Fr. Hawkins, 3/1/13

When I was small (which now covers much distance both in years and avoirdupois) each day began at Broomhouse Lane Elementary School with the learning and recitation of the Prayer Book collect of the day. Looking back on it, I recognize this as an invaluable introduction – at a very young age, and providing the foundation for the coming years of schooling — to the incomparable treasure of the glory-days of the English language of Shakespeare, the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

The principal draughtsman of the Prayer Book was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. About three months ago a then-parishioner of mine received a gratuitously judgmental and uncharitable comment not so much on Cranmer himself (though he did not emerge unscathed) but upon any element of the Anglican cultural, spiritual, liturgical patrimony being permitted to have any place to live and breathe in full communion with the See of Peter. And the blame for this allegedly heretical invasion of the Church was placed squarely on Blessed John Paul II. Sadly, this assault was launched from a shrubbery, placed in close proximity to a supposedly Catholic academic institution – suggesting, as one had already sensed there, a certain lack of intellectual integrity and humility. In contrast, it has been said that Cranmer’s genius consisted precisely of that rare and mysterious virtue.

In my lifetime I have worshiped and been nourished by the English Prayer Books of 1662 and 1928, by what was called the Interim Rite, and the English Missal (these latter being regarded as illegal by most English Anglican bishops); then by a series of experimental liturgies in the Church of England; then, upon coming to the United States, the Episcopal Prayer Book of 1979, and, from our reception into the Catholic Church, the Book of Divine Worship (being the liturgy approved by the Holy See for the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite in the parishes of the Pastoral Provision).

The one constant feature of all this liturgical transitioning has been the Collects. “Imagine being transported in a time machine to fifth-century Rome on a particular Sunday of the church year and knowing enough Latin to recognize with delight and surprise the very same prayer to be found for that day in the Book of Common Prayer. That is entirely probable, for the vast majority of the Prayer Book collects are in fact …. taken from the Sacramentaries of the three famous Bishops of Rome: Leo I (440-461), Gelasius (492-496) and Gregory the Great (590-604).” So wrote Barbee and Zahl in their book on the subject [Eerdmans, 1999].

The incomparable translations of these ancient and glorious prayers was the work of Thomas Cranmer; and he added to the Book of Common Prayer a handful of memorably beautiful collects of his own composition.

One of the words which has now fallen absurdly into politically-correct disfavor is “discrimination”. Yet we still want our children to learn to discriminate – between doggerel and poetry, between daubing and real art, between intellectual nonsense and true wisdom, between (come to that, and at the right age) a fine wine and one that is only moderately good.

In other words, educated  and cultivated choices often need to be made. Which, then, of the following Collects for Ash Wednesday would you choose?

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
 

That comes from the Roman Missal. [Campaign? I never hear the word without thinking of the way in which British sports commentators use it to describe a team’s approach to a soccer game.] Or consider this collect for the same day:

Almighty and everlasting God, which hatest nothing that thou hast made,
and dost forgive the sins of all them that be penitent;
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness.
 

This is, in fact, not a translation but an original composition by Archbishop Cranmer. I plead guilty to discrimination: I find this latter collect more spiritually pointed, and preferable to the former.

To take one more example of Cranmer’s collects, consider the 1662 Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter.

O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men:
Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest,
and desire that which thou dost promise;
that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed, there true joys are to be found.
 

This collect, which Barbee and Zahl call “one of the high points of Anglican theology, a masterpiece of pure, perfect, prayed theology” is Cranmer’s translation (with a small adjustment made in 1662) from the Gelasian Sacramentary.

Now: Interesting as all this may be, it is neither merely a matter of literary aesthetics nor of historical minutiae. It has immediate importance for those of us who are concerned with the Pastoral Provision or with the implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus. At the beginning of February a Symposium to mark the first anniversary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter was held in Houston. If anyone doubts the serious significance with which the Church regards the Ordinariates, he has only to consider the great distinction of the speakers. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, came from Rome to speak on the call to ecclesial unity. Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, spoke on evangelization. Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston spoke, as also did Bishop Kevin Vann, now Bishop of Orange.

In the present context, however, the distinguished paper given by Monsignor Steven Lopes, of the CDF and Secretary of the Anglicanae Traditiones Commission, was of great, immediate and practical significance. [The full text of his paper, which certainly warrants a full and careful reading, and those of the other participants, can be found on the website of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter.]

Msgr. Lopes identified within the Anglican heritage and patrimony an essential element which is very much attributable to Cranmer, although he did not name him. “There is a culture within Anglicanism wherein scriptural words and images are almost a default starting position, a culture nourished and preserved in the parochial celebration of the Divine Office.” This observation testifies to the great desirability of our retention of the classic Prayer Book office, with its 30-day recitation of the incomparable translation of the Psalter and its extensive use of substantial readings from the Bible every morning and evening. Manifestly and emphatically, this is not the moment to abandon such a grace-giving tradition.

“Additionally,” Msgr. Lopes continued, “the inclusion of the various scriptural ‘touchstones’ throughout the Eucharistic liturgy (the Summary of the Law, the Comfortable Words, the Sentences, the fraction anthem ‘Christ our Passover’) is a distinctive Anglican feature which informs, underscores and punctuates the liturgical action. While the biblical intuition is present from the very beginning of Anglicanism when the insistence on the vernacular found expression in the beauty of the King James Bible and ‘Prayer Book English’, this approach to scripture is more about reading the Bible liturgically, allowing the words and poetic cadences to linger, penetrate and take root in the soul as a sustained, communal lectio. …. While much more can be said about specific examples of liturgical patrimony such as the Summary of the Law and the Prayer of Humble Access, I have attempted to highlight some guiding principles that allow us to identify the patrimony of the Anglican liturgical expression, and also to fulfill it by incorporating it into the fullness of Catholic liturgy.” (My emphasis.)

What, eventually, will emerge from Anglicanae Traditiones as the liturgy for the Ordinariates remains to be seen. It remains a work in progress, and Msgr. Lopes could not be drawn about it. Nevertheless, the implications of what he said are consistent with the occasional hints we have heard. From all this I would think that it is clear that this, emphatically, is not the moment to drop the classical Anglican Prayer Book Office, to abandon the Rite One form of the Mass, nor to dispense with those cherished elements of the Anglican tradition that we have been able to safeguard and incorporate into our Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite.

There is a final consideration. Although it may be supposed that the purpose of Anglicanorum Coetibus is to provide a safe haven for distressed Anglicans – and this is doubtless its primary purpose – it forms part a larger grand ecumenical design. Obedience to Our Blessed Lord’s will for the unity of his Church brings with it the blessing that the fragments that remain – including such nourishing things as the Collect for Purity and the luminous words of Cranmer – may be gathered up, so that nothing is lost.

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