- Very Members Incorporate: Reflections on the Sacral Language of Divine Worship
Among the first fruits of the liturgical provision according to the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, the recently promulgated Missal for Ordinariate usage, under the title Divine Worship, represents a momentous development in the history of Catholic worship: for the first time, the Catholic Church has officially recognized, blessed, approved, and made her own in a sustained and permanent fashion a collection of liturgical texts that found voice and developed outside the bounds of her visible communion.1 Divine Worship: The Missal is noteworthy for many reasons, not least of which is its consistent use of a traditional idiom of liturgical English derived from the classic Books of Common Prayer. The Vatican commission Anglicanae Traditiones (advisory to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments) had the task of assessing the wide variety of “liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition” in order to discern, winnow, and harmonize a unified body of liturgical “patrimony” amenable to Catholic worship and duly conformed to Catholic doctrinal and sacramental norms, including the careful evaluation of linguistic register.2 That the Holy See has definitively identified [End Page 132] texts in traditional rather than contemporary English for such liturgical repatriation, in order to authenticate for the Ordinariates a “precious gift nourishing the faith” and “a treasure to be shared,”3 deserves some comment and explanation. To some, it may seem intriguing or perplexing that the Catholic Church in the twenty-first century has been moved to reclaim a liturgical corpus and an idiom of prayer stemming from the Reformation, expressed in a hieratic dialect forged in the sixteenth century, and shaped over nearly five-hundred years of continuous, if checkered, public worship.
Hence, in these pages, I mean to explore the distinctive sacral language of Divine Worship as exemplified in the newly approved Missal (2015) and in Occasional Services (2014) with its rites for Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, and funerals. This language, though unabashedly old-fashioned and sometimes slightly archaic without being obsolete, has proven itself over the centuries remarkably conducive to the active participation of the faithful and remains in its own way richly intelligible, even as it now finds a new place “meet and right” in union with the Catholic Church to serve the Ordinariates’ “bounden duty” and mission. Accordingly, I would like also to discuss the function of liturgical language itself, in the ecclesial context of Catholic communion, and to consider both the promise and some of the perils of this special liturgical dialect, particularly as the Ordinariate faithful think about the pastoral stewardship of worshipping the Lord “in the beauty of holiness” by way of the traditional, hieratic vernacular best called “Prayer Book English.” Thus I invite reflection on an idiom of worship that is familiar, formative, and beloved to many in the Ordinariates (but not everyone), and a style of liturgical prayer with roots deep in the English tradition, now renewed by authority of the Holy See, and yet awaiting the prospect of evangelizing new generations of Catholic faithful. [End Page 133]
I The Ecclesial Context
In Tract 90, John Henry Newman wrote, “our Prayer Book is acknowledged on all hands to be of Catholic origin.”4 Thus Newman, a few years before his conversion, staked the claims of the Oxford Movement on the Catholic sources and the enduring Catholic character of the Book of Common Prayer, and he did so notwithstanding its excisions and occasional ambiguities and despite certain problematic formulations in the Thirty-Nine Articles, whose doctrinal difficulties famously would help deliver him into the communion of the Catholic Church. In suggesting that the English Prayer Book had the potential to serve as a vehicle for “Catholic” worship, Newman anticipated, at least implicitly, a possibility that would not come to fruition until the next century with the Second Vatican Council and its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, namely, that worship in the Roman Rite could find voice in a noble vernacular idiom. He foreshadowed, as well, in his witness of continuity between his Anglican formation and its Catholic fulfillment...