Fr. Fleming - 7/18/10

Review by Fr. John Fleming

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Andrew Burnham, Heaven & Earth in Little Space: The Re-enchantment of Liturgy, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2010

There are many books on the development of liturgy in which the discussion is principally about what is happening within one liturgical tradition while taking into account influences from other traditions.  This is not one of them.  What we have here is an absorbing discussion on contemporary developments in liturgy and their interplay between the Catholic Church and the Church of England.

To do this, the author Andrew Burnham, Bishop of Ebbsfleet (Anglican), takes us back to the way in which liturgy developed in England during the Reformation and why.  With all of the objectivity of the scholar that he is, and employing an engaging literary style, Burnham is able to navigate the reader through the turbulent waters of the English Reformation, the troubled waters of post Vatican II liturgy, and onward into the exciting possibilities opened up by Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus. This is a book which will appeal to both scholars and laypersons.

Critics in both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church complain about the coarsening of much of modern liturgy, its banality, the over emphasis upon the ‘community’ at the expense of a sense of participation in the transcendent worship in the heavenly sanctuary, and its slavery to now dated 1970s experiments in ‘creative’ liturgy.  Many have voted with their feet and refuse to attend liturgical celebrations, especially those that have been ‘manufactured’ to attract the people.

In subtitling his book, “The Re-enchantment of Liturgy”, Andrew Burnham signals his purpose which is no less than to sketch out newer approaches to liturgical renewal which, drawing upon the best of the Church’s liturgical treasury, may assist worshippers to engage more fully in the transforming worship of heaven.  There is a pressing need, he argues, to find the way out of contemporary liturgical banality in order to rediscover “something of the mysterium tremens et fascinans” of what the sacred liturgy, at its best, can truly express.  Traumatic ruptures in the liturgical tradition, as distinct from organic development, has not served the Spiritual interests and needs of the People of God.

Burnham begins his task with a scrupulously honest evaluation of what happened to the liturgy in the Church of England at the Reformation.  He freely acknowledges that the traditional Anglican formularies of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 (and to a greater and lesser extent the Prayer books of 1549, 1552, and 1559) seem patient of either a more Catholic interpretation or a more Protestant interpretation.  The rupture in the Catholic liturgical tradition engineered by Thomas Cranmer resulted in “a maddening ambiguity at the heart of Anglican Eucharistic theology.”

The differing Anglican Eucharistic theologies have become institutionalised in the Book of Common Worship which provides a variety of Eucharistic Prayers to meet the differing theological beliefs of different congregations.

Next Burnham turns his attention to what happened in the Catholic Church following the introduction of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI, and what is happening in the Church following the promulgation of the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum pontificum (2007).  And, of course, full account is taken of Liturgicam authenticam (2001) with the resulting and soon to be published new English translation of the Mass.  Questions here are raised about the Catholic Church’s relative inexperience with vernacular liturgy as compared to the 500 years experience of the Church of England which allowed a sacral vernacular language to emerge.  Burnham takes seriously the possibility of how one Form of the Mass, the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form, may influence the other.  As an example he suggests the replacement of the Offertory Prayers in the Novus Ordo with those from the Missal of Blessed John XXIII thereby recovering in its fullest expression the true doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass for the Novus Ordo.

In his lengthy discussion of Church music Burnham displays all of the acumen of one who has authority to speak in this important area of liturgical worship.  He correctly points out that hymnody has had a powerful influence on Anglican consciousness, with hymns providing a teaching modality as well as beauty in the worship of God.  Much Catholic Eucharistic theology is disclosed in well known and well loved traditional Anglican hymns.  The practical loss of these traditional hymns with their replacement by often very unworthy contemporary alternatives has eviscerated much of the Anglo-Catholic legacy of traditional Eucharistic understanding and worship.  In many ways, what was in Anglican hymns made up for what was, from a Catholic point of view, lacking in the Service of Holy Communion in the BCP of 1662.

Burnham’s discussion on the liturgical forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, and other Offices, is carried out in its dialectical relationship between the Catholic breviaries in their various amended forms, and the forms devised by Thomas Cranmer.  He carries that kind of discussion on into the contemporary revisions of the Church of England and the new Breviary now in use in the Catholic Church.

In this book Burnham does both Anglicans and Catholics a major service in explaining the ways in which Church of England liturgies changed at the Reformation, what were the factors at play which influenced the radical rupture the Eucharistic liturgy, and the importance of the ongoing process of change in the twentieth and twenty first centuries.  Burnham, while clearly Catholic in his understanding of liturgy, is nevertheless able to present in an objective and dispassionate way alternative views which are more widely accepted by Anglicans.

Importantly, Bishop Burnham also makes clear what is meant by the classic Anglican Patrimony which can suitably be retained and incorporated into the Catholic liturgical tradition, thereby enriching the tradition.

This book provides readers with a profound understanding of liturgical developments in both the Church of England and the Catholic Church, and the manifest shortcomings of much contemporary liturgical worship both Eucharistic and non-Eucharistic.  Usefully, the book goes on to suggest ways in which liturgy may not only be renewed in the light of tradition, but also re-enchanted such that active participation in the Eucharist will enable the believer to really experiences something of the sublime reality of heaven.

In concluding with a chapter on St Mary the Virgin Mother of God, the Bishop makes the traditional Catholic link between the meeting of heaven and earth in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and the meeting of heaven and earth on our altars as bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ.

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Heaven and Earth in Little Space is published by Canterbury Press with a Foreword by Fr Aidan Nichols OP and an introduction by Fr Jonathan Baker SSC, Principal of Pusey House, Oxford and also a member of the Council of Forward in Faith.  Full details of how to order it, and how to take advantage of a generous discount on the recommended price, can be found here.

Copies of Heaven and Earth in Little Space may also be had through Amazon.com.

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