It is only really now, seven years after Anglicanorum Coetibus, that it is finally becoming apparent what the treasures are that the Anglican tradition has to share with the Church.
We have had to wait for work on the new Missal to be completed, and then for the approval of the CDW and CDF, and then for our clergy to assimilate it; and it has, to those of us in the pews, seemed interminable. We don’t work in the context of eternity: we have to operate in the world with its pressures and expectations. And even seven years in the life of the Church is a lot less than the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, there is some catching up to do: people’s lives have moved on, and we need to be able to demonstrate that the Ordinariate is distinctive and brings something worthwhile to the Church.
Needless to say, Divine Worship: The Missal is the treasury at the centre of the worship and liturgy in the Ordinariate. It unites us with the Church of the earliest English saints and it draws on the work of past liturgists in which the Holy Spirit can be discerned. The language, the structure and the options available show the heritage of our Mass and, despite what people may think are its roots, how it is firmly set in the Western Rite of the Church, just as the English Uses of Sarum, York and the others were before it.
Perhaps we are fortunate that the Reformation liturgists faithfully translated a great deal of the Latin they inherited. While the defective form of the Communion service had to be corrected — and this was attempted even within the Church of England well before Series Two in 1965 — the resonant words they created have served Christians in this land and others well for 450 years, and continue to do so.
But it is absolutely necessary not to wallow in the past! Many of the Ordinariate may remember Series Two, Merbecke and Shaw, and many diocesan Catholics will remember the Interim Rite, but this isn’t an exercise in comfortable nostalgia. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a re-creation of the Sacrifice of the Mass: Christ’s One Sacrifice united through space, time and eternity for all believers. Although modern language is certainly easily understood and relevant to today, using language which is out of time can help to show the eternal too. It is the calling of the Church to teach the unchanging Faith anew to every generation, and the Use we have been given for the celebration of the Mass is — perhaps counter-intuitively — a Fresh Expression of worship.
We must not forget other treasures: one was experienced in St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham recently. Evensong and the other offices are something which can truly be shared. In permitting the Customary to be published and used by the Ordinariate, the Catholic Church has embraced something which is truly new. Even if it is four hundred years old.
Cranmer was an innovator: he created something novel. But in the case of Morning and Evening Prayer it was an evolution, not a revolution. The offices build on the monastic offices of the Church; they aren’t a repudiation of them. Each has an arched structure, with the readings, canticles and Creed supported by prayers and responses. The innovation, of course, was to combine two monastic offices into one: Matins and Lauds in the morning and Vespers and Compline in the evening; and yet still produce something coherent.
If it’s possible to match a cathedral choir like Birmingham’s, singing William Smith’s responses and Stanford in C, that’s great. But if it isn’t, we can still offer Evensong, or perhaps the Customary’s version of Compline, to our brothers and sisters. The plainsong settings are straightforward, but even a said service is beautifully worthwhile. There is something noble about “Brethren, be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil walketh abroad, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith.” Try it! Reduce the lighting, bring out a cope from the back of the cupboard, pray that the Lord may preserve us while waking and guard us while sleeping.
Much of what the new publications contain may be new to members of the Ordinariate used to the Novus Ordo, and will certainly be new to Catholics outside the Ordinariate. None must be afraid to use it; but not hasty to judge, either. To become familiar with liturgy can easily take a number of months of prayerful experience. We do need to trust that the Church has it right. But how can we do anything else? Embrace what has been entrusted to us!
A version of this article appeared in The Portal magazine in November 2016. Reproduced with permission.