Monday, November 12, 2012

Customary Pros and Cons

Apparently, the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham is very much a volume published ad experimentum (shades of the nineteen sixties, when roneo’d bits of paper replaced leatherbound Missals on the altars), without official status beyond approval of the Ordinary.  This is actually a good thing, because it means that the evaluations made of it – by persons far more immediately concerned and more authoritative than myself, of course – will help result in the production of a still better form of Office book drawn from the Anglican Patrimony.

On the positive side, the collection of readings assembled in the Customary, whether mediæval or from Anglican writers (some, like Newman, become Catholics, others, like Beveridge, lifelong Anglicans), is a very fine manifestation of the riches of the Patrimony, and one hopes it will but be edited and enlarged as time passes. (That said, the passage from William Laud provided for yesterday, the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, was a bit odd, and I would have preferred another!) Similarly, the provision of forms of Mattins, Evensong, and Litany that follow as closely as possible the classical Anglican services cannot but be applauded.

There is an important parallel here with the Eastern Catholic Rites, whose liturgy is specifically required to resile from Romanizations, however well-intended, and instead to maintain as much closeness as possible to the liturgies of their Orthodox brethren – the only caveat being that Anglican bodies, not being true sister churches as the Orthodox churches are, have doctrinal errors (even found expressed in their services) stemming from the Reformation that must be carefully weeded out ere their forms of worship be employed by Catholics.  However, rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion, somewhat in the mode of the Spanish Inquisition, a hermeneutic of continuity ought be employed, interpreting texts fairly and in a Catholic light, that only words and phrases clearly expressive of a non-Catholic doctrine be omitted or amended.

In the case of Mattins and Evensong, a phrase or two in the general Confession (above all “there is no health in us”, which seems expressive of the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity) may usefully be omitted; the prayer of absolution following must be carefully phrased so as not to appear to be the sacramental absolution proper to the confessional; the salutation “The Lord be with you” must be restricted to the ordained alone; and, to avoid Erastianism, the prayers for the Queen and Royal Family should be reworded and moved after the prayer for the Bishops and Clergy, and a prayer for the Pope inserted first.  All these slight and reasonable alterations have indeed been done in the new Customary.  Similarly, the Litany has had one or two petitions altered, and above all invocations of Our Lady and the Saints restored to their original position, just as they were intially retained in a compressed but perfectly acceptable form by Cramner himself, when he produced his first English Litany in 1544.

As to the negatives, these may be separated into three categories: the layout; omissions; and concerns regarding the Psalter and Lectionary.

Some of the complaints about the new Customary are quite sensible criticisms of the difficulty of using it – I have specified these before, and so have others. There are too many turnings of the book required, and too few ribbons! But it is a simple business to redesign the layout to make it more user-friendly, and to insert some more ribbons. For instance, the collect of the day should in every case be printed with the post-biblical reading (if there is one); the hymns should all be collected into one section; the opening sentences should all be printed together immediately before the Penitential Rite (which should also be available for use at Mattins, not just at Evensong).

There are strange omissions: where are the many prayers of intercession and thanksgiving that successive BCP’s have provided for optional use “after the Third Collect”? Some of them are real gems. Similarly, as mentioned above, why is there no provision for a Penitential Rite at Mattins?

But to my mind the worst feature of the new Customary is the strange Lectionary, and also certain features of the Psalter – or rather, the requirement that Sundays use various combinations of fixed Psalms, following the Roman Rite (old and new), instead of simply going through the Psalter in course, day by day.  The Lectionary is an awkward combination of the one-year and two-year cycles of readings for the modern Roman Liturgy of the Hours, with gaps filled by taking short readings from those volumes. This has the bizarre result of providing lessons for use at Mattins and Evensong that may be as short as two verses.  Now, one of the principal virtues of the  various Anglican Lectionaries were their provision of twice-daily long readings from the Old and New Testaments, such that a true and valuable lectio continua was provided. The novel arrangement provided in the Customary jumps about in disconcerting fashion, and I regard it as the very worst feature, deserving to be substantially improved: surely, instead of having either a very short First or Second Lesson, the short passages could be lengthened materially? Better still would be to have the courage to differ from the Roman Lectionary: after all, surely reading more rather than less of the Scriptures is hardly scandalous but rather praiseworthy.  I see that one Canadian Ordinariate member has already expressed her hope that she may retain the lectionaries for Mattins and Evensong which she used with profit in her Anglican days.

I understand that the commission Anglicanæ traditiones was not consulted when the Customary was compiled: I applaud the efforts of Mgr Andrew Burnham and Fr Aidan Nichols – particularly the latter’s assemblage of so pleasing a collection of readings from Anglican sources – and very much hope that the commission will rely on the Customary to eventually issue a still better Office for all in the Ordinariates.

No comments: