Fr. Phillips, 5/20/2010

Liturgical Considerations for the Future Ordinariates

by Fr. Christopher Phillips,
Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church

When the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus was released, there was the expected flurry of excitement, after which came serious discussions about the many practical issues which would need to be addressed. One of the most important questions, and the topic which seems to generate the most interest, has to do with the liturgy.

In any discussion of the liturgy for future Ordinariates, the Sarum Use inevitably enters the discussion. This is understandable. The Sarum Use is rooted in England’s Catholic history, and its adoption would mean that a venerable liturgy could be rescued from obscurity. To have it live in circumstances other than on dusty library shelves is an interesting possibility, even a noble goal. Employing the Sarum Use would give the Ordinariates an immediate identity by linking them with a “golden age” of English spirituality, and there could be no doubt in anyone’s mind of the catholicity of the liturgical use. These all are positive reasons for embracing the Sarum Use.

However, in every discussion about Sarum there come proposals for adaptations, and the debate is based on the simple fact that we do not live in the late Middle Ages. Every liturgical rite exhibits organic development, something which was denied to the Sarum Use because of the 16th century break with Rome. It has been frozen in a particular time, and most of those who advocate for its revival acknowledge the need for its revision.

Those who would become part of an Ordinariate, when considering the possibility of resuscitating the Sarum Use, are quick to propose modifications.

• They would want to retain the normal Western practice of genuflecting, since the “Sarum bow” came to signify a more protestant practice.

• The more familiar sequence of liturgical colors would be favored, rather than the Sarum liturgical colors, especially since we cannot be absolutely certain of what those colors were, or exactly when they were used.

• The Sarum Use was celebrated exclusively in the Latin language, whereas most of those in an Ordinariate would expect the liturgy to employ hieratic English. Those who support the Sarum Use point out that such a translation exists, and could easily be adopted.

• Those in an Ordinariate would want to use the rich tradition of hymnody which developed within Anglicanism, along with familiar musical settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, Anglican chant, etc.

Considering these proposals (and the list could be expanded), the question needs to be asked: “When does it cease being Sarum?” In fact, if things got to be so “adapted” that what resulted would be a Mass using hieratic English, six candles on the retable, the Roman sequence of liturgical colors, and genuflections at the appropriate places, how would that be different from the way in which Anglo-catholics celebrate when using the Book of Common Prayer, especially when most of them already substitute an English translation of the Gregorian Canon in place of the Prayer Book Canon?

In Anglicanorum coetibus and in the Complementary Norms, the Holy Father refers to our Anglican Patrimony as a “precious gift nourishing the faith…” and as “a treasure to be shared.” Wherever else this patrimony is to be found, it certainly is reflected in the various editions of the Book of Common Prayer. For that reason, any future liturgy for the Ordinariates must likewise grow out of that source. While the Prayer Book has some elements from Sarum (the Collect for Purity comes to mind), the Sarum Use itself is not really part of the Anglican patrimony to which Pope Benedict XVI refers.

There are some things that say “Book of Common Prayer,” no matter what version – the Collect for Purity, the Summary of the Law, the Comfortable Words, the Prayer of Humble Access, the Prayer of Thanksgiving and the list could be expanded. It would be fair to say that most of us would want these familiar elements included in a liturgy for the Ordinariates, and it would be equally fair to say that this would best reflect the expectation expressed in Anglicanorum coetibus. An attempt to accomplish this was made with The Book of Divine Worship, but (as we all know) it falls far short because of the constraints that were placed upon it as it was being compiled.

Would there still be a place for the Sarum Use in the Ordinariates? Perhaps making it available as an “Extraordinary Form” could be a possibility, with the Ordinariate liturgy being the “Ordinary Form.” Those decisions are not ours, of course, but are proper to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, requiring the approval of the Holy Father. But considering the purpose of the Ordinariates as outlined in Anglicanorum coetibus and the Complementary Norms, whatever ultimately is decided about our liturgy will almost certainly bear the image of the Book of Common Prayer.