Turning Point #2: The Liturgy

This is two distinct Turning Points in one: first our discovery of the beauty and holiness of traditional Anglican liturgy; and second my painful realization that Anglican liturgy is as diverse as the clergy which celebrate it.

I discovered liturgy in my first year at Seminary – not an easy thing to do at a Lutheran seminary. Although the liturgical cycle was sparse (often not including any Eucharistic celebration on Sundays), it suited me at the time. It was the first time in my life I was forced to pray regularly and communally. I started saying the Liturgy of the Hours in addition to daily chapel in my second or third year. My interest naturally took me to more traditional liturgical expressions and I soon found the Anglican Breviary. I started using that in my first year as a Lutheran pastor.

Yet our real introduction to Anglican liturgy was via a Continuing Parish. We went to Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi (celebrated on Thursday!) at which the music was beautiful, the ceremonial dignified and context catholic. The priests looked like priests, the servers knew what they were doing, and the whole experience was uplifting and holy. We were confirmed and I was ordained to the deaconate and priesthood in that parish. I said my first three Masses at the same altar that we first witnessed the beauty of Anglican liturgy. Intellectually and spiritually I was captured by Anglican liturgy. It was like a beautiful dream. It expressed the whole faith without the drawbacks of the modern liturgy.

Some Anglicans are fond of saying that they would not convert to Rome (although they have no theological problems with Rome) because of the way the Roman liturgy is celebrated within the average parish. Yes, there are examples of good liturgy within the Roman Communion but these, so I was led to believe, were few and far between. Real dignified beautiful liturgy was Anglican. After sharing some of my Roman fever with a fellow Anglican, I was once again confronted by the well trodden path of Anglican liturgy good, Roman liturgy bad. As Diocesan Master of Ceremonies, I rarely see clergy celebrate Mass outside of the bishop of this Diocese (who, by the way, is an exceptional liturgist).

So I decided to go exploring: to look beyond my own preconceived ideas and just experience. The painful realization was that Anglican clergy (even those within the catholic party) can do liturgy just as poorly as Roman clergy can. Rome does not have a monopoly on bad liturgy. And not just parish priest – bishops tinker with the liturgy to suit their own circumstances and theological bends. The Continuum is no haven. And what of Roman liturgy? The experiences I have had of Roman liturgy have all been good, dignified, beautiful, expression of the whole catholic faith.

As I tried to systematize what I had experienced, I came to the conclusion that liturgy not the Church makes. Yes, the Church has liturgy but attempts at the perfect English catholic liturgy all end with the individual priest. I still love Anglican liturgy, especially the English Missal. But I wonder if, outside of the Shrine Churches of Anglo-Catholicism, Anglican liturgy is all that different in character to Roman liturgy? Or, to put it another more personal way, did the Anglican dream bring me to the feet of Saint Peter?


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