28 September 2016

The Revd Prebendary Michael Joseph Moreton

A couple of years ago, I published this account of an Anglican liturgist who had just died. Before those who despise all things Anglican ignore it and move on, I would draw their attention to some aspects of what follows which are relevant to the current situation within the Catholic Church. 

A very great priest, a very great scholar, a very great man died on [25 September 2014], three years short of his century and in the 65th year of his Sacred Priesthood. He was a fine example of what Archdeacon emeritus Henry Manning disapprovingly called the old Oxford, Anglican, literary, Patristic tone. Others will write detailed and accurate obituaries; I warn you that I can only give a deplorably self-regarding sketch of what, in just one decade of his long life, Fr Michael Moreton meant to me.

I think of Michael as one of the Exeter mafia; priests who spent their entire priesthood with a sense that the Diocese of Exeter was their real home ... Bishop 'JR' (John Richards), Prebendary John Hooper were two such others who had an impact on my life. (The Church of England does not have a system of incardination, but clergy who have this sort of local identification seem to have a great capacity for enriching their priestly environment.) I did not become one of Michael's friends until Pam and I moved in retirement to the edges of Devon, and JR took me along to the Society of S Boniface. This priestly society, of which Michael was the dominant member, met monthly for Mass, for study of the Greek New Testament, lunch, and an academic paper. The Biblical exposition was always done by Michael, with immense and painstaking care; but it was in the old spirit of the sort of' 'modern biblical scholarship' in which by that time I had realised I no longer believed. So when we 'passed it round' after he had finished his exposition, we both knew that my contribution would be subversive. I suspect I might even have deployed the phrase 'More Dead Germans' to characterise the modern commentaries he so often cited. Life was fun.

Michael was, I believe, the first modern liturgical scholar to explode the myth that versus populum was the 'primitive' custom; he did this in a crisp brief paper read at one of Betsy Livingstone's Oxford Patristic Conferences. He was indeed a link with an older generation of scholars in the last golden age of classical Anglican Divinity; he recalled buying a copy of a 'large book with a dark green cover' (Gregory Dix's Shape of the Liturgy) in the SPCK bookshop in Calcutta immediately after its publication. 'Boniface' had been founded by Canon Jasper, who used to report to it on the progress of Synodical liturgical revision in those heady days before it became clear that the Evangelicals would veto any viable Eucharistic Prayer. Michael had also known Dr Jalland, my erudite predecessor at S Thomas's in Oxford, and had said the Mass at his funeral. Ignoring the prejudices of some of those present on that occasion, he had used the Canon Romanus. "I decided that since he was a Patristic Scholar, he should have a Patristic Eucharistic Prayer".

Indeed, it was Michael who brought home to many thoughtful priests the importance of that great monument to Christian antiquity, to Catholicity, to Romanita, which we call the Roman Canon. I remember JR, an old-style 'Prayer Book Catholic' and a former (very disciplinary) Archdeacon, sheepishly borrowing a copy of the Canon Romanus from me when he was due the say the Mass at 'Boniface' ("Michael likes it so much, boy ... I'd better use it"). Michael used to explain that, far more important than mere legality, what mattered was the auctoritas which the Canon Romanus had in view of its origins in the same period in which the Canon of Scripture and the threefold Apostolic Ministry crystallised within the Church. [Pope Benedict XVI was later to write something rather similar to this.] I still vigorously assert Moreton's perception that this incomparable Prayer does have the same immoveable canonicity as Scripture, Creeds, Ministry. With some encouragement from another valued Exeter friend and fellow-member of 'Boniface', Fr Peter Morgan (who had the distinction of being the first priest ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre for his Society), I began to celebrate on weekdays the Latin 'Tridentine' Mass instead of the Novus Ordo in Latin. What happy days they were. What precious memories to cherish.

Michael was an immensely kind and gentle man; with a great natural generosity. He was also an endearing example of conjugal devotion. How many of us remember and celebrate each year the Day upon which we first set eyes upon our wives? Few things meant more to Michael than his memories of long and happy years with Peggy; quorum animabus propitietur Deus.


Christopher Boegel said...

I love and revere the Roman Canon. Over here in the USA, I marvel that the Bishops, clergy and laity do not treasure it. Either the Rev. Bugnini et al disbelieved what it says, or had no patience for praying, or both.

These have fashioned a Church that chooses to forget what it should protect, and dismisses anything that preceded it.

Prayerful said...

Eucharistic Prayer 1 is called the Roman Canon, but it's one of at least three or more EPs for the New Mass, so hardly canon. Thanks for this. I hope Pope Francis or one of his set, somehow happen upon a copy of the Roman as of old, and think it something to be treasured. I hope it's possible to find a copy of his paper on Ad Orientem. This could help show even more clearly the fallacious antiquarism of Concilium (although they denied this specifically in one of their schemata as Pius XII had condemned liturgical antiquarism).

Ashby & Measham Catholic Parishes said...

I was brought up as an Anglican in Devon, and I remember seeing Prebendary Moreton at diocesan things. I remember him being held somewhat in awe in the diocese. I have a recollection of someone, it may have been a member of his family, telling me the story of a couple of young people at St Mary Steps who were rather talkative during Mass. However, the moment the sanctuary bell sounded during the Canon, they fell to their knees and were totally silent and reverent until after Communion. The same person told me that Prebendary Moreton celebrated all the parish liturgies so reverently that they had a powerful effect on all who were there. Requiescat in pace. Amen.
Thank you for your comments on the Roman Canon which make a lot of sense to me. I find myself using it more frequently as time goes on.

Richard Down said...

Fr Michael's translation of the Roman Canon is still used at St Mary Steps in Exeter, where Fr Michael was incumbant and where I now serve at the Altar for Fr Peter Lee. We do our best to keep the flag flying