Thursday, 23 July 2009

Do we need a distinctive “Anglican” liturgy?

I don’t usually comment on matters liturgical as others do it so much better. However, the debate about whether in the (devoutly to be wished) eventuality of any kind of corporate reunion with the Holy See, reunited Anglicans should be able to use their own "anglican" liturgical variants is a very complex one. Obviously it is our liturgical life, giving expression to our theology, which has united us and made us a recognisable (if somewhat intermittently visible) strand within the English post-reformation settlement, but that liturgical practice itself, even whilst adhering to the form and language of the Prayer Book, has always essentially striven for a Catholic and patristic interpretation and, in the light of that, has over the centuries been very aware of the many shortcomings of the 16th Century Cranmerian liturgical reform.
My own view, for what it is worth, is that any contribution Anglican Catholics have made and can make to the life of the Universal Church is not primarily liturgical at all. Our contribution has been made simply by occupying space and by a constant refusal to accept in toto the the legitimacy of the English Reformation.
What I mean by that is that the fact of Catholic theology and practice having survived within the Church of England (or its offshoots) is both a witness to the essential unity of the Church of Christ and, by regarding “Anglicanism” as merely a small and provisional part of Christendom, a recognition that it is only by dying to what is distinctively Anglican that we will contribute to the unity of the whole Body. If that is true then the implications for our future are very clear; if we as Anglo-Catholics are first and foremost an ecumenical ecclesial venture then reaching what is the goal of that journey (the restoration of full and visible unity with the See of Peter) should be enough for us. It is a moot point as to whether those liturgical expressions which have fostered our Catholic identity in a largely or partially hostile and uncatholic environment should have a further role to play. Are linguistic resonance and literary distinction enough to justify their continuance, particularly in the light of the contemporary Benedictine “reform of the reform?”
As they say, discuss….


  1. Now I understand why Japan's kakure kirishitan fascinate me: in a way they parallel the Anglo-Catholic experience.

    They were 'hidden Christians' (what the Japanese means), originally Catholic converts who survived a wave of persecution (the emperor turned on the European traders and missionaries) and, cut off from the church including religious instruction for at least 200 years, maintained the faith as best they could. (They had no clergy.) When Japan was opened to the West again at American gunpoint (by ship) in the 1800s and European Catholic missionaries came back, the missionaries found these people and a number came back to the church. I think their descendants are the nucleus of Japan's tiny Roman Catholic minority today.

    But there were those who didn't return; they'd forgotten what their crosses, images of Mary and Latin prayers they said phonetically by rote really mean. These remaining kakure kirishitan are almost extinct but still around; they really believe much as their fellow Japanese do (venerating ancestors and nature; Buddhist philosophy). Among their interesting practices are having a Buddhist priest do their funerals then having their own crypto-Catholic ones immediately afterwards.

    It doesn't line up perfectly but you can see things mirrored. Of course the kakure kirishitan didn't have to deal with a mother church where many of its members had slunk off and joined the enemy (liberal Protestant wannabes), the post-conciliar RC experience. But those who remain outside remind me of the Affirming Catholics in the C of E and high-church Episcopalians today, a sort of ritualist congregationalism cut off from the mother church where the substance of the teaching has been lost or spoilt.

    Anyway my answer to your question is in the com-box under Fr Hunwicke's entry on the subject.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Yes, it's a fascinating parallel and a community which produced the novelist Shusako Endo. The differences,too,between their situation and ours also give much food for thought in that mainstream English culture itself (unlike the Japanese) in its post reformation, Anglican incarnation at least was schizophrenic to say the least, despite the historical overlay of popular protestantism. Haigh's comment "haunted by its Catholic past" seems the most apposite, although the Church of England is still - even now - haunted and troubled by the survival of Catholicism in its midst.


Anonymous comments will not be published