined throughout the first two-thirds of the eighteenth century, reaching its classic form in 1764 before being brought to final form in the 1929 Scottish BCP for the small Episcopalian body in that country, better orders and phrases the Eucharistic Prayer, by setting the Prayer of Consecration first (containing the Institution Narrative), then the Prayer of Memorial, Oblation and Invocation (putting a proper Epiclesis after the Words of the Lord, as done throughout the Christian East), and then the Prayer of Intercession, pleading the merits of the Lord’s Sacrifice for all the quick and the dead.  But even this most Catholic arrangement still may be taken as dangerously ambiguous, I am constrained to note; though a Catholic would of course read it in conformity with sound doctrine.  For the avoidance of all doubt, the only Anglican Eucharistic Prayer that evades Cranmer’s seductive phraseology (and thus repudiates his sophistry) is that of the Nonjurors, drawn up in 1718: for it replaces Cranmer’s Prayer of Consecration and Prayer of Oblation with extracts from the Liturgy of St James and that of the Apostolic Constitutions – needless to say, such is hardly Anglican Patrimony however, and it would be mad archæologism to ever propose its revival.

So, as to being “strictly BCP” in worship, of course the laudable Offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are to be retained; but as to the Eucharist, the best that can be done is to combine all acceptable parts of the BCP’s Order for the Holy Communion with “the Secret and the Canon and the Dominus vobiscum” as a humorous poem puts it.  Such a combination, whether, like the various Anglican Missals of old, adding the best BCP bits into the matrix of the Traditional Mass, or doing the same with the modern Mass, as the first edition of the Book of Divine Worship has demonstrated can be done, is manifestly dignified, well-phrased and pleasing (we pray) to God and man, insofar as any imperfect human service may be said to be.

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