Thursday, May 15, 2008

"The Old Religion"

This is the title of a wonderful book on the prayer book faith by the Reverend Canon Dart. It examines the teaching of the prayer book and the articles from the viewpoint of whether they reflect the teaching of the earliest and historic Church or that of the continental 'reformers' I write 'reformers' but I think of what they thought and did and what we have from their successors as deformation rather than reformation. They may have believed that they recovered the ancient 'Biblical' faith, but under their hand and tutelage the ancient pattern of the Church disappeared to be replaced by a new invention for which - despite all their protestations - there is no certain warrant of Scripture. Instead of "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and the breaking of bread and prayers" (Acts 2:42) they substituted a new invention of a few hymns, a sermon and a collection.

I approach this issue because of a quote offered by a bishop of the Church of England aimed at denigrating the faith and practise of the Church revival which we generally call the Oxford Movement in one of the yahoo groups. The quote for me raised the issue of whether obedience, especially the obedience to which one had to swear in order to be ordained, is more Christian than the deliberate disobedience of the Anglican low church who seem to become complete functional illiterates when it comes to rubrics of the classical prayer books from 1559 onwards. They seem to believe that they were included in the prayer book for no purpose because they certainly give them neither obedience or respect while thinking themselves the better Christians and Anglicans for it.

What I am discussing, of course, is the infamous Ornaments Rubric which was first placed in the Book of Common Prayer in 1559. It was intended to occupy an entire page of that book by itself but the printers (probably low church protestants) had other ideas and it got tucked in as if it were any other rubric in the book. This tended to diminish its importance and helped, with the bishops' lack of enforcement, it to be overlooked and unacknowledged until after the beginning of the Oxford Movement in 1834. Then, with the rest of the prayer book, it came to be noticed, acknowledged and finally tentatively obeyed.

So what does the rubric actually say?

"And here it is to be noted that, such ornaments of the church and of the Ministers thereof, in all times of their ministration shall be retained and be in use as were in this Church of England, by the authority of Parliament, in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth."

And here, may I note, that the first Book of Common Prayer was not approved and did not come into use until the the third year of the reign of King Edward VI. So the rubric plainly orders that churches shall look like and the ministers dress like they did before the first Book of Common Prayer became the official liturgy of the Church of England. There have been some who have disputed this, saying that what was intended was merely a continuance of what was ordered in the first prayer book of Edward VI, but given the very explicitness of the language the argument is unacceptable. We are left with the reality that a correct and proper use of the prayer book liturgy involves clothing it in the ancient vestments of the Western church in accordance with the Use of Sarum which had been the only legal Use in the Church of England from 1541 when the Convocations of Canterbury and York had suppressed all of the others. This would also mean that the liturgical colours which we as Anglicans should be using are those of Sarum and of England generally as set forth in the Directory of Ceremonial, Vol. 1 as published by the Alcuin Club and not those of the Tridentine Missal of Pius V which was published by the Roman Church in the same year in which Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I.

But the use of the prayer book vestments and the prayer book colours is not the most important thing although they do set out in the most graphic and recognizable way that the church is and intends to be Catholic. The most important thing is that the Holy Communion service is the main service of every Sunday and holy day. It should be preceded by Morning Prayer (and the Litany) with The sermon being preached at the proper place in it. And Evening Prayer should follow at the proper time. The prayer book gives no authority at all for a service of Morning Prayer, Sermon with the Solemn Elevation of the Alms basins and its use is an indication that the priest and the congregation have no understanding of the Book of Common Prayer or of what classical Anglicanism intends and demands.

But the point of everything I have written is not that every parishioner should know and recognize all of the vestments and other ornaments of the church. While that would be nice, it has never been necessary. But what is necessary is that every priest and deacon recognize what they implicitly and explicitly promise at their ordination and stand ready to actually do what they have promised. And that not just to the letter but in the spirit. They should know and rejoice in what is Anglican from the cut of their cassocks to fullness of their surplices and albs. They should recognize that all of these are part of livery of our Lord and His Church, being glad that they have been called to be His servants. I was very lucky in my youth to have lived in a parish where the priest wore cassock, gown, tippet and square cap when he went about the community. Our town was overwhelmingly Baptist, but we knew that our priest was not ashamed of being either a priest or of being Anglican. And he was not the only priest in our diocese who did so. They were all incarnations of the true "old religion" and made us proud of being so.

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