"I HAVE no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands..."
--C.S. LEWIS, MAGDALEN COLLEGE, July 5, 1941
Excerpt from Screwtape Letter XVI:
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
But there is one good point which both these churches have in common—they are both party churches. I think I warned you before that if your patient can't be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don't mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better. And it isn't the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say "mass" and those who say "holy communion" when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men's minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the "low" churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his "high" brother should be moved to irreverence, and the "high" one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his "low" brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility,
What did that "pestilent fellow Paul" teach?
"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind...But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ...Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another...It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. " -- Excerpts from Romans 14.
As we enter into Holy Week we see more, than at any other time of the year, practices that vary from parish to parish. The clergy should all agree that we have a duty to practice what we see in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, and that is for reasons that ought to be plain enough. First of all, what we have in those old rules is good and wise. Second, if we vary from what we see in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the people will conclude (rightly) that we are lawless, reserving to ourselves options instead of practicing obedience. In practical terms, that only makes it more difficult to attract and keep visitors, adding new members to a parish; after all, people come to Continuing Anglicanism, in part, to flee from arbitrary practices. For this reason, at St. Benedict's, we have the Decalogue at least once a month, and I, as the celebrant, kneel during the General Confession and Prayer of Humble Access, and I will never drop the Comfortable Words.
This, however, calls for common sense. The late Dr. (or Fr.) Louis Tarsitano used to quip, "The Prayer Book rubric on baptism says, 'Then the Minister shall take the Child into his hands.' But, it never says we give the child back. Therefore, to conform to the rubrics we must have a room in the basement of the parish hall where we keep all those baptized children." Right?
Some argue that we need to to treat Anglican patrimony a bit more legalistically than I would recommend, not in terms of following rubrics, nor of (more importantly) teaching right doctrine, but in terms of attempting to enforce something thought of as "authentic Anglicanism." On one hand, some people are concerned that various usages of the Missal are a road that must lead to Rome. Against this I have argued that what we see practiced, generally, is an embellishment of the Book of Common Prayer, and that if we are not allowed embellishments we would have to throw away the hymnal. On the other hand, some people are intolerant of any celebration without the Missal and all that goes with it, because they have lost sight of what truly is essential, placing too much emphasis on ceremony in terms of all the trappings, bells and whistles (well, maybe not whistles).
Nonetheless, where the Missal is used its own rubrics are optional; for if the rubrics of the Missal were all observed, the service would start on Sunday morning and end some time on Monday afternoon. Where Anglicans use Ritual Notes or the Missal, it makes sense to be discriminating about what is practical and what is not (let's face it-nobody anywhere ever follows them all anyway); but the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer should be regarded as coming to us with the authority of the Church in her Right Reason. For Continuing Anglicans who hold to the Affirmation of St. Louis, by the way, this is not an option. If someone can show me a contradiction between Prayer Book and Missal rubrics, I would say to follow the Book of Common Prayer; but, no one has showed me such a contradiction, at least not that I can think of off the top of my head.
In a recent comment, I said this:
Questions of popular piety never spring from hierarchical legislation, but from the laity in their devotions. The right question for some practices is not whether or not they are found in Anglican rubrics somewhere, but simply, might they be practiced to someone's edification, and free from error? If yes, leave it alone; do not disturb them.
For example, if someone kneels in prayer in church, perhaps during a week day, especially mindful of the tabernacle, or sits in contemplation mindful of it, feeling the fires of true devotion because of his closeness to the sacrament, mindful not so much of bread but of Christ's Real Presence in the sacrament (reminding him of the Incarnation), who has the authority or even the right to condemn him? Who should interfere with the man's devotions? If, however, this action harms someone who cannot distinguish between this practice and idolatry, should he not practice it at another time, or content himself not to practice it unless and until his brother can understand it? Is not this how we apply what was taught by "that pestilent fellow Paul" to our Continuing Anglicanism?
And, yes, that does apply to the use of a monstrance, or other practices to which none of the Thirty-Nine Articles ever spoke directly, since the practices in question did not yet even exist, nor could be foreseen. I do not imagine that Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker, etc., would have approved of, for example, a Benediction service; but, in their day they were fighting a specific battle, namely, restoration of the whole idea of Receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion rather than merely gazing upon it from afar. Perhaps, the emergency they faced is no longer an emergency in our own time; or at least, the idea needs to be considered.
However, if such practices were to lead to idolatry (i.e. worshiping the physical substance itself), or led the people away from actually receiving the sacrament, and back into Medieval "gazing" as if that were the means to receive grace, then, the practices should be abolished. However, I do not believe that is going on; neither do I believe that what people are doing necessarily leads to Rome; for it has gone on a long time with people who have done no such thing, nor contemplated it (those who opt to go Roman do so for other reasons, generally because they believe in the papacy beyond what true doctrine has ever established). As long as we all maintain that "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them," as Article XXV says, we should be safe.
The search for Authentic Anglicanism
I question if the search for authentic Anglicanism is at all practical, or even possible, beyond matters directly involving doctrine and theology, and for practice, matters addressed in BCP rubrics or Canon Law. I refuse to engage in conversations about how many candles belong on the altar, or whether we should use the colors associated with the calendar in accord with people's expectations. If these matters are not in the Bible, not in the Prayer Book, not essential to the Gospel and right doctrine, what point is there in getting worked up about them? If God has not addressed an issue, and if the Church with her authority has not ruled on it, why should we?
In the fourth chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus could have addressed this objection from the woman of Samaria with a "correct" answer in her own terms: "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." The Lord could have said: "The temple is in Jerusalem, you silly cow." But, inasmuch as He came to establish the New Covenant, and bring in something greater, and wanted to save her soul (a consideration we might want to remember now and again), He answered:
"Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
In light of that, I say again, questions of popular piety never spring from hierarchical legislation, but from the laity in their devotions. The right question for some practices is not whether or not they are found in Anglican rubrics somewhere, but simply, might they be practiced to someone's edification, and free from error? If yes, leave it alone; do not disturb them. It is better to frustrate Hell by having our variety of usage become a hotbed of charity and humility.
Frankly, religion is not frozen in time; doctrine must never change, but popular expression of the faith cannot help but change a bit from age to age. That is, unless it is dead. To freeze "authentic Anglicanism" into absolute conformity to 16th century English culture, turns our faith into a nice museum piece, (to borrow words from Virgil Fox on another subject) to be placed "under glass next to a comb some dead queen wore in her hair three thousand years ago."
"Authentic Anglicanism," is worthy of a true search to make sure our doctrine is sound and to see why our patrimony is valid. It is worthy of a true search so that we do not err from or lose the truth we ought to proclaim. However, simply to search for it so as to reproduce some exact performance, might help us turn our services into something that amounts to a nice stage play about history; but, it may not have practical value in terms of worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth, nor in evangelizing among the nations where our churches have been and are being planted. Anglicanism that is authentic is, and always has been, and always will be, belief in, and proclamation of, the Gospel. It is Catholic and Evangelical fullness, together.
Now that I have offended everybody who holds strongly to partisan inclinations (in imitation of Christ I hope) , have a blessed Holy Week.