24 March 2009


At Walsingham I indulged myself a completely novel experience: a Communion Service in the Reformed Tradition held in the lovely little Methodist Chapel. The Sermon was by Fr Norman Wallwork, a Methodist minister, and was notable for its elegant explanation of why our Lady has to be seen as Co-Redemptrix (why are RCs so uneasy nowadays about this rather obvious inference from Scripture?). But the URC service itself:

This, again, was cleverly and intelligently put together, and among other things included formulae including the word "offer" which Anglican Evangelicals would undoubtedly have vetoed in the Church of England's General Synod. But I had a problem with the service. It appeared to require to be followed by keeping an eye upon a duplicated order of service. There were very nice responsories, for example, which could only 'come off' if they were followed textually.

I tend to feel that the People ought to be able to follow their service without published props. Their traditional interventions in both word and action should be known instinctively, off by heart, by long and inherited deep internal appropriation; they ought not to be the enacting of a photocopied sheet which they were given as they walked into church that morning. Worshippers ought to be at home in worship, not function like actors reading their parts in an early rehearsal. Come to that, I don't know that I much like the leaflets common in RC churches with the readings on them. Why can't the people simply listen with profound submission to the word of God proclaimed ... to the airwaves which have been transubstantiated into the very Word of the Incarnate Word? Am I not right in thinking that for our society reading happens in contexts associated with weighing up and judging rather than with hearing and obeying? (And, by the way, the one thing I thought really bad about the URC service was that we sat for the Holy Gospel. There is a risk that we might sit to be entertained; standing to hear a Word of Authority is so rare in our culture that its preservation during the proclamation of the Gospel must be held very precious.)

The invention of printing made it possible for the English government of 1549 to impose, overnight, a novel liturgy and then, a couple of years later, a profoundly different version of it. Bugnini, after the Council, had the same dangerously effective weapon at his disposal. That, in itself, represented a corruption of the organic and traditional quality of Worship. But at least the printed book, in a culture where books were a comparatively rare phenomenon, offered a degree of stability during the lifetime of the use of that book (and remember that for some generations after 1549 the officiant was very probably the only person to be holding a copy). The advent in our own time of the disposable duplicated sheet offers the probability of an even more profound disruption and destabilisation of Liturgy.

We ought to keep this medium for just long enough to enable the new ICEL version of the Roman Liturgy in English to bed down. Then we should proscribe it for ever.


johnreuben said...

What is it about Methodists and our Lady? J. Neville Ward, author of that rather good book on the Rosary, Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, was a Methodist minister too.

Anonymous said...

Tradition informs us that Mass must first concern Sacrifice and second Worship. The readings done by the sacerdotes are for these purposes alone. It is lower-soul evangelical notions that synthesized Mass into Bible study with obligatory communion -dinner and a movie. It indicates that the revolutionaries got most of what they wanted: God has become ancillary, man is supreme. Now all is vernacularily didactic and addressed to the people not God. I wonder if the Roman Church would have so aggressively embraced revolution if there had been no proliferation of daily missals 100 years ago? And, I also wonder, when are methodists going to realize their "movement" has been a gastronomical catastrophe?

David said...

I notice you call the minister at the Methodist Chapel "Father". Does he go by that? Between that and his preaching on Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix I wondered whether or not perhaps a priest was guest preacher.

P.S. If he was a Methodist I sure would love a copy of the sermon. I'm Ward Sect. of the SOM here in Toronto.

Elizabeth said...

The Methodist chapel in Walsingham is lovely !

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Elizabeth: I'm glad you liked it too!

David: he is a Methodist. I call him Father because I think he will like it and it's a convenient vocative. We don't have enough of those in English; French have M'sieur, but we just have to decide whether we're intimate enough to to use Christian Names!

BillyD said...

Your comparison with actors at an early rehearsal was very apt.

While I'm of two minds about following the liturgy via the printed page (it having been actively encouraged in my youth), I completely agree with you on leaflets containing the readings. The readings are meant to be heard; I'm guessing that one reason for printing the readings is the lack of skills on the parts of some lectors.

And the printed handouts can be distracting, too. I find it especially bothersome when a text is continued on the back of a page, and the celebrant's words are punctuated with the rustle of the congregation turning the page.

Pastor in Valle said...

Re 'missalettes': on one level I agree with you. And yet I have been responsible for reintroducing them in this parish, simply because of the influx of foreign immigrants who can follow a written text but less easily a spoken one. Also, some readers (whom I am unwilling for other reasons to dismiss) simply do not read intelligibly.
As for the URC liturgy; well, I have a copy in front of me, and. given that the URCs have a Presbyterian foundation, the likeness to the OF Catholic liturgy is truly remarkable. I remarked on this to the local CofE rector, and he wryly observed that the URC liturgical commission was not packed with theologically literate Evangelicals alert to any suspicion of possible Catholic interpretation of texts.