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. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The pan-sacramental vision of Keble's 'Christian Year': the waning year

In an essay reviewing the future of Anglicanism, published shortly after Rowan Williams announced he was leaving Canterbury, John Milbank identified key components of the Anglican tradition which provided "a remarkable, quietly heroic and theoretically quite definite resistance to an overly facile and uncritical progressivism".  Amongst these is a "pan-sacramentalism":

Beginning with Hooker, a radical insistence on the mingling of Christ's human and divine natures that later gave rise to an "incarnationalism" and "kenoticism" refusing - often in contrast to the intellectual and spiritual betrayals perpetrated by Catholic baroque scholasticism - any facile separations between the sacred and the secular or between faith and reason, grace and nature. Indeed, just because it had to resist Puritanism, Anglican thought often went further in the direction of a "hyper-Catholic" pan-sacramentalism than Catholic thinkers themselves. In the literary work of Thomas Nashe, William Shakespeare (if he was an Anglican), Edmund Spenser, John Donne and Thomas Traherne, we discover a radically conservative celebration of the mystical significance of the cosmos, the human body, human sexuality and human language (against Calvinistic rationalisations of its usage) in ways that are often linked with remarkable poetic and fictional innovation. This is allied to a new sense, expressed first by Spenser and later by Traherne, that with the "dilation" of the heart upwards towards God, its expansion outwards into the cosmos, human society and the sexual other is not simply left behind, as if the two enlargements were in competition with each other.

Milbank's Beyond Secular Order similarly sees Traherne as an exemplar of a poetic tradition within Christian orthodoxy which celebrates a "deepened enchantment" of cosmology.  One name missing from those listed by Milbank is John Keble.  In some ways, this is understandable.  Keble the poet displays none of the technical ability of, for example, Donne or Traherne, as Sheridan Gilley has noted.  My now battered copy of The Christian Year was bought during precocious teenage years, some three decades ago.  I can remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed when first reading it.  I dipped back into it during my mid- to late-20s, and Keble the poet still underwhelmed.  It was all a bit twee, a sort of literary expression of sentimental Victorian representations of Christ.

Perhaps it is one of the blessings of middle-age to rediscover Keble.  Yes, he is no Traherne or Hopkins, but with the passage of the years I have come to discern and appreciate his deeply sacramental vision of the natural world.  It is evident in his verse for both the temporal and the sanctoral.  Today I want to briefly reflect on some of Keble's verse for this time of year, the last Sundays after Trinity and Advent, days of autumn and winter.

In his poem for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, Keble beholds a robin on an autumn morning:

The red-breast warbles round this leafy cove.

Sweet messenger of "calm decay" ... 
Singing so thankful to the dreary blast,
Though gone and spent its joyous prime,
And on the world's autumnal time,
'Mid wither'd hues and sere, its lot be cast.

The robin's "low chant", amidst the autumnal decay, is sacramental - the outward and visible sign of the Church's vocation, "as o'er the Church the gatherig twilight falls", to continue our chant, our praises.  Joy and praise, even amidst decay and growing darkness.

An eschatological theme resounds in the verse for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity.  Here Keble points us to dying day in late autumn:

Red o'er the forest peers the setting sun,
The line of yellow light dies fast away
That crown'd the eastern copse: and chill and dun
Falls on the moor the brief November day.

The death of day is a sign of the Church's eschatological hope, for "Man's portion is to die and rise again".  The glory of the sunset on that "brief November day", therefore, signifies the glory that awaits humanity redeemed.  We will "soar as fast and free/As his tranfigur'd Lord with lightning form/And snowy vest - such grace He won for thee".

This discerning of the sacramentality of the waning of the year, of autumn and winter, perhaps culminates in Keble's poem for the Second Sunday in Advent:

Why then, in sad and wintry time,
Her heavens all dark with doubt and crime,
Why lifts the Church her drooping head,
As though her evil hour were fled?
Is she less wise than leaves of spring,
Or birds that cower with folded wing?
What sees she in this lowering sky 
To tempt her meditative eye?

The poem ends by reminding us that the Master comes not in the bright warmth of midday, but in the cold darkness of midnight.  It is this "sad and wintry time" that allows the Church to discern and behold afresh that "She has a charm, a word of fire".

In an excellent study, Christopher Snook states:

The notion of God’s hiddeness in the material world constitutes the most definitive characteristic of Tractarian poetics. 

Keble's reflections on the decay of autumn and the darkness of winter manifest this.  When life and glory is most hidden, it is yet present in a manner which can grasp us, warm us, enlighten us.  And if hidden Glory can be discerned even "in sad and wintry time", we can also behold Glory in other surprisingly unexpected, hidden places - the babbling of the infant, the weakness of the dying, bread and wine on the Altar.