Monday, April 18, 2016

On Liturgy


“Our Mother in Heaven,
Hallowed is your name,
Your Queendom come,
Your will be done on Earth as in Heaven.
Give us today your daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the Queendom, the power and the glory are yours
Now and forever,

The above prayer managed to work its way into the liturgy of Queen Elizabeth II's 80th birthday in 2006 in a Parish Church in Kent. To many Christians, this version of the Lord's Prayer will at least seem a little odd and at most just plain wrong. Why? Simply because it has clearly changed the words that Our Lord Jesus Himself bids us pray.

For Traditional Christians, the meaning of what we pray is bound up intrinsically with what we believe: this is the famous principle of "lex orandi, lex credendi"[ii] - the law of praying is the law of believing. In the Anglican Catholic Church, we take lex orandi , lex credendi to heart and this means that we do and must take our liturgy with the greatest seriousness. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI said, “It is in the treatment of the liturgy that the fate of the Faith and of the Church is decided.”

What is liturgy?

Ever since there has been religion, there has been liturgy. As people seek outward ways of expressing their belief in union with others, they develop common patterns and disciplines to share belief with others and state it to those who do not share that belief. The word liturgy comes from the Greek leitourgia which derives from laos (meaning "people" from which we get the word “laity”) and ourgia (meaning "work", and from which we get the word “energy”). So we see that, for religious believers, liturgy is a duty of the people, not just something nice to do for oneself.

If one is serious about one's religion, then one must be serious about one's liturgy. "To believe" literally means to hold something as precious, and so our liturgy has to make clear what we do indeed hold precious through ritual (what we say) and ceremony (what we do).  Liturgy is a way of allowing people to engage in common worship by word and by action and use this to engage with their belief in their daily lives.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the first Christians “continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.  And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.  And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.   And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”[iii]

We see here that the liturgy of worshipping in the temple, “breaking bread” (i.e. celebrating the Eucharist), praying, and being taught by the Apostles  fuelled the first Christians into living lives in the worship of God through Jesus Christ. These are all liturgical activities, and they still take place today.

The Holy Bible is riddled with liturgy and the documentation of liturgical practice. We can easily see liturgical practice in Exodus xii when God commands how to eat the Passover: which animal is to be used[iv], when it is to be killed[v]; how the meat is to be eaten[vi] and indeed in what manner[vii]. These actions are to be repeated by direct command[viii] so it is clear that God Himself prizes liturgy to unify people’s actions and bind them into a believing community.

Our Lord Jesus also instigates liturgy. At the last supper, we read,

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said , Take , eat : this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.  After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye , as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.”[ix]

We have received instructions for ceremonial and we have also received instructions for ritual:

“And it came to pass , that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased , one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray , as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”[x]

We notice that Our Lord says “When ye pray…” and not “If ye pray…” or “Should ye pray…” We are commanded to pray and we are given words to use. We therefore have divinely prescribed ceremonial and ritual which help us as individuals to share our belief with our community and indeed with God Himself. This is what liturgy is and this is why it is important to the Christian Religion. C.S. Lewis says,
“Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it "works" best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.”[xi]

Which Liturgy?

In the Early Church, liturgies were largely made up on the spot by the Bishop, though as Justin Martyr[xii] and the Didache[xiii] demonstrate, there were prescribed forms for the Eucharist and Thanksgivings from the earliest times. The Didache was written at the turn of the second century and shows that within 70 years of the Lord’s ministry the Church was organising itself in order to support a believing community.  This extemporisation was bound by certain rules, and most Bishops naturally fell into repeated formulae the more they celebrated the Mass. Certainly St Clement in the latter half of the second century is making use of liturgical prayer when he write to the Corinthians on prayer.

“We would have You, Lord, to prove our help and succour. Those of us in affliction save, on the lowly take pity; the fallen raise; upon those in need arise; the sick heal; the wandering ones of Your people turn; fill the hungry; redeem those of us in bonds; raise up those that are weak; comfort the faint-hearted; let all the nations know that You are God alone and Jesus Christ Your Son, and we are Your people and the sheep of Your pasture.”[xiv]

The 4th to 8th Centuries were a time of great formation and crystallisation of Christian belief. The great heresies of Arianism, Nestorianism and the like meant that Bishops could not extemporise the Eucharistic prayer with such freedom and, to protect them from heresy, standards to the Mass were introduced. In Greek, the word for standard is kanon, and we still refer to the Canon of the Mass today when we talk of the Eucharistic prayer.

However, there were still many liturgies which could be said to be properly Catholic, i.e. following the rule of faith laid down by Holy Scripture, Tradition, and the Oecumenucal Councils.  Several of them still survive in the Eastern churches, such as the Syrian Liturgy of St. James, from which the famous hymn "Let all Mortal Flesh" is taken, and the two Byzantine Liturgies of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom, both of which the Orthodox Church still use.

As the Church grew, so liturgies went from being peculiar to one bishop to being common to larger areas under the patriarchs. There is an Alexandrian Rite, and Antiochene Rite, the Syrian Rite and, of course, the Roman Rite which are still used throughout Christendom. The latter was given its essential shape by St Gregory the Great who died in 604 and today forms the basis of the Gregorian Rite and the Tridentine Rite. Even these great rites had their local variants in later centuries. In England, the Roman Rite had subtly different forms such as the Hereford Use and the use in Salisbury famously known as the Sarum Rite.

All these different liturgies, rites and uses sprang up from common Catholic belief and enabled Christians over wide areas to find great commonality with other Christians and yet find some cultural identity. According to Ferdinand Probst[xv], all Christian Eucharistic Liturgy has its roots in that of the Apostolic Constitutions and his theory has been corroborated by subsequent historians. There is a unity at the heart of every traditional liturgy.

The wonderful thing was that, in large geographical areas, the Liturgy would be recognisable to all Christians. While there were regional variations, anyone from England could follow the same Mass in France, the area which became Germany and, of course, Italy even if they spoke no other language. In the West, the language was Latin and united the Western Roman Empire in a common liturgical tongue. This is still true today: one can follow Lutheran liturgy knowing only a minimum of German!

We see, therefore, that subscription to a particular rite means subscription to a Christian Community and a particular expression of Catholicism. Further, since alterations occurred largely through addition to the liturgy, there is a historical unity with those who have used the same words in centuries past. We can be sure that if we use a traditional liturgy, we are joining in with Christians who have long since departed and with whom we have the hope to join in the liturgy of praise and thanksgiving after the Resurrection of the Dead.

So which liturgy do Anglican Catholics use? The clue is very much in the name. We are Anglicans and that means we subscribe to the English Rites. We identify ourselves with the historical Catholic Church in England. We belong to the same Church that produced St Bede, St Alcuin, St Alban, St Dunstan and the like. It is therefore important to us that we worship in a way that encompasses as much of English Catholicism as is possible and is as recognisably so as possible. We try to be both locally English and yet remember that we are art of a larger Church that transcends local boundaries. For Anglican Catholics, lex orandi lex credendi is a vital rule by which we examine our worship.

Which Language?

Initially, the language for the Liturgy was that which was spoke by the first Christians and was usually either Latin or Greek. In the West, the language for liturgy was Latin despite the fact that many indigenous people had their own language. Saxons, Franks, Normans, and Angles had their own languages and expressions, and yet their Liturgy was in Latin meaning that the uneducated could not potentially understand what was going on. All they needed to know was that the priest was celebrating the Mass on their behalf and only he needed to understand what was being said. This mirrored the fact that, in Jesus’ time, the language spoken was Aramaic whereas the language of the Liturgy was Hebrew, though the languages are closely related.

The first Reformation in England did away with Latin in favour of a language “understanded of the people”[xvi] Since at the time, many did not actually know Latin, there were many abuses. During Mass, business would be done, conversations had – even arguments! A bell had to be rung in order to inform people that the Elevation of the Host was to take place. The initial intention was indeed to return to “the custom of the primitive Church”[xvii] and allow the congregation to do their duty, their leitourgos.

However, the trouble with this approach is that it made a clear separation from other Christians and reinforced the divisions that the Reformations introduced. Either everyone has a common language that they don’t necessarily speak, or they have their own language and lose the universality of their language. Miles Coverdale, an eminent translator of Latin, translated the entirety of the Gregorian Canon as well as the psalms.

Translation does cause problems in that it is often very difficult to translate terms exactly. In translation, one has to take into account culture and circumstance. Take, for example, Psalm cxix.83.
“For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy statutes.”
This is a rather peculiar thing to say. However, we can put this together with St Mark ii.22
“And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred : but new wine must be put into new bottles.”
We begin to realise that the “bottle” is leather and not glass – it is a wineskin. The Latin word being translated is uter from which we get the word uterus.  Thus we see, just by investigating the words that a wineskin that is smoked, shrivels and we understand the words of the psalmist more fully.

It becomes important that when we translate liturgy into our vernacular, we need to keep the sense of what it means.
Another example is “diliges amicum tuum sicut temet ipsum”[xviii]. In modern English we would say “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  The trouble here is that in modern English, “you” can be either singular or plural. In the context, God is giving Moses words to speak to the Hebrews and so, without the Latin, we might think that the “you” is a plural “you”, but it isn’t. It’s a singular “you” and shows very clearly that God intends each single one of His people to take this commandment to heart. The Lord Jesus repeats this commandment in St Mark xii.31 as one of the two greatest commandments.  In modern English we miss the emphasis on the individual because we do not have a way of telling you plural from you singular. However, in 16th Century English, there is a very clear distinction. “Thou” is you singular and “You” is you plural. This makes it much easier to translate the words of the Latin or Greek into a language which we can understand after a bit of work.

Anglican Catholic Liturgy

The Anglican Catholic Church obviously subscribes to Anglican Liturgy and, because she is Catholic, she seeks to “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”[xix] Our Liturgy must reflect this and so we hold fast to the traditional Liturgy.

Looking at the history of the Anglican Church, we have already seen that there are peculiarly English ways of doing the Roman Rite. The most important of these is the Sarum Rite and it was the Sarum Rite which formed the basis of the Reformed Liturgy of the Anglican Church in the Book of Common Prayer. Of course, the Reformation had a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water as far as doctrine is concerned and within a few years of King Henry VIII’s death, the Book of Common Prayer would be augmented with Calvinist doctrine.

The major casualty of this is the movement away from the Canon of the Mass of the 1549 Prayerbook to the severely truncated version of the 1559 and subsequent Prayerbooks. The later Books of Common Prayer end abruptly with the words of consecration and this causes difficulty if we are trying to hold to the traditional shape of the Liturgy.
The Anglo-Catholic solution was to utilise the fact that the Prayerbooks are based on the Sarum Use which is itself a version of the Roman Rite. This meant that they could keep the substance of the Rite with the lessons and collects and many of the prayers and use the Gregorian Canon or the Canon of the 1549 Prayerbook without damaging the shape or sense of the Liturgy. This concordance has allowed a truly Anglican Rite to be used with great effect and is found in the Anglican and the English Missals. In the use of these missals, the Anglican Catholic Church is using a Rite which is recognisable to the Roman Latin Rite (if not identical) in the language of its indigenous culture. Anglican Catholics can be assured that, when they go to Mass, they are using a liturgy that has its roots back to the first liturgies, preserves the sense of the original language and allows them to worship God in their own culture.


Such a restrictive Liturgy does not allow the Holy Spirit to act.

This is an objection raised by those who prefer more extempore prayer. Actually, the Anglican Catholic Church certainly does not forbid its members from praying in whichever way they wish outside of Church services. However, we are required to profess One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.[xx] Since we are commanded to come together as one with the one intention of worshipping God, we need something to focus our souls and minds and the Liturgy, as we have seen, performs that function admirably.
Restricting ourselves means that we can decrease so that God may increase in us.[xxi] This is no restriction of the Holy Spirit but the liturgy allows a mind well-disciplined by the use of liturgy to be more open to the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in the Mass, the Holy Spirit is most active in bringing us closer to Our Lord Jesus Christ by consecrating the wafer and the wine into the Real Body and Blood of Christ. Far from restricting the Holy Ghost, the liturgy helps us to allow Him to act in our worship and to take that into our daily lives.

16th Century English is not understanded of the people, so why use it?

We have already seen that 16th Century English is actually more accurate at translating the senses of the original languages of the Bible and the ancient Liturgies than modern English which would require more words to render the ideas as faithfully as the writers intended. The language of the English Liturgy has always been regarded as very beautiful and has inspired musicians to set these words to some of the most wonderful music. It is nonetheless true that for our 21st Century ears, 16th Century English is not as straightforward to understand as our modern vernacular.
However, we forget that we read Shakespeare in his English, likewise Milton, Bunyan and Swift. Their language does not change and, if we really want to understand and enjoy these authors, then we have to put the work into understanding their English. Yet, we have already seen that Liturgy is the work of the people – it requires effort! The true Christian has to work to find God. We all know that the spiritual life is hard work. The liturgy reflects this very well.  It reflects the fact that, really, God’s ways are utterly incomprehensible to us. If we are sincere about worshipping God, and we find some piece of the liturgy hard to understand, then what is to stop us afterwards from finding our, from making that search, from asking questions. After all, the Lord does say, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek , and ye shall find ; knock , and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth ; and he that seeketh findeth ; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened .”[xxii] We have to work at our faith and we are rewarded for doing so.

The English Missal still contains the Latin Canon. If people are used to the Latin Canon, then the language is “understanded” of the people in the same way as the 16th Century English, and so it may be used in the same manner.

There’s no opportunity for change.

Actually this is not quite true. The Prayerbook can be revised at a convocation of the Holy Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church on behalf of the whole Church. However we believe in “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever!”[xxiii] The truth does not change and so our Faith and subsequently our prayers do not substantially change. There is no room in the liturgy for change for the sake of change, but rather when the liturgy fails to express the faith delivered to us all.
As we have seen, all of our liturgy, our hymns, and our prayers must fit the Catholic Faith and thus be in line with the liturgy which points us on the way to God. If this seems static, then this is a good thing for it expresses the Timelessness of God. If our hearts desire a change then we need to look into our hearts to see why we desire that change in the first place. A stricter liturgy helps each of us examine ourselves carefully rather than bend and move with us to fit our whims. We have seen right at the beginning how playing with the words changes the fundamental nature of our belief. To call God “Mother” is contrary to what the Lord Jesus teaches us when He prays, “Our Father.”


We have seen that God has given us liturgy by which we may approach Him more closely. We do so as a Church, seeking unity with all Christians who are, who ever have been or whoever will be. The Anglican Catholic Church is a church that continues in the Catholic Faith as received in the English manner. Dom Gregory Dix puts the unifying sense of following the traditional liturgy so very beautifully and he is worth quoting at some length.

“Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.”[xxiv]

We Anglican Catholics are the common people of God and we seek to be Holy. Through the liturgy we have received from the Catholic Church, we work to that goal.


Thanks must go to Ed Pacht, Dr Jim Ryland and Fr David Straw for reading through this tract and offering a few suggestions. Thie help has been appreciated.

[i] Version of the Lord’s prayer altered by a Church of England Vicar in honour of the H.M. Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2003.
[ii] Prosper of Aquitane (c. 390 – c. 455) Patrologia Latina 51:209-210. ...obsecrationum quoque sacerdotalium sacramenta respiciamus, quae ab apostolis tradita, in toto mundo atque in omni catholica Ecclesia uniformiter celebrantur, ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi
[iii] Acts ii.42-47
[iv] Exodus xii.4-5
[v] Ibid. v6
[vi] Ibid vv8-10
[vii] Ibid. v11
[viii] Ibid, vv14-17
[ix] I Cor xi.23-26
[x] St Luke xi.1-4
[xi] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm. Chiefly on Prayer
[xii] 1st Apology Chaps 13 and 61
[xiii] Didache chaps ix & x
[xiv] Epistle of St Clement to the Corinthians xlix
[xv] F Probst. Liturgie der drei ersten christlichen Jahrhunderte
[xvi] Article XXIV of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Leviticus xix.18
[xix] Jude i.3
[xx] Ephesians iv.5-6
[xxi] Cf St John iii.30
[xxii] St Matthew vii.7-8
[xxiii] Hebrews xiii.8
[xxiv] Dom Gregory Dix, p744 The Shape of the Liturgy  Continuum 2001

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