Finding a BCP Mass

Making a Mass out of a Prayer Book Holy Communion does not come easy. Ernest Skublics considers some of the problems of devising an acceptably Catholic Anglican eucharistic liturgy

Two unequal 'sister Churches' have been engaged in an off-again-on-again mating dance for better than a half a century, give or take a few years. We experienced a powerful convergence in the immediate wake of the Second Vatican Council, followed by a cooling-off period, resulting, at least in part, from an ever more obvious lessening of Anglican interest, perhaps coinciding with a retrenchment on the part of Rome, after what had been felt as an excessive openness to many unwarranted new winds.

Ecumenical influence

Two strong ingredients to the rapprochement had been the Ecumenical Movement and the Liturgical Movement, both emphasizing a mutual retrieval of common roots. Liturgy, after all, is a carrier of faith, theology, ecclesiology, and the convergence of liturgies signalled a rediscovery of common faith.

This convergence was based on an improved knowledge and understanding of origins and early patterns, enabling the Churches to peel back progressively cluttered later liturgies to their essential form. Thus, for instance, many Churches have returned to a Eucharistic prayer modelled on the earliest known western anaphora, from the third century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. This convergence was particularly encouraging between the Roman and Anglican Churches, strengthened by the doctrinal work of ARCIC

With the subsequent Anglican cooling off, marked by various departures from common Catholic Tradition, the Catholic Movement within Anglicanism has been forced to become more distinct and self-directed, most significantly in the forms of Forward in Faith and the Traditional Anglican Communion. Both of these Catholic movements have continued, indeed intensified the Catholic ecumenical thrust towards restored communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

At least one formal approach has been made and taken up by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. And, in the United States, a body of Anglican parishes has already been restored to communion, with a pastoral provision for an Anglican (liturgical) Use.

Interestingly, however, in terms of Liturgy, there is no unanimity among the Rome-oriented Catholic Anglicans. At one end of the spectrum the Roman Liturgy has been virtually adopted in toto, with very few Anglican touches added, while at the other end a strict adherence to the Book of Common Prayer is maintained, with yet other parishes continuing to use an old blend of Prayer Book and Anglican Missal.

No common Anglican Mass

While a pluralism of rites in the same Faith, indeed in the same Communion, is nothing new, liturgy carries the Faith, and it is instructive to compare parallel vehicles of the same Faith and to ask if a critical review, resulting in a greater liturgical rapprochement, would more closely correspond to the expressed intent to restore the unity of the Church.

Liturgical development has been a fact of life throughout the history of the Church, and choices are frequently made. Thus, comparative liturgical study, examining the structures, respective origins and payload of various elements is a useful and instructive exercise.

In attempting such a comparative investigation, for our present purposes we can leave aside the question of linguistic style, indeed of language, and focus on liturgical structure instead, allowing that, the language of choice, and even of preferred formulations, phrases and cadence, can be applied to a variety of structures.

Since in Anglo-Catholic liturgies it is not uncommon to find an attempt to marry the Prayer Book Liturgy with elements of the Tridentine form of the Roman Rite, by way of the Anglican Missal, it is these three forms that must be the basis of our study.

It is clear that the present-day Roman Rite is the most stream-lined of the three, with both the Prayer Book Rite and the Tridentine Liturgy being somewhat more elaborate, or cluttered. The reason for this difference between the present-day Roman Mass and the Tridentine form is that the reformed Roman Liturgy is, for the most part, a return to a more ancient rite, having purged the Tridentine form of a number of accretions that had built up over the centuries.

As for the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book Liturgy (the most 'modern of the classic Prayer Book revisions) which is of course the reformed inheritor of a long series of earlier Anglican Prayer Books, going back to the sixteenth century Reformation, it echoes elements - and above all the language, in translation - of late medieval Latin Liturgy, modified by Continental Protestant doctrine and worship.

Aside from the doctrinal dimension, this Anglican modification has resulted in greater transparency, as the priests quiet prayers were either abolished or turned into equally audible parts with the rest of the Liturgy, and a verbosity that is alien to the character of the Roman Rite. Last, but not least, the entire service is pervaded by a much more penitential character.

Historically, the current Roman Liturgy, though the most recent in its present form, is closest to the primitive western rite, from which the Tridentine Rite had gradually developed.

Mutual rapprochement

The mutual rapprochement of the Churches has been supported and speeded by the rediscovery of our common liturgical origins, and, while a variety of forms is consistent with the historical inculturation of the Faith, it makes sense to subject our differences to critical examination, and to seek the unity of Faith in all things, most particularly as celebrated in the Sacred Liturgy. Especially where unity is still unrealised, this task is of the utmost urgency.

As a theological post-script, we must honestly recognize the fact that the Book of Common Prayer originates from a time when many of the earliest liturgical sources that we are familiar with today were still undiscovered, and the Reformers' intention to return to primitive practice and doctrine was not supported by extensive historical knowledge. Nor did they trust the Spirit-guided continuity of the Patristic age.

The history of the Catholic Movement within Anglicanism is dotted with painstaking efforts to interpret the Prayer Book in a way compatible with and acceptable to Catholic doctrine. If I have the opportunity I shall outline more precisely the similarities and divergences another time. 

Return to Home Page of This Issue

Return to Trushare Home Page