Project Canterbury

The Catholic Revival and the Kingdom of God
Addresses and Papers Delivered at the Sixth Catholic Congress of the Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, October 22 to 26, 1933

Milwaukee: Morehouse; London: A.R. Mowbray, 1933.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

The Revival of Corporate Worship
Architect and Author

THE WORD "WORSHIP" has a definite meaning: so has the word "public," while the two combined have a significance equally specific and contain in this sense something different, or rather supplementary to the terms taken separately. "Worship" is both the manifestation of love and loyalty to the Blessed Trinity and the abasement of the human soul before Omnipotence. Worship may be both interior and exterior; when it takes the latter shape, it is inseparable from forms, ceremonies, and physical acts, for man is body as well as spirit, and the action shows forth the interior impulse just as the Seven Sacraments are "the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."

"Public" worship is the exterior showing of this spiritual impulse "when two or three are gathered together" in the Name of Christ. It is something more than the sum of the impulses of so many individuals, just as in its evil aspect the assembling in bodily contact of a group of men under stress of some secular and emotional incentive results in a "mob psychology" that is different to the will of the several individuals, equally different to the sum of those wills, and usually of a much lower degree of value. So in its beneficent aspect the assembling under stress of high spiritual emotion of a group of human individuals, with the intent of offering their united worship to the Most High God, results in a spiritual entity that should by its very nature, and as a matter [37/38] of fact frequently does, reach higher levels of attainment than is possible to the individual, and of the virtue and benefit of which he is himself the recipient.

It is, of course, unnecessary to say that the act of worship, whether interior or exterior, private or public, does not fulfill itself, or even include, the listening to sermons, the passive reception (either with or without enjoyment) of musical programs performed by trained choirs, or the immobile attendance on those "religious exercises" which are frequently offered in lieu of "divine worship."

Using the words, then, in their accepted sense, it is probably true to say that in the year 1833 public worship had practically come to an end in the Anglican communion of the Catholic Church. It was as extinct then as it had been in the Roman Catholic mission in the British Isles a generation earlier when public services according to the Roman rite were still under the ban of political authority, the slightest infraction of rigid law being punished with ruthless severity. No one would for a moment deny the existence of much personal religion and therefore of interior or individual worship. "God has never left Himself without a witness," and even in the blackest night of the Dark Ages, or the reddest days of the pagan Renaissance, there were many instances of sincere personal piety—the little, cherished flame that preserved the holy fire in the midst of darkness. So during the century that preceded the Oxford Movement personal religion was still alive, though mostly hidden among both priests and people; but that definite thing, that, so to speak, integrated personality that is a public religion expressing itself through public worship and by its control of public affairs, was dead.

As Fr. Talbot says in his sermon preached in St. Mary's, Oxford, on July 14, 1933:

"Personal religion, if it is not to suffer from subjectivism and individualism, ever requires and, in the end, will seek the [38/39] theology, the historic certainty, the sacramental order of the Religious Society."

He might have gone further and said that this personal religion must at times merge itself in communal religion and in common worship, if it is to operate effectively in the field of public order.

Now a century ago this dynamic force of public religion and public worship was, to all intents and purposes, nonexistent. Holy Mass was celebrated most infrequently—three or four times a year at most and then solely as a matter of law by the priest and by the people as, at the best, personal participation in Holy Communion to the end of individual benefit, and at the worst as a mere matter of discipline or conformity. It is on record that on one Easter in St. Paul's Cathedral there were only six Communions. Of course the Mass as a Holy Sacrifice, the supreme and immemorial act of public worship, was entirely disregarded and done away with. Mostly Morning and Evening Prayer with litany and sermon was the accepted type, and here the participation of the congregation was confined, at the most, to certain changes in position, to singing a few hymns, suffering the clerk in his box to make the prescribed responses, and enduring with what patience was possible the generally unedifying and frequently interminable sermons. This was, in no real sense, public worship.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the magnitude of the service of the Oxford Movement in re-asserting the essential Catholicity of the Anglican communion and, in a sense, establishing it, in principle at least, as an integral part of the Holy Catholic Church. It was indeed comparable with the great redemption of the Western patriarchate by Pope Gregory VII and his allies and successors in the eleventh century. This is now generally recognized, even by its opponents, but it is, I think, less clearly seen that, in restoring [39/40] public worship as fully as it has done, it has rendered an almost equal service.

What I mean is that public worship is the voicing and, in one field, the making operative of public religion and this is in a sense a "new creature," an entity that, as I have said, is something more than the sum of the personal religion of the several individuals. Of course, it all begins with the single personality—everything does; there is no such thing as a spontaneous uprising of a group or community to do or undo anything. There may be something implicit in the spiritual atmosphere that incarnates itself in one or more persons, and that thereafter the power that becomes operative for good or ill is the energy contributed by the coalescing in a dynamic unity of so many individual souls, to whom, as one unit, is vouchsafed a certain outpouring of the Holy Spirit—as is over and over again promised in the Scriptures—that exalts it to new altitudes of attainment and accords it a greater force.

At no time during many centuries has the world been in greater need of this spiritual power than at the present moment. Personal and corporate action towards political, economic, industrial social reform is good, but "these are actions that a man might play" and they can be but palliative and temporary unless there is behind them the spiritual regeneration that will change the temper of the people as a whole, and by its very nature, public worship, in the sense in which I have described it, is, as it has always been, one of the most fruitful agencies of operation.

And we need no new models for this. Man does not, in his nature, change sufficiently to require the abandonment of ancient forms with the devising of new to meet altered conditions. Indeed, it is doubtful if, through the ages, he changes in any appreciable degree either in character or capacity; certainly history gives no argument for this, nor has it during the past six thousand years. The forms [40/41] of public worship that took definite shape as soon as the Church, under Constantine, was released from bondage, the liturgies, ceremonies, and consecrated arts are as potent now and as adequate as when they were first developed. They may be added to; and have so been, to meet special needs, but these accessories are supplemental only and cannot take the place of the old established forms. Some that we use now are good: Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the preaching of the Passion, the Stations of the Cross, Tenebrae, the use of the Rosary, and many others. Some of the devotions that have been put in practise by the Roman Church seem to me not to fall into this classification, while I am quite confident that the various Protestant attempts to devise novel ways of appealing to the individual soul, or expressing devotion and the impulse of worship, are ill-advised and arise from the fact that both the essence and the significance of public worship have been lost sight of.

But whatever the nature of these liturgical additions and accretions, and however valuable they may be (or indeed the reverse) we return always to the central, sempiternal act of public worship—Holy Mass. This great and aweful act of Sacrifice stands by itself and before it all else takes second place. Around this supreme service has been established a liturgy, a ritual, and an art that are final and from which nothing can be taken away. There are, of course, many variations in detail and in execution, from the magnificence, intricacy, and extreme length of the Eastern Orthodox rites, through the much abbreviated and simplified Roman use, to that of our own formularies where efforts were originally made (as is now proved quite unsuccessfully) to guard against the intrusion of any Catholic principles and practises. Each had its own elements of value; that of Orthodoxy, particularly the Russian, is by far the most solemn and glorious. The Low Mass that Rome, with her extreme practicality, devised to escape in Masses for Communion from [41/42] the inordinate length of the Eastern Solemn High Mass and to make possible more frequent Communions, was a measure of wisdom, but I confess to a conviction that, for the Holy Sacrifice solemnly celebrated, the use of the Eastern Churches is immeasurably finer. As for ourselves, I think we have well overcome most of our difficulties and inhibitions, and have developed a liturgical mode that in point of ceremonial at least is far superior to what one generally finds in Churches of the Latin obedience.

Nevertheless we confront one particular danger in our desire to give ocular and audible testimony to our Catholicity, and in our increasing appreciation of the importance and function of beauty we run the risk of an over-elaboration and specialization that may negative in some degree the essential quality of public worship. If the Mass, or any other part of the Divine Liturgy, becomes a spectacle, leading the minds of worshippers from the thing that is done to the way it is done, then it is wrong. In the eighteenth century it was the cold sterility of Anglican services that bereft them of power; on the Catholic continent it was a gross exaggeration of the function of music that among other factors had a similar result. Works like the Bach B Minor Mass, the Missa Solemnis of Beethoven, the C Minor of Mozart are indubitably great works of art, but they negative the whole quality of public worship and should be performed, in church of course, but as at a recital of religious music, disassociated from a specific religious service. Equally inadmissible are the compositions of Rossini, Gounod, and their ilk, though here it is their sentimental and secular character that rules them out. Public worship must be the worship of the public; anything that diverts the mind from the essential fact is out of place; on the other hand, whatever tends to concentrate mind and soul on the Divine Mysteries and unites the congregation in common devotion is right, whatever its source or the authority behind it.

[43] In speaking here of musical excesses, I am not necessarily condoning in toto the exclusive use of the Gregorian chant. There is much to be said for it and it certainly has its place, but I confess its exclusive use seems to me to verge on archeological exactitude. From Palestrina to Caesar Franck, there is most noble polyphonic music that, I suspect, has a greater human appeal and no lack of beauty. If these compositions are of a sort that permit participation by the faithful in certain elements of the service, as the Creed, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, it is all the better. The point is that the congregation must be involved in the performance of the Divine Liturgy. They are an essential, indispensable part. They are not mere auditors for whom something is done. They are cooperators; indispensable elements in the act of worship.

For this same reason there is danger of over-elaboration in minor elements of ceremonial, in the meticulous overloading of detail that marks a certain amount of modern Roman practice. It is true that the Orthodox or primitive rite is far more elaborate than anything the West has devised, but here every detail has some solemn significance, fully known to the worshippers, whereas, at the Madeleine in Paris for example, or St. Sulpice, so many unimportant details are magnified and insisted upon that one becomes distrait and confused of mind, not to say, inordinately curious as to what is to happen next! I fear some of us, with the best and most pious motives, incline toward some of these excesses rather than toward the significant sublimity of the Orthodox Liturgy.

And one more point of criticism. There is such a thing as human scale and a relation of what is done to material environment. I was not present at the great out-of-doors pontifical High Mass recently celebrated in London, on the occasion of the great centenary of the Oxford Movement, but I am told that this was marked by the quality of a [43/44] great spectacle rather than that of a corporate act of devotion. I should think it highly possible. Beyond a certain size the quality of unity is lost, and in the same way excessive elaboration of ritual in a small church destroys the sense of human scale and in a measure defeats its own end.

I do not mean to decry this which was, of course, the greatest in magnitude of any act of public worship in the Anglican Church since the Protestant revolution. I only want to emphasize the fact that this type of worship must include, in intimate union, all the faithful present, and if the scale becomes too large then there is grave danger of serious loss.

Public worship, then, is a thing by itself, quite different from private and interior worship with its own controlling factors in ritual and ceremonial. These, in themselves, are one of the great fine arts that have been given to man for his solace and his edification. There is nothing derogatory in linking public worship with the other arts. From the beginning of human history, six thousand years ago, art in its many and varied forms has always been one of the marks that distinguished man from the beast and from sub-man, and always it has been used as the potent stimulus to express emotion, and, as the symbolical and effective expression of these same emotions and spiritual impulses that cannot be put into words, or made concrete by any intellectual process. Architecture, painting, sculpture, music, poetry, and the so-called "minor arts" all have been initiated and vivified by religion and in the service thereof have found their supreme field of expression. The church, the material fabric was, until the sixteenth century, the great synthesis of the arts raised to the highest level, and Holy Mass, the one supreme and divinely prescribed art of public worship, is the final apotheosis of these assembled arts. There can be no question but that pontifical High Mass celebrated in accordance with the best standards of liturgics, either in the [44/45] Eastern or the Western Church, is the greatest work of art ever devised by man. Here are gathered together in organic unity all the arts of man. Architecture forms the setting and the shrine; such architecture as that of Hagia Sophia, or St. Mark's in Venice, or Bourges Cathedral, or Westminster Abbey; paintings and statues and stained glass, tapestries, carved and gilded woodwork, wrought metals, gold, silver, bronze, iron, complete the primal architectural idea. Vocal and instrumental music, poetry in the language of the Scriptures, the Missal, and the hymnal, breathe the breath of life into the static and earthly fabric, while the liturgy itself is the exemplar of drama of such a degree of nobility and splendor that even Euripides, Shakespeare, and Goethe seem in comparison only vain approximations.

And this vast and inspired creation is in no sense "art for art's sake"; it is art (the ideal of beauty realized) for the sake of God's people and as the testimony of weak and fallible man to His glory.

In the hatred and denial of this beauty, in the rejection of its service, and in the savage destruction of all the glorified art of fifteen centuries on which they could lay their hands, lies testimony enough to the fundamental wrong-headedness of the revolutionaries (I cannot bring myself to call them the "reformers") of the sixteenth century.

Similarly in the distortion and the vulgarization of religious ceremonies and religious art by the Roman Church during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and in the dull impoverishing of divine service of every sort by our own communion during the same period, I seem to find a fatal and conclusive argument against that curious and already largely discarded theory of progressive evolution that for a time was held through a fanatic dogmatism that would have shamed the Counter Reformation itself, or even the logomachists of Geneva, Edinburgh, and the Oxford of the time of Edward VI.

[46] As I said in the beginning, the work of restoration accomplished in this direction by the Oxford Movement is one of its most notable services. It is realized now, and widely, that each liturgical service is in one aspect a work of art, and the Mass the greatest of all. There is nothing derogatory in this—unless the art becomes an end rather than a means. The beauty and the art are in themselves a fair road of approach to God. These same factors may be made potent agencies toward accomplishing another of the ends of public worship, and this is what I may call "aloofness." It is not easy to explain this without the chance of misunderstanding. What I mean is that this worship should in all possible ways sever itself from the common and customary things of life. To the Russian, entrance into the church is a symbolical entrance into heaven, and the ikons and painted figures of saints and angels with which he finds himself surrounded are in a real, though non-material sense, the "whole company of heaven." For us, also, liturgy, ceremonial, and all the arts of form and sound should be used to transfigure the life as we know it without opening up the vision of "a new heaven and a new earth." This is a function of art in its highest aspect, for the farther it gets away from, rises above, nature, the greater it is. The fabric of the church and its decorations is wholly non-natural, and vestments, ordered ceremonial, music, intoned chants, incense, formalized motions and movements of the sacred ministers all work, and are intended to work, toward this end of aloofness and spiritual separation.

Here lies the justification for the use of the old "Church Slavic" in the liturgies of the Eastern Orthodox Church, of Latin throughout the Western patriarchate, and, though this does not go very far, of the noble Elizabethan English of our own formularies. There is vital reality in this use of languages no longer the mode of common speech when it comes to a question of public worship. Even many peoples [46/47] have each its tongue for common intercourse and one wholly different to be used toward social superiors.

Here, incidentally, is another argument in favor of the plainsong of the Gregorian chant. This musical mode is also in a way super-mundane. Utterly unrelated as it is to the secular or most of the religious music of today, it plays a very definite part in creating that sense of aloofness, of escape, that is so essentially a part of public worship. For this is not an intellectual procedure, nor is it directly or primarily an ethical stimulus or exercise. These are byproducts of a thing in itself quite different but, like so many by-products, possessing a value not to be minimized. I confess to a haunting wish that at least High Mass, that is Mass as the Holy Sacrifice, might be sung in Latin, with epistle and gospel given a supplementary reading in the vernacular. I could also wish that as the Ten Commandments which never had a valid liturgical place in Holy Mass have now been so largely eliminated, so the sermon which, inserted midway the liturgy, entirely breaks the spiritual and artistic sequence, might be postponed until after the "Ite missa est," as indeed is already done in certain Anglican churches in England.

Liturgical restoration and redemption, particularly in the case of public worship, is, then, one of the great contributions that has been made by the Oxford Movement. Its influence has widened into rings that swept far beyond the confines of Ecclesia Anglicana. Rome, which had suffered her ceremonial, her music, and all the arts she used to sink during the past century to a most deplorable level of banality, is now moving through innumerable "liturgical leagues" and music schools, toward a vital reform that already has gone far and will surely go farther still. Even the Protestant denominations, turning their backs on their original motives and confessional tenets, are now the most zealous advocates of Catholic art in all its forms, while they are steadily working [47/48] out formal, liturgical services. Apart from the Presbyterians, I fear that thus far most of the Evangelical denominations are trying to be rather too original in their tentative formularies, while they generally verge on a sentimentalism that is without doctrinal foundation; just as, while nothing would induce them to put two candles on a Communion table, they will, on occasion, fill their churches with hundreds of the same handborne lights, provided this is done on some day except the Feast of Candlemas.

It is, however, I am sure, all to the good, and public worship, whether Catholic or Protestant, can only thereby receive a new spiritual energy and a new outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit. If this is so, then to the Oxford Movement, under God, goes the praise and the glory.

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