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The Ecclesiologist

Volume IV (New Series II). Number V. September, 1845.

Cambridge: Walters, pp. 210-213

Moral Effect of Catholick Arrangement, in Promoting Community of Worship

A GREAT many well-intentioned persons have become nearly converted to our principles, that is, they fully sympathize in our desires to make The LORD'S HOUSE worthy of His Presence, and they realize the aesthetical beauty of Catholick arrangement. But still they feel themselves encompassed with difficulties of a practical nature; they are afraid of going too far; they apprehend that such an arrangement will destroy (he social nature of common prayer, and so they rest content with some half measure; they read prayers in the chancel, and do not put up a rood-screen; or else they do provide the screen, and they celebrate the Daily Office at a lettern in the nave. It is to these timid friends we are now desirous of addressing ourselves; and we trust to convince them that full Catholick arrangement, fully carried out, being the true, is also the best, way in every respect, and, among others, in that of promoting fervent universal participation in the service on the part of the lay portion of the congregation.

The ritual of our branch of the Universal Church is entitled "The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments." Now let us regard different arrangements of churches with a view to their capacity in these two respects: the due administration of the Sacraments and Common Prayer, but more especially at present, the latter.

The common or Protestant arrangement, as all know, is in its extreme developement, a deal table placed flush with some wall or other of the church, with pues run up as near as possible to it, for the administration of one Sacrament, and a wedgewood basin on or near the said table for the other; and for the offering of common prayer, either at three-staged tower, for the "gentleman who preaches," "the man who reads," and the clerk; or else two tubs of equal height for the two former functionaries, one of which is supported by the clerk's throne. These said towers and tubs being, as a rule, turned from the "Communion Table," and towards the congregation. Sub-varieties, such as pulpits over altars, as being less common, we dismiss. The inventors of such a scheme seem as if they interpreted Common Prayer in the sense of vulgar, and however commendable their intentions may have been, it will now be admitted by all, but a prejudiced set, that they have entirely failed in their proposed aim of making prayer "common," and that the congregations in such churches do as a rule leave the clergyman and the clerk to perform a religious duct, the more devout silently conning their prayer-books; the less so staring about them. We therefore gladly proceed to another portion of our inquiry.

The question now is, shall we adopt the diametrically opposite arrangement which prevailed in the Middle Ages, or does the alteration which our service books underwent three centuries ago, render some middle course between the old Catholick and new Protestant arrangements, the most fitting plan in churches of the Anglican use? Common Prayer being regarded throughout this discussion, as the leading motive in the adjustment. We boldly assert the old arrangement to be very well suited to Common Prayer, and proceed to give our reasons.

Who can deny that, according to the Protestant system, the person of the clergyman is the centre of attraction? not that ideal being, the priest, but the man himself, rather than, as should be the case, the words which he is uttering, and which words, according to circumstances, the congregation should cither be joining in, or following with attention. The same, with more aggravating circumstances, is the case in respect to that useless personage the clerk.

If the question be asked, what psychological reason can be given for this? the solution will be found in the secularity, the professional air, of the position which the clergyman fills. Imagine caged piety,--believe, if you can, that the occupant of that elevated box has come there from the mere motive of prayer. A clergyman in the prayer-pulpit conveys the unmistakeable notion of his being a functionary, of his being paid for what he is doing, of his praying because it is his profession so to do. We sec an auctioneer on a rostrum, and we accordingly accept what he says cum grano salis. We go to church on Sunday, and see our clergyman in a precisely similar receptacle, and we are then called on to give him the more honour on that account. So much for the moral effect of mere Protestant arrangement in producing community of worship.

But it will be asked, why thrice slay the slain? why condemn Protestant arrangement in the Ecclesiologist of 1845? We now come to our point. Is the semi-Catholick arrangement of a low desk in the nave, looking sideways, different in principle, or only in degree, from the Protestant one? We assert, only in degree; and we add that there, all the objections which we have been alleging against the latter will in a modified degree apply to the former. What is the difference in principle that can be proved between the one and the other? The semi-Catholic moves in as confined a crib as the Protestant. He does not, it is true, turn his back on the Holy Altar, yet the essential principle is, to use an expression somewhat vulgar, but in this case so singularly applicable, that we must be pardoned for it,--that he should have half an eye to his congregation. He is at once to be a reverent priest and a "godly minister," and the result of this compromise, for so it is, to give it its true name, is, that he finds himself placed in a most unmeaning position. He cannot command his flock so well as the Protestant; while, on the other hand, between him and the altar are, or should be interposed, the rood-screen, and the whole length of the chancel and sacrarium, so that it would be difficult either for him, or his flock, to maintain the idea of reverence to the Holy Table as the motive of his position; besides which, as we have before said, there is always the restraint upon him of his congregation, the idea that he must not be too reverent, for fear he should not be attentive enough to them. It may be urged that the same objection applies to the priest in choir, that his position too, being a side one, may be justly open to the same objections. But, as we shall now proceed to show, the idea conveyed in the Catholick arrangement is so totally opposite, that the accidental resemblance to which we have above alluded is of very minor importance.

Now let us examine a Catholickly-arranged church with screen and stalls, and reverent sacrarium. There the functionary notion totally disappears when we behold the full-voiced choir singing The LORD'S praises. There is something so natural, so easy in their position, that we feel it to be the one into which the antiphonal nature of Christian worship naturally resolves itself. We see that the clerks are just as much members of the congregation,--just as much regenerated children of The LORD; thanking Him, praying to Him, and singing His praises, as all His flock docs; and at the same time we feel that they are doing so in different guise from the laity, because they are clerks, and therefore their position is within the screen, in solemn choir; that of laymen, in the nave; and so, while leaving to their clerks the more regulated complete performance of the Divine Office, all the worshippers are naturally led to take their own appropriate share in it.

When, as will too frequently be the case, there is but one priest, the old arrangement will still be found the best. We see the chancel properly arranged for the antiphonal service of the Catholick Church; and that circumstances prevent the office from being carried out in its ideal perfection, is no argument against as much being done as is possible. The building is so fitted, that whenever there are clerks enough in it, they shall be properly placed. In general we only see one priest in the stalls, because there is only one priest at hand to occupy them; hut we know that when there are more, they too will sit in clerkly guise. We perceive the reality of the arrangement, and our moral perceptions are satisfied.

There are occasions, such as the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the preaching sermons, in which the congregation are to be addressed, and these occasions are fully and wisely provided for in the Catholick arrangement. Holy Scripture, at least in the more solemn Epistle and Gospel in the Eucharistic Service, is chanted on high from the rood-loft, that elevated throne of the Word of GOD, neither in the chancel nor in the nave, but as it were a connecting link between the two; and when the preacher, deserting the proclamation of the Holy Scriptures, has to address his flock in words of his own composition, he deserts the chancel also, and mounts the pulpit, an elevated position indeed, but still in the nave.

We think one of the most striking instances of the progress of symbolism is to be found in the manner in which the rood-loft and the pulpit were respectively developed for their different uses out of the primitive ambo, the parent of both. All know we have pulpits, and a post-reformation rood-loft has already been described in the pages of the Ecclesiologist.

The close rood-screens found in cathedrals and large churches have, as might naturally be supposed, given some difficulty to modern church restorers, who are apprehensive how far they can reconcile them on the one hand to the most proper use of the choir, and on the other, to that community of worship which it is their duty to maintain. These fears may prove troublesome, when our cathedrals come to be generally restored. We may therefore be excused for a few words in favour of their retention in cases where they already exist, and their beauty renders their preservation matter of importance. The congregation of a very large church, cannot (it is useless to pretend they can) see all that is going on, and to those in the west end of the nave, the choir must at all times be a mysterious place. The question rather to be asked is can they hear? If the service be properly intoned, the intervention of close screen will not make much difference in this, that is, supposing the lantern arch not to be, as at Lichfield, glazed; and indeed were the screen to be open, the congregation in the nave could not see much, of the clerks in the choir, some sitting in the returns, and others at the side. So that the objection to the retention of those close screens of ancient date, which we have got in our cathedrals, resolves itself, in point of fact, to an objection to the retention of Catholick arrangement altogether in our cathedrals; or to push the truth a little further, to the use of cathedrals at all in the Anglican. Communion, an objection which, as Catholicks of that Communion, we shall not take the trouble of noticing. The not seeing the clerks need not prevent the congregation taking their part in the service which they hear, any more than the red curtains, which so often in Protestantly-arranged churches hide the "talented" gentlemen and ladies who kindly consent to lend their valuable services, need prevent the audience, if they list, from joining in the "Hymn."

The most plausible argument in favour of celebrating the Daily Office in the nave, is one which we believe has often great practical weight with Catholick-minded men, and which is urged by Mr. Irwin Eller, in his Church Arrangement, while advocating screens; the necessity, namely (which we assert as strongly as any can), of making a distinction between it and the more solemn Eucharistic Office. Those however, who make this an argument in favour of what we have termed the semi-Catholick arrangement, forget that in truth our churches consist of three, not of two, divisions, the sacrarium and chancel being distinct. It is curious, that Mr. Eller, in the same paragraph in which he talks of screens, adverts to a triple division as of early use, without appearing to remark that such had always existed in the Christian Church, and indeed making his three parts to consist of the Narthex, Naos, and Bema, forgetting the Chorus.

We trust that these remarks of ours may carry some conviction to those good friends of ecclesiology whom we consider rather defective than erroneous in their views, and for whose use they are especially intended.

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