Monday, 21 November 2011

More Than Words

The new translation of the Mass is hitting the headlines.  As from next Sunday, it becomes compulsory for Catholic parishes in England and Wales to use this new, and in our view much-improved, translation.  The new translation was used for our Reception Mass on September 3rd, and seems to hit the right note between faithfulness to the Latin original, appropriate register and comprehensibility.  There might be one or two things that each of us might have altered, but overall this is a huge improvement. 

Yet the headlines are not about next Sunday's introduction.  Many if not most Catholic parishes have been using the new translation at least occasionally since September, and before long the previous translation will become firmly part of the past.  No, the headlines are about the Anglican Bishop of London and his approach to the use of the new translation in his diocese.

As former Anglo-Catholics who were based in the Diocese of London, it was often slightly difficult to know what to make of Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London.  On the one hand, he was more happy than one would have thought to go along with what some would see (although I certainly never did) as the "excesses" of Bourne St liturgy and ceremonial : in the first photo below, you see him giving his blessing in a Martin Travers chasuble and wearing a maniple; in the second the "Nero-esque" (not my name for it) Bourne St episcopal throne canopy, under which he has sat; indeed he even failed to flinch when a gremiale was thrust over his knees during a confirmation.  So for these smaller things, he would play ball.

For the bigger picture, it was often rather hard to tell to what extent there was sympathy with an Anglo-Catholic viewpoint.  One read some rather direct criticism of him and his alleged lack of tolerance for Catholicism (and indeed Anglo-Catholicism) on certain blogs and in certain newspapers.  One heard much gossip from what the Bishop of London was said to have called the "Anglo-Catholic Travelling Circus" about various things he might have said or done.  His views at the start of appointment processes as to who might be suitable candidates for the incumbency were often reported to be felt by those in the know to be, let us say, sometimes rather interesting.  All this, though, was nothing particularly unusual in the context of the history of relationships between Anglo-Catholic parishes and their diocesan bishops: in fact, it was really rather mild.  One might even say that the relationship was collaborative. 

Broadly, he let life at Bourne St continue pretty much untouched.  In no way did he give the appearance of following the example of his c19th century predecessor Charles Blomfield, pictured below, who insisted upon the departure of the then incumbent of St Barnabas Pimlico (the neighbouring parish to St Mary's Bourne St) following Protestant riots against ritualist practices in St Barnabas.  Nor did he in any way remind anyone of Blomfield's successor (second picture below) as Bishop of London, Archibald Campbell Tait, who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, and who once in that role was one of driving forces behind the passing of the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874, which led to the imprisonment of some of those in the Church of England who used what were seen as "Romish" or "Popish" practices.

Therefore, it is hard to know if he realised quite how much fuss his All Saints' Day Ad Clerum letter would cause.  In our time as Anglicans, he didn't make such public pronouncements on this sort of thing.  There was the odd comment here and there, made as an aside to a group, in a speech to Diocesan Synod or in a reported conversation, but in general these were not of massive significance.  This Ad Clerum letter is different.

Whether one agrees with its thesis or not, the letter does rather seem to be rather good for what it intends to be: it is a very clear statement of where Richard Chartres sees the Anglican Diocese of London being, and of where he sees it as going.  Ignoring some very good things he says that few could object to (in general terms) about the eucharist, the bishop and the local church, and also some remarks he makes on the importance of the sacraments; and ignoring some rather exciting glossing over of things (eg disagreement with Catholic teaching, eg transubstantiation being dismissed as a sort of temporarily useful attempt at explaining something), it strikes us that the letter is saying precisely the sort of thing that an Anglican bishop is perfectly entitled to be saying.  That the Anglican Bishop of London, in 2011, doesn't agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church shouldn't really shock anyone.  Nobody ever thought that Richard Chartres was an Anglo-Catholic in the way that his predecessor Monsignor Graham Leonard was, and to be fair, he has never marketed himself as such.

What is the specific issue at stake?  The little challenge that Richard Chartres has thrown out is that he has made it very plain that the new translation of the Mass should not be used in the Diocese of London.  Anglo-Catholics already knew that the mere existence of this new translation provided them with a real challenge.  Neither ignoring the new translation, nor adopting it, would prove easy.  Those who used the 1970 translation, having prided themselves on being in line with Rome, would find themselves using a liturgy authorised for use neither in the Church of England nor in the Catholic Church.  Those who wished to take up the new translation would have to be inventive in their justification for doing so.

The always interesting Fr Trevor Jones, Vicar of St Peter's London Docks (where the famous Fr Charles Lowder was once Vicar (having earlier been a curate at St Barnabas, Pimlico)), summed it up like this in a paragraph from his much-to-be recommended Peterite blog
My local SSC chapter both used and talked about the changes a few weeks ago, I know younger priests who plan to make the move in September and November but there has been little wider discussion ( of which I am aware). I am aware of priests who have chosen each of the three options, 1: Change to the new translation at once, 2: change to an amended CW in order to retain the old agreed texts. 3: Stick with the present ( and unauthorized from any source) translation. The first has the virtue of clarity, Western Rite (as we once called it) is Western Rite and thus an Anglo-Catholic default, the second has the virtue of indicating a loyalty to norms that derive from historic Anglican forms and re-engages a previous Anglo-Catholic default position ("use what you can from official Anglican sources, add what is missing"), the third position is one within which I can see no virtue, but I am sure that at some forthcoming meeting someone will offer a plausible argument to me; Anglo-Catholicism, the home of the plausible argument!  POSTED AUGUST 7th 2011
There seems much jumping of the gun in the use of the new Missal, in the pre-fab form which is authorised from this Sunday. One cleric told me that the Ordinariate were already allowed to use it and he thought of himself as the Church of England wing of the Ordinariate and thus permitted. It's hard to think what to say to that.  POSTED AUGUST 31st 2011
The difficulty is not so much that the Bishop of London is strongly critical of any of his clergy adopting the new translation.  Rather, it is his argument for taking this approach.  In short, he says that Anglicanorum Coetibus has called bluffs : those who wanted to use texts issued by Rome that express communion with the Pope have headed off to the Ordinariate, those who remain should not be following instructions issued by the Pope to those in that other communion.  His conclusion is that if people in the Diocese of London use the new translation, they are rejecting the instructions of both the Catholic Church and those of the Diocese of London.

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith has written a very good post on this topic in his blog for The Catholic Herald. 

Fr Ed Tomlinson, in his typically forthright style, picks up on the fact that Anglicans using the Roman Rite used to argue for this approach on the basis of promoting moves towards unity, but wonders how those who are not attracted by the Ordinariate (or by otherwise joining the Catholic Church) can still say that their reason for choosing the Roman Rite would be connected with the promotion of unity with the Catholic Church.  His question is :
... how can any sane person turn to Rome for spiritual authority having just chosen to stand with Canterbury on matters of ecclesiological authority?
He might not have put it quite as bluntly as Fr Ed did (even if his message was pretty direct), but the Bishop of London's underlying point is exactly the same as Fr Ed's.

Finally, Fr Ray Blake in his blog says that the Bishop of London's words might be a little harsh on those affected in the CofE, and cites an amusing anecdote about the late, great Archbishop Amigo of Southwark.

We have to say that we struggle to disagree with the Bishop of London on this.  Now, of course you could very reasonably respond "You would say that, wouldn't you."  Given the decisions we have made and the path we have taken, it would be utterly bizarre if we didn't: but that, of itself, doesn't make the conclusion incorrect.

To calm everyone down after that, to mark today being the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, here is a very fine piece of Josquin, thanks due to Eoghain Murphy for his advocacy of this excellent setting (just wait for 1.52).

Our Lady, pray for us and for the Unity of Christians.


  1. Bravo!

    I have great respect for Fr Ed, a faithful and holy priest, but bulls and china shops spring frequently to mind when reading some of his blog posts. You are much more measured. :-)

  2. I was saddened and disappointed at some of the Catholic reactions to this (including the anecdote about clerical silliness and pre-Vatican 2 ignorance), because they reveal complete lack of understanding or sympathy for the Anglo-Catholic position and patrimony now implicitly honoured by the Pope. They were also an implicit attack on the previous practice of the "Three+ Musketeers/ Three+ Monsignors", Fr Alfred Hope Patten, Monsignor Graham Leonard and most members of the Ordinariate, which is a Use of the Roman Rite precisely because those members are already used to it.

  3. Anonymous, it is true that some of the reactions published (and there have been many) might have benefited from a little deeper understanding of the way things are and indeed were in the Anglo-Catholic world.

    That said, we can assure you that our view is that the fact that the Bishop of London's logic seems to be rather good on this is most certainly not a cause of rejoicing, much less gloating. On the contrary, it makes us even more conscious of the difficulties faced by those of our Anglo-Catholic friends still fighting it out in the CofE. They deserve our sympathy and support.

    The blog of Fr Jones is referred to in our post above, and we imagine there are many others in similar positions to him across London and across the CofE. The situation for them must be discouraging and very difficult to bear.

    The easy and glib answer (though not necessarily wrong) is that the Ordinariate is ready to greet them with open arms. In expressing that view, no-one should ever underestimate how difficult it is to leave a much loved church building, parish, congregation etc, nor how difficult it is to leave behind one's vision of what the Church of England has been. We don't dismiss those concerns, and indeed our earliest posts on this blog referred to that frequently. A more recent example is our O Yes We Have no Lions post, which appears in the Top Ten posts as listed in the right hand sidebar of this blog.