Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Old Masses Made New: Implications for Anglican Catholics

Recently Pope Benedict XVI issued a document (called a motu proprio) releasing priests from any restrictions in offering the Latin Mass that had existed in the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Second Vatican Council. His stated wish was to provide a sense of continuity between the old rite and the Novus Ordo (or New Order) of Mass that was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969. The purpose, according to Benedict, was to demonstrate for Roman Catholics that there is only one Roman Rite but two forms of this rite, one old and one new.

The reaction of liberal Catholics and others was amazing. They immediately sought loopholes to prevent this implementation and in several cases have made it plain that any priest who dares to offer the old form would face an ecclesiastical banishment, or whatever it is that Romans do these days. I find it interesting that it is perfectly acceptable in the Roman church to celebrate any one of a number of rites and variations thereof except the rite that has existed in their church for 1500 years!

This reminded me of the actions in the Episcopal Church over the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer. When the '79 Prayer Book was introduced, the only books that were forbidden were books derived from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (including the Anglican Missal). Liberals understood quite clearly the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi or "The law of prayer is the law of belief." They understood that if we can change the grammar by which people offer their prayers to Almighty God, then they will by definition have changed what people believe about Him.

Hence, prayer books and Missals that had set forms of prayer (such as the 1928 Prayer Book) that did not deviate from week to week presented a vision of God that was stable and orderly. They presented a God who ruled the cosmos in an methodical way and who gave an objective standard of faith. This was a worship that was primarily God-centered with little concern for the needs of men, needs of which God was very much aware before they could even be uttered.

The new "prayer books" and Missals took a different approach. With a multiplicity of options, it became possible for each community to pray in a way that best suited it. While this sounds nice in theory, it is unsatisfactory in practice because it has destroyed - or seriously damaged - the connection that exists between different churches. Where churches previously had prayed essentially the same things in essentially the same way, that is, in common, now the prayer of the church reflected a focus that was more on the person praying then the Person being prayed to. This approach has been rightly called "man-centered" in that it takes as its starting point the needs of the people rather than the worship of God. This style of worship leads rather easily to a view of God as changing and subjective and, further, the "man-centered" style assaults any notion that there is an ultimate source of divine order, an "uncaused cause" in the world. It also undermines the concept of an ultimate source of morality.

One of the many reasons that I'm pleased to be a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church is because we hold steadfastly to the first form of prayer, that which is based on a theology of a stable and unchanging God. While we allow differences in our church concerning level of ceremonial (some use an unaltered prayer book service, others use the Missal), we have a remarkably consistent understanding of the Eucharist as sacrifice and the Real Presence of Christ offered for our sins. Our approach to prayer, then, is very definitely God-centered. By maintaining the traditions of those who have come before, by holding fast to the 1928 Prayer Book and the Missal, we tether ourselves to the Tradition of the Faith, which has nourished saints and converted sinners. Interestingly, although there are other issues that divide us, on this point we are in agreement with Benedict: We recognize a difference in ceremonial but not a difference in theology. We hold with the ancient Church that God is one, holy, catholic, apostolic and unchanging.

No comments: