Priest Reflects on the Beauty of the Anglican Mass -
When Father Bradford Goes Away...
Fr. Joseph F.
Introduction : Fr. Wilson is a Roman Catholic priest who was brought up on the
Novus Ordo Mass - authorised by Pope Paul VI. Fr. Bradford is also a Roman
once in awhile, my friend Father Bradford will take the opportunity to get away
for a brief break. I am always glad to encourage him to do so. I am sure that I
always encourage friends to take their breaks and refresh the spirit, with the
zeal of one who is thoroughly bored by vacations and thus avoid them while
living vicariously through others; but my reasons are more than a bit selfish
for urging Father Bradford to get away and take his time, with Mrs Bradford. You
see, Father Bradford is an Anglican Use Priest of the Roman Rite (which is why
there is a Mrs Bradford), chaplain to the Anglican Use congregation in Boston.
And when he folds his tent and steals away, I get to fill in for him. And I
leave a few thoughts to offer on that experience.
Use" Roman Catholics
The Anglican Use
if a fruit of the Second Vatican Council. The Council Fathers, expressing their
hopes for Christian unity, said that in the future it should be possible that
worthy elements of the patrimony of piety of other Christian bodies might find a
home in the [Roman] Catholic Church (as radical as this might have sounded to
Catholics before the Council, it was seriously discussed at the time of the
Council of Trent, four hundred years earlier). In the early 1980s, responding to
the overtones of groups of Anglicans who were seeking to come into full
communion of the Catholic Church, the Holy Father established the pastoral
Provision. By it, Anglican clergymen received into the Church had the
opportunity to present themselves for the possibility of ordination as priests
even if they were married, and groups of former Anglicans could, with the
permission of the Bishop, continue to worship together using rites based on the
Anglican liturgy, carefully adapted to conform in essentials to the Roman Rite.
A group of
parishioners of All Saints Episcopal Church in Ashmont, Massachusetts, parted
company from their Episcopal brethren several years ago, and, under the
leadership of father Bradford were received graciously by Bernard Cardinal Law
into full Communion, and Father Bradford was ordained. They are the staunchest
group of Catholics you could ever want to meet, having studied the Catechism and
embraced the Faith whole and entire. They form the Congregation of St.
Athanasius, worship at present in the convent chapel of St. Theresa's, West
Roxbury, and I count it a great privilege when I can be of service to them as a
God with Reverence
experience of celebrating Mass in a different ritual has led me to reflect on my
experience of fifteen years a priest celebrating the Novus Ordo. Celebrating to
the Anglican Use is a very different thing, you see; and one realises that from
the start of the rite.
and joined in the sacristy with the servers and the gentlemen of the schola in
the preparatory prayers - the old prayers at the foot of the altar - the
procession begins, and makes its way to the Altar as the opening hymn is sung.
From the very
beginning, I experience the Anglican Use liturgy in a very different way from
Novus Ordo. Daily and Sunday in my own parish, I reverence the Altar, go to the
chair and, facing the people, initiate a dialogue with them, and I am even
encouraged by the Liturgy to offer introductory comments.
Mass Text -
Book of Common Prayer
Altar in the Anglican Use Liturgy, I first reverence it with a kiss, then
proceed to the epistle side to charge the thurible, and incense the Altar. The
test of the mass is based upon the Book of Common Prayer; the ceremonies are the
traditional ceremonies of the Roman Rite. When I am standing at the Altar, I am
facing eastward, in the same direction as the People, the direction of the
rising sun, in the ancient symbol of the whole Church gathered in prayer
awaiting the Second Coming of the Lord.
finishing the incensation of the altar, I move to the epistle end to begin,
Blessed be God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to which the people respond, and I
then pray the ancient Collect for Purity,.....cleanse the thoughts of our
hearts...that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy Holy
Name....Then, to the center of the altar as the Kyrie is sung, and the Gloria. I
kiss the altar and turn to the people to say, the Lord be with you; with their
response, And with thy spirit, I move to the epistle end of the altar and sing
the collect, and we sit for the readings.
Extraordinarily Liberating Experience
I set out the
beginning of the rite in some detail for a reason; the ceremonies described will
be familiar to anyone who is acquainted with the traditional ceremonies of the
Roman Rite. The reason I offer the detail is to set the context for my
reflection on how different my experience of this ritual is from Novus Ordo, for
I find the Anglican Use rite with the traditional ceremonies extraordinarily
In a sense, it
is paradoxical that I should find it so liberating - from the modern
perspective, it offers very little freedom. From the very beginning of the
Liturgy to the end (except for my sermon) my words, and actions, and posture are
carefully ritualized. Instead of mounting my president's chair (I generally
refer to it as the Captain Kirk Chair) and initiating a dialogue with the
people, offering ad-libs on the feast or whatever, I deliberately, consciously
have to enter into this liturgy with the assembled Faithful. I have my part to
fulfil in this rite; they have theirs, and together we enter into the worship.
This is not something I am directing, or coordinating. My gestures are carefully
prescribed, and once I am done with the incensation of the Altar I stand before
it, facing God as it were, in the same direction as the people, and we begin to
address Him, we begin our worship. I am not putting it too strongly at all when
I characterize my reaction as feeling liberated by the form the ritual takes.
I'm not carrying
this rite forward by the force of my wonderfully magnetic personality. I'm
entering into it, submitting to the Liturgy's rhythms, with the People, and the
effect of this on me is a much deeper sense of common worship.
Here, I need to
offer an observation about the music.
Hymnal - solidly Scriptural and Liturgical
There is nothing
more frustrating than attempting to discuss music in Catholic worship. It is
maddening. Many Catholics are fierce partisans of the contemporary renewal music
of the Eagles Wings variety. They are insensible to how transitory this music
actually proves to be, how quickly the new hits become tired (and how most of
the congregation doesn't even attempt to sing them!), how much of the music in
Glory and Praise, the folk hymnal, has dated terribly after just a few years and
is never sung at all.
Catholics, on the other hand, often long for the glory days of Mother Dear, O
Pray for Me, the St. Gregory hymnal and the old devotional hymns.
It was my
experience as a choir boy in my parish church which first sparked my interest in
Anglican liturgy - our choirmaster was a convert, which was a blessing, and one
soon figured out where all of these wonderful motets and hymns were coming from.
In the Anglican Use liturgy, one draws upon a hymnal of six to eight hundred
hymns, solidly Scriptural and Liturgical (you come for Mass on the Feast of St.
Michael and All Angels, you get hymns honoring the Angels; you come on the
Annunciation, you get Annunciation hymns!!). The hymns are PART OF THE WORSHIP -
the whole congregation joins prayerfully in the whole hymn, from beginning to
end, instead of using it as filler and doing a verse and a half until father
gets to the chair. And the parts of the Mass - Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sursum
Corda, Agnus Dei - are all set to beautiful, singable music.
For me, the
whole experience of worship is transformed when I have the chance to celebrate
in the Anglican Use. I'm a cradle Catholic; I made my First Holy Communion in
1967. I grew up in the age of post-conciliar liturgical renewal. I vividly
remember making my way to the altar rail in 1968 as the folk group bawled out,
Blowing in the Wind. I am used to polyester vestments, incredibly banal
liturgical texts, poorly chosen hymns rushed through and cut off as soon as
possible, the forty-five minute Sunday mass (the Catholic Church's answer to
fast food restaurants).
is timeless. Words are rich, profound and lovely
What a joy it
is, then, when Father Bradford goes away. What a pleasure, to join with a
congregation in a rite which seems utterly timeless, which is theirs as much as
mine, in which we are never looking to entertain each other, but rather join
together to approach God, The words of the rite are traditional, rich, profound
and lovely, and a deep part of each of us gathered there. How heartening it is
to be saying things like "And grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please
Thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of Thy Name, or those lovely
words we say as we kneel at the altar before Communion,... grant us therefore
gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink
His Blood, that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us... I once, in an
acerbic moment, explained to someone who had asked about the difference between
the Anglican Use Rite and our Novus Ordo. The difference is that at Vespers,
when the Anglican Use folks sing the Magnificat, For behold, from henceforth all
generations shall call me blessed, we are reciting, I betcha everybody calls me
happy. Slightly exaggerated, I suppose, but there is a point to it. And, may I
add, I'm NOT saying that Elizabethan English would work for regular Catholic
parish liturgy, at all, at all. But cafeteria English hasn't worked either!
So, whats the
point in this article? Well, it is written, as I have noted, by one who grew up
in the post-conciliar mess, who made his First Communion in 1967 at the age of
seven, and watched the Church collapse around him as he grew older. And who
cannot help but wonder - was all of this really necessary?
If the goal was
liturgical renewal, was it really necessary to so violently overhaul the form of
the Mass that people had to lose the sense of continuity with the Tradition? If
you're tempted to protest that observation, please stop and recall the folk
group bawling Blowin' in the Wind as a communion hymn in 1968. People in my
generation grew up with no sense of continuity at all - the only things valuable
and valued were innovations and novelty. And look at the devastation that
concede the usefulness of the vernacular, and that there were aspects of the
Liturgy which needed revision, but the rite we used for Mass before the Council
was truly ancient, well-established by the time Gregory the Great, and gave full
expression to the vertical dimension of worship. The richness of that rite, very
conservatively revised where needed, traditional ceremonies intact and made more
accessible to the people through use of the vernacular as appropriate, and with
texts carefully married to plainchant and with good hymns, could have resulted
in every parish having the kind of experience I have with the good folk of St.
Athanasius - the profound sense of joining together in a communal stepping into
the worship and submitting ourselves to the rhythms of the Liturgy and Tradition
of the Church. And had that been done, Catholics might not have gotten the
impression that, the Mass having been turned upside-down, everything else in the
Church's teaching was up for grabs, too.
music, manner of celebrating and entire atmosphere of the Novus Ordo all too
often leaves one feeling that this is a prayer service cobbled together by the
relative genius of the participants; there's no sense of anything having been
handed on at all.
is Host at Anglican Mass
And this is
especially true at major ceremonies. It seems that, every time I am present for
a liturgy celebrated by a Bishop, he experiences the driving need to assert that
he is the host of the occasion - lengthy commentaries from him open and close
the rite (after he has marched down the aisle as though he were running for
re-election, kissing babies and glad-handing congregants). But it is Jesus Who
is the Host of the occasion; and I know that I have experienced this most
notably at the Anglican Use Mass.
That there is
something lacking in the Novus Ordo is beyond question, as far as I can see - it
was to have been the occasion of a great renewal, and after thirty years we can
look back and see how many people simply stopped coming to Mass! Being able, as
a priest, to celebrate with a different rite has perhaps given me a new
perspective on something I find lacking in the revised Liturgy. It has certainly
convinced me that there is something wrong with the president's role as
currently understood, enthroned as I am in my Captain Kirk chair, facing the
people and dialoguing with them. I'd dearly love to be free of the tyranny of
that Chair. I really long to be able to skip the dialogue, abandon the
liturgical talking points and the jabbering and the chatter, and to be able to -
have you guessed?? - just go with my People to the Altar of God, to God who
giveth joy to my youth