6 June 2021

Craddock Ratcliff (1896-1967)

Most of the Anglican 'Patrimony' whom I introduce to you were Papalists. Not so Ratcliff. Indeed, when he died he was in the process of seeking admission into an Orthodox jurisdiction.

Like many in his generation, indeed, like Dr Pusey himself, Ratcliff was a considerable Classicist and an adept in Hebrew and Aramaic. He taught at London, Cambridge, and Oxford. His friend and collaborator Arthur Couratin (Principal of Staggers) gives us this window into Ratcliff's boyhood:
"As a schoolboy he attended a church in South London which was notoriously Anglo-Catholic. Here the Communion Service of the Book of Common Prayer was celebrated with all the ceremonial of High Mass of the Roman Rite, and the Canon Missae was silently interpolated under the cover of the elaborate music. Whatever may have been the devotional value of such a performance it could not fail to arouse the intellectual curiosity of a highly intelligent schoolboy".

Ratcliff was particularly intrigued by this paragraph of the Canon Missae [I give the Ordinariate translation]:
We humbly beseech thee, Almighty God, command these offerings to be brought by the hands of thy holy Angel to thine altar on high, in sight of thy divine majesty; that all we who at this partaking of the altar shall receive the most sacred Body and Blood of thy Son, may be fulfilled with all heavenly benediction and grace.

And Ratcliff loved the idea that our heavenly altar is taken up and united to the everlasting heavenly place of sacrifice; he once called Mass 'a pass to the Royal Enclosure'. Rightly, he discerned here the mindset of the first and second Christian centuries. The reference to Christ as 'thy holy Angel' is found in Justin; Irenaeus wrote "So there is an altar in heaven, for thither our prayers and oblations are directed, as John says [Revelation 8:3 'the golden altar before the throne]". All this is implied in Pope S Clement I when he calls the Lord "the high priest of our offerings". Not to mention Hebrews and the Apocalypse.

The antiquity of the Roman Canon is demonstrated by the fact that it clearly evolved its main features well before S Athanasius invented (Oops! I meant to say, developed) and the Council of Constantinople imposed the dogma of the Divinity of the Holy Spirit; before the idea that the Eucharist is effected by an illapse of the Holy Spirit (read Fortescue if you want an account of the tortured hypothesising which distracted nineteenth century theorists preoccupied with the completely mythical 'lost epiclesis of the Roman Rite'). The reference to Christ as an 'Angel' suggests that we are well before the start of the Arian controversy. Significantly, the Milanese version of the Canon 'corrected' 'angel' to 'angels', presumably to eliminate this 'problem'; Rome herself was too traditionalist (and the words too established) to tamper with the phrase, even when most of the world had turned Arian.

S John Paul II (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 10) wrote of "an aspect of the Eucharist which merits greater attention: in celebrating the sacrifice of the Lord, we are united to the heavenly liturgy". Suppose every Latin Rite priest still bowed low over his altar every morning (supplices te rogamus ... if we had Byzantine manners we would probably prostrate ourselves here or do proskyneseis) and said those stunning words which begin "iube haec perferri ...". The Holy Pontiff would not have needed to make his implicit criticism.

No comments: