Project Canterbury

[Alcuin Club Tracts XI]

English or Roman Use?

by E. G. P. Wyatt, MA

[A. R. Mowbray and Co. Ltd. London;
Milwaukee, U.S.A.: The Young Churchman Co., 1913]

transcribed by Mr Allan R Wylie
AD 2000

"While you stick to the old Church of England ways you are respectable—it is going by a sort of tradition ; when you profess to return to lost Church of England ways you are rational ;—but when you invent a new ceremonial which never was, when you copy the Roman or other foreign rituals, you are neither respectable nor rational. It is sectarian."—J. H. Newman to Henry Wilberforce. Life of  J. H. Cardinal Newman, by W. Ward. 1912. I. 235.

"THE English Use" is a convenient title to express I what is aimed at by those who desire loyally to follow the directions given or implied by our Church in the Prayer Book in respect of Church Ornaments and Ceremonial. It will scarcely be denied that the Church of England has a right to a ceremonial law of its own, and beyond question the Prayer Book contains at least a certain number of explicit directions. The upholders of "The English Use," then, desire to take for their guiding principle the appeal to authority and to set aside any personal preference for this system or that, whether in whole or in part. It might have been expected that this would be accepted as a matter of course, but in practice it has not been so. There are a considerable number who looked for guidance to the books and the practice of the Roman Catholic Church of the present day, and this not merely by way of supplementing, but sometimes of superseding the directions of the Prayer Book. This seems to have come about in the following way.

When the Church Revival started on its way in the last our English traditions as to the conduct of century, own b Divine Worship and Ceremonial had been to a large extent forgotten. When it was desired to carry out the directions of the Prayer Book more exactly, and still more, when it was found necessary to supplement them owing to their giving insufficient guidance, it was thought that the easiest way to ascertain the pre-Reformation customs of the English Church was to imitate what was done in the Roman Church of the present day, as it was assumed that they must be, more or less, identical.

The habit of consulting the custom of the Roman Church seems to have grown, and to have resulted, in many cases, not merely in supplementing the directions of the Prayer Book where necessary, but in adopting the Roman customs as a whole, and adapting the Prayer Book services to them as far as possible, in some cases directly overriding the rubrics in the Prayer Book.

This state of things still prevails largely in certain quarters,—although the base on which it existed has been removed by the researches and study of the last half-century, and other reasons are now put forward to justify the resort to Roman customs, which is also continued, in many instances, simply through a sort of conservatism, which does not care to look beyond a tradition that has existed in this or that parish church for, perhaps, thirty or forty years. But, after all, Churchmen are all “men under authority,” and we ought to be able to justify our customs in public worship by such an appeal to authority as is consistent with the character which we ought to possess as loyal and rational members of the Church. The appeal to the directions of the Prayer Book is unimpeachable as far as it goes, but it is not complete.

Mr. Wakeman, in his History of the Church of England, says:—

"The most superficial examination of the rules and directions for the celebration of public worship in the Prayer Book of 1549 is sufficient to show that they certainly were never intended to form a complete code of instructions."

"The fact is that the book is unintelligible except on the theory that it presupposed the existence of a well-known system, and only gave such directions as were necessary to carry out and explain the changes which had been made.”’[1]

Nor is this view a more modern invention. The writer of the Notes on the Prayer Book ascribed to Bishop Cosin (1st series), states

"It is to be noted that the book does not everywhere enjoin and prescribe every little order, what should be said or done, but takes it for granted that people are acquainted with such common . . . things, . . . and let ancient customs prevail, the thing which our Church chiefly intended in the review of the service.” [2]

As a commentary on the phrase Let ancient customs prevail, the answer of the bishops at the Savoy Conference in 1661 may be quoted

"If we do not observe that golden rule of the venerable Council of Nice, ‘Let ancient customs prevail,’ till reason plainly requires the contrary, we shall give offence to sober Christians by a causeless departure from Catholic usage, and a greater advantage to enemies of our Church than our brethren, I hope, would willingly grant. [3]

It may be noted that the scanty and incomplete nature of the rubrics in the Prayer Book simply followed the universal practice which had previously obtained in all service books, such as breviaries and missals. For complete directions as to the method in which services were to be performed, reference had to be made elsewhere, e.g., to the Ordinale or Directorium.

Dr. Frere also tells us

"In approaching the rubrics of the Prayer Book the past history of rubrics will necessarily lead us to expect something incomplete rather than something finished, something that rests to a large extent on tradition rather than something that is self-sufficient. Such expectations will be amply justified so far as the First Prayer Book is concerned.” The incompleteness of these provisions is evident; they are insufficient ritually as well as ceremonially. They could only suffice on the ground that there was behind them a well-known traditional order which the priest would be expected to follow wherever he was not commanded otherwise. A careful examination will confirm this impression; and it is to be noticed, first, that the rubrics themselves continually appeal to this tradition; and secondly, that, of the rubrics that are given, almost all are intended to call attention to something unusual, either in the way of novelty or in contradiction of the familiar ways; in other words, they exist in order to be either supplementary or corrective." [4]

The Elizabethan Prayer Book made a further appeal to tradition and custom by the insertion of the rubric ordering that the ornaments of the period of the first compilation of the Prayer Book should be used, and that the chancels should remain as they were "in times past."

In the Revision of the Prayer Book at the Restoration considerable additions were made to the rubrics, no doubt partly, at least, because of the breach in Church tradition made by the Great Rebellion. The additional rubrics mostly consisted in definitely prescribing some of the traditional ceremonies which had grown up in supplement to the rubrics since the first introduction of the Prayer Book.

But, in spite of all these additions, the rubrics of the revised book of 1662 remain very far from being a complete guide to the conduct of public worship. Can there be any doubt that the principle of obedience to authority binds us to supplement these incomplete directions where necessary by a resort to authoritative traditions and customs?

Yet there are some who do not accept this view. They continue, or extend, the resort to Roman customs, which grew up in the last century from lack of liturgical knowledge. And for this they give several reasons, none of which were the cause of their original adoption in the last century. It is not necessary to go into these reasons, as they are all (whether consciously or not) based on the assumption that the Church of England at the present day has no authoritative ceremonial of her own, and that consequently all may do as they please.

There is one reason, however, commonly given which has a considerable influence, and therefore demands some attention; it is that the resort to Roman Catholic customs furthers the cause of Reunion. But when one considers what are the causes which have produced the present state of disunion in the Catholic Church, this plea seems almost ludicrous.

In the first place the cause which really divides us from the Roman Church, and would continue to divide us if all other causes were removed, is the Papal Supremacy. The ideal, then, which is really implied must be that of Reunion by acceptance of the Papal Supremacy, for no amount of uniform and exact performance of Roman Catholic customs would be taken as a substitute for submission to the Pope.

In the second place the plea assumes that for inter-communion it is necessary to have one uniform rite and ceremonial. But, apart from the fact that in the Undivided Church there existed a great many national uses, and the fact that in the Western Church itself down to the Reformation there existed both national and diocesan uses (they were in fact the normal state of things) without any breach of communion, there is more than one rite in use in the churches of the Roman obedience today. There is, for instance, the Ambrosian Rite in the Province of Milan; many of the religious communities have their own rites and ceremonies, and so do the Uniat Churches of the East.

This supposed necessity for a uniform rite seems to be one motive, at least, for the practice of interpolating the Prayer Book Communion Service with extracts from the Roman Canon. In order to justify this, it has been maintained that the Prayer Book was meant simply to be a paroissien, and that the English Eucharist was intended only as an office for giving Communion. In fact the wish to interpolate has actually led some people to argue that the Prayer Book prayer of oblation was meant to be merely a thanksgiving—a sacrifice of thanksgiving and of ourselves being intended, and no more—and that therefore it ought to remain in its present place, apparently to prevent any obstacle to the interpolations from the Roman Mass.

But why should we take the Roman Mass as the ideal to which to turn for the improvement of our present service? It is one thing for those who have used it for centuries to desire to keep to it, in spite of its obscurities and its clumsy arrangement, which its latest Roman Catholic historian describes in the following terms—"its abrupt transitions, reduplications, and harsh constructions"; but it would be quite another matter to adopt it afresh after having had our present service for three centuries and a half. Yet it seems to be with this ideal in view that we are told that for the sake of reunion we must adopt the Roman ceremonial which is found in the official books set forth for parochial use. It has even been asserted that, if the Church of England had not been more or less moribund for three hundred years (!), this is the ceremonial which we should now have been using at the present day—a large assumption, indeed, which among other things takes for granted that English Churchmen in such circumstances would be more Ultramontane and less conservative than Frenchmen or Spaniards, who have kept up many of their old customs to the present day.

Thirdly, the plea practically ignores the existence of the Eastern Churches. The adoption of Roman Catholic customs would certainly not help on Reunion with them; on the contrary, it might be a serious hindrance. And Reunion without the East would not be Reunion at all.

The English Use, then, stands above all for the great principle of obedience to authority. Its upholders main–tain that the Church of England has a living rite of its own, the ceremonial of which is to be found explicitly in the Prayer Book and in the Canons of 1603, and implicitly in other post-Reformation authoritative customs, and those of the time of the first compilation of the Prayer Book. It is necessary to deal with the objections which are most commonly brought forward against it.

Objection 1.—The reproach is made against the upholders of the English Use that they have "divided the Catholic camp" by breaking in upon a tradition which had been held by all within that "camp" for half a century. But this does not agree with the facts. There can be no doubt that those who first accepted Roman usages in the early days of the Church Revival did so in the belief that these were identical with those that prevailed in the English Church before the Reformation, and when the progress of liturgical and ecclesiological learning showed that this belief was mistaken, some, at least, sought a remedy by resorting wholesale to Sarum usages, or what were thought to be such, thirty years ago, or more.

Objection 2.—Then we are told that a "living" use ought to be preferred to a "dead" one. This idea seems to spring from a misunderstanding of what is implied by the English Use. It does not consist in reviving a rite which has passed out of use and become obsolete. On the contrary, it is the living rite of the Prayer Book, and if reference is made on any particular point to a custom which has been disused, it may be, for a very long time, there is no meaning in calling it a "dead" custom. At one time Ascension Day seems to have completely passed out of observance in England: would it have been any answer to those who wished to revive its observance to say that it was "dead" and therefore could not be revived?

Objection 3.—The English Use is "antiquarian" and has its origin in the "British Museum." If these phrases have any meaning they are really complimentary, and not the reverse, for they imply that the English Use is based on sound learning. Those who repeat this little jest seem to be unaware that the British Museum is not a collection of Mediaeval Church antiquities, but is the home of scholars because it contains the largest library in the world. Like everything else in religion, the English Use has its roots in the past, and is based on precedent. Can the secret of the objectors’ reverence for the Papal Congregation of Sacred Rites be that its decisions are thought to be "up-to-date," and based on "common sense" only, and to have nothing to do with either learning or precedent?

Objection 4.—The English Use is "artificial." This apparently means that it starts from the directions in the Prayer Book as a basis, and merely supplements them by the authoritative customs to which the Prayer Book explicitly or implicitly refers us, instead of adopting a whole system bodily from another rite, and omitting only so much of it as is necessitated by the fact of the rite being different from our own.

Objection 5.—The English Use is "uncertain." This sometimes takes the form of asking which of the old English rites abolished by the Prayer Book, Sarum, York, etc., we are to adopt. But the English Use does not imply the wholesale adoption of any rite but that of the Prayer Book. Sometimes, however, the objection is made that there is no certain knowledge about the former customs to which we are referred, contrasting this method with the easy resort to a ready-made system, which every one can find for himself in the Roman books. But, as a matter of fact, owing to the researches of the "antiquarians" in the available records, there is no difficulty at all in getting any information that is necessary with regard to the old customs in question, and wonderfully little difference of opinion about them. And among the English churches that are supposed to follow the Roman Use, is there one that follows it exactly, or any two that are alike?

Objection 6.—It is objected that the English Use sets up "national" against "Catholic" customs. But this has no meaning in the mouth of anybody, but an Ultramontane. It is true that for some centuries the Papacy has, in Western Europe, been endeavouring to abolish national rites and in other ways to introduce a rigid uniformity in rites and ceremonies. But it has never completely succeeded, and even in Roman Catholic countries a good many of the old national customs exist, and of course the Uniat Churches of the East have their own rites. The Eastern Churches have always been national. But formerly in the West there were diocesan rites and ceremonies as well, and there still are at Milan.

Objection 7.—The English Use is "insular"; and it is further objected that the old English customs were themselves foreign in origin. For this objection to have any relevance, it would have to be shown that it was in old times open to any parish priest in England to introduce into a parish church on his own authority any ceremonial that struck his fancy, if he happened to travel abroad. But the whole objection is based on a misunderstanding. The English use is not advocated because it is "English" and not "foreign," but because it is authoritative.

We may add, by the way, that the word "insular," as applied to things English, has long been out of date; it is precisely English customs and men and the English language which are found all over the world; and the Anglican Communion has its bishops, priests, and congregations, using many languages, spread far and wide over the globe.

In view of this charge of insularity which is brought against the English Use, it may be worth while to quote the following passage, translated from a review in the Revue Benedictine, [5] of Fifty Pictures of Gothic Altars, edited by Dr. Dearmer for the Alcuin Club.

"The altar, in fact, is the principal symbol of Christ, who there comes into contact with the earth. Next to the Holy Sacrament there is nothing among things visible more august than the altar. The English terminology in this matter vindicates this character of the altar, since it esteems it as the living Christ, and describes it as such. The altar has a front and a back the ante–pendium (a word which tells us nothing) is called in English the frontal, and the border of the altar-covering is the frontlet; the curtain at the back is the dorsal; lastly, the retable (restabulum, something fixed—another commonplace word) is called in English reredos, from an old French word, imported from Normandy like so many others.

"How completely is all this symbolism absent from the altar, as conceived by us, since the Renaissance! No longer any mystery, any curtains, any ciborium, seldom even a frontal! The altar is exposed unveiled to the common gaze, and the extravagant development of the reredos which surmounts it has reduced it to the obscure and humiliating function of a mere base (soubassement). Happily the conscientious study of ancient and mediaeval Christian customs is making more and more clear the deviations which have led us to the poor results of the present day. Doubts are beginning to be felt: soon there will be a reaction. A few more publications like that of Dr. Dearmer, especially if they defend our admirable Christian traditions with the fervour of conviction, and we shall again see the surroundings of the altar conspiring as of old to attract the attention and devotion of the faithful towards that which has never ceased to be the soul, the central point, the hearth (foyer), the focus of the Church. The expression again is Dr. Dearmer's. The above extract, coming from a member of the most learned body of Roman Catholic monks, speaks for itself, and may be commended to the notice of those who reject the principles put forward by the supporters of the English Use.

The fact is that, to those whose ideals are identical with those of the Papacy of the present day, the aspect of the whole Catholic Church, while yet undivided, must have appeared "insular" and "national." It was the normal, and really only healthy, state of things for each particular Church to have its own ceremonial. This did not hinder the catholicity of the whole body. Indeed it may fairly be argued that it promoted that catholicity, by setting into clearer relief the real unity which existed in essential matters, coupled with variety and liberty in things not essential.

The accompanying of Catholic faith and practice with a ceremonial which is national in its character is really the only practicable course for us at the present day, in view of the fact that each priest, when he is commissioned, promises to carry out the directions of the Prayer Book and none other, and that we are, after all, Englishmen, and not Frenchmen or Italians or Spaniards. This is the course that is being increasingly followed, and is the only one that can bring peace to our Church and avoid discreditable agitations, or that can induce intelligent Roman Catholics and others to regard us with respect instead of contempt.

Our Church, while being Catholic in all essential matters, has a character of its own, a worship and service book of its own; is it not reasonable that this should be recognizable to the outward eye? A mere copy of something else is not recognized, and commands no respect. At best it can only deceive, by pretending to be something which it is not; and what motive can we have for any pretence whatever in such a matter?

Moreover, imitation is so often unintelligent. Like the rationalizing or infidel writers of our day, who try to popularize in England the speculations of German writers, just when the latter are beginning themselves to abandon them for something fresh, so do our imitators of Rome set up their debased Renaissance altars just when Roman Catholics are beginning to see their defects, and are in many cases returning to mediaeval models; or they lay stress on the elevation at the Eucharist, when an Ultramontane writer like Dr. Fortescue can say, “We must teach our people that the essence of the Mass is not the elevation, but consecration and communion"; or they insist on interpolating an intercession from the Roman Canon into the English Rite between the Sanctus and the Consecration just when Roman Catholic writers have made it practically certain that the Intercession here is an interpolation in the Roman Canon, and that it formerly had its place, as in the Gallican Liturgies and in the Prayer Book, before the Preface, a place which Mgr. Duchesne says "may seem the more natural one"; or they read the Epistle away from the people, a practice which Dr. Fortescue terms "anomalous," since "he is reading to the people."

The whole question is very commonly looked at from too narrow a point of view, as if the ideal were to be the unmolested existence among us of an unlimited amount of ceremonial in a limited number of our churches. This is mere congregationalism, and not Catholicism at all. The problem before us is a much wider one. It is the setting forth and fostering of a sound ideal of ceremonial and order and reverence for authority throughout the whole of our Church. Those who advocate the adoption of Roman usages surely either put no such ideal before themselves, or else cannot realize how little chance there is for them of influencing the Church of England as a whole. They cannot seriously expect that it will accept the authority and guidance of the Papal Congregation of Sacred Rites—for that is the necessary consequence of the system which they advocate. In other words, theirs is practically a counsel of despair.

[1] Wakeman, Introduction to the History of the Church of England, pp. 279, 280.

[2] Cosin’s Works, “Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology.” V. 65.

[3] Cardwell’s Conferences p. 34.

[4]  Frere, Principles of Religious Ceremonial, pp. 204, 207.

[5] October, 1912, pp. 536-37

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