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Conversations on Ritualism
Anonymous [Charles Woodruff Rankin]

New-York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867.

Conversation III.

Parishioner.—I have called upon you, Mr. Wilson, somewhat earlier than the time appointed, that, if you are disengaged, I may learn something more about Ritualism in its bearing upon spiritual worship.

Rector.—Has any thing occurred to call your attention particularly to this subject since our last conversation?

Par.—Yes, sir. Last Sunday I had to visit a sick relative in the lower part of the city, and as I could not return in time to attend our own services, I went into St. ------ Church.

Rec.—You did right; I hope you had an edifying and reverential service.

Par.—The service was conducted, I am sorry to say, in a very careless way, and I could not but think of what you said in our first conversation, about the inexpediency of regarding our present mode of public worship as the ultimate standard, beyond which our Ritual cannot be advanced. But it was the sermon which most distressed me.

Rec.—What was the subject of the discourse?

Par.—It was a furious attack upon Ritualists and Ritual. I confess I saw but little connection between the text and the sermon; for the text was, "Let all things be done decently and in order," and the sermon was one prolonged abuse of those who are aiming to "do all things decently and in order" in public worship.

Rec.—But what distressed you most in the discourse?

Par.—The clergyman charged that Ritual was unscriptural, unspiritual, and Popish. I could not but think of the high authority which Scripture gives for a rich and expressive ceremonial service, as instanced in the case of the Tabernacle and Temple; and I was happily too deeply impressed by what you said about spiritual worship, to be much affected on this point; but I see what a real question is involved in this discussion, and I am, therefore, very anxious to be more fully informed. You promised to say something more on this aspect of the subject, and I would like to hold you to your promise.

Rec.—Well, I have an hour to spare before service, and I will cheerfully give it to you. I suppose that every one will admit that the worship of heaven must be purely and intensely spiritual.

Par.—Certainly, how can it be otherwise, when angels and the redeemed in Christ are permitted to draw near within the vail, to lose themselves in the rapture of that worship. Certainly this is evident, as well from Holy Scripture, as from the very nature of our relationship to God.

Rec.—Did it ever occur to you that this spiritual worship is conducted according to a most elaborate and glorious Ritual?

Par.—What! You do not mean to say that there is any Ritualism in heaven?

Rec.—If Ritualism be the ordering of divine service, and the enrichment and adornment of that service be what is called an "advanced Ritualism," then I believe that there is not only a Ritual in heaven, but one which is as far "advanced" beyond any thing we can conceive of, as heaven is higher than earth, and the worship of those in glory transcends our worship here.

Par.—You surprise me; pray explain yourself more fully.

Rec.—We have been permitted from time to time to have glimpses of the worship of heaven. God in His infinite mercy has drawn aside the vail at times, and allowed His children here on earth to catch some transient gleams of the grandeur of the worship in reserve for them; and it is remarkable that in every instance we find a revelation of a grand, glorious ceremonial, or (to use this very offensive word) Ritualistic Service.

Par.—Will you not give me some instances?

Rec.—Certainly. Turn to the sixth chapter of Isaiah, and you will find, in the first three verses, one of those transient glimpses of celestial worship,—the Lord upon His throne—His train filling the temple—the six-winged seraphim in attendance on the Divine Majesty, and one answering to another—

Par.—Excuse me for interrupting you, but is not that "antiphonal"?

Rec.—It is, and it is the foundation of our antiphonal service. Do you not know how the choirs in our chancel "answer one to another," and in those churches where there are not double choirs, how the congregation and the minister respond in like manner?

Par.—Strange that I have never thought of that! but I shall have an answer now for my good, old uncle, who thinks that the choirs and congregations nowadays make too much noise. "It was vastly better," the good old gentleman says, "when the parson and clerk did it all themselves."

Rec.—I think he is about seventy-five years old; his memory reaches well back toward the days of our Revolutionary fathers, whose practice we are taught to regard as the true ideal of our worship; but we must go on with the description: "One cried unto another and said, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory."

Par.—These words are very familiar.

Rec.—They ought to be; you hear them every time you draw near the Lord's Table; they are part of our Trisagion.

Par.—What! do we on earth sing some of the songs which are sung in heaven?

Rec.—Even so. Heaven and earth are so united in our blessed Saviour that men and angels unite in the same thrice holy hymn of praise. St. Chrysostom says that before the incarnation of our Lord, that song was only heard in heaven; but then He brought it down to earth, and binding earth and heaven in one, left this heavenly anthem for us to sing in our earthly temples, even as they sing it in that which is above.

Par.—Is this Ritualism?

Rec.—It is—it is a single glimpse of the Ritualism of heaven, and if you will study the prophecies, particularly of Ezekiel and Zechariah, you will find other intimations of the same thing. But I would rather point you to that book which describes this heavenly worship most fully.

Par.—Which is that?

Rec.—The Apocalypse, or "The Revelation of St. John the Divine."

Par.—Do you think we can understand that book?

Rec.—No, not fully; but one thing we may be reasonably sure of, that when it describes the worship of heaven. It comes sufficiently near to our comprehension to enable us to judge somewhat of the subject which forms so prominent a part of the revelation. It would seem that our Lord left this book as His last legacy to His children, as if: to cheer and comfort them in their pilgrimage, by the revelation of the glories in reserve for them.

Par.—But is there any Ritualism in that book?

Rec.—It is full of it. It opens with the vision of our I Lord, the great High Priest, clothed in the glorious vestments of His Royal Priesthood. It speaks of a "door opened in heaven," as if to invite us to look in and behold the awful mysteries revealed. We see a "throne set, and upon , the throne One sitting;" we read of the "rainbow round about the throne;" of "four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment, having on their heads crowns of gold;" of the four living creatures, answering to the seraphim in Isaiah's vision, and singing the same thrice holy song; we read of "the Lamb as it had been slain;" of "the harps and golden vials full of odors;" of "the great multitude, which no man can number," standing 'before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands; "of processions, and candlesticks, and prostrations, and responses, and anthems, and choral services, and doxologies, in which the powers of language are exhausted in the effort to convey some just idea of that heavenly worship.

Par.—But is not all this to be figuratively understood?

Rec.—Grant it. Allow for a moment that this description is not literally true. Yet we may be sure that if it be figurative, the reality must far transcend the figure; and you will remember that the real point before us is "whether or not Ritualism is spiritual;" and I think that with the description which St. John has given of the Ritual of heaven, there can be no question that that Ritual is spiritual, and that we cannot go very far astray, if we strive to make our earthly Ritual as rich and glorious as we can.

Par.—I do not see how one can escape from this conclusion; but it is strange that this view of the subject has not been brought forward more prominently. It seems to me that one must conclude that a great part of our earthly discipline must be to fit us for that heavenly worship, and that the closer we can conform to it in the richness and glory of our churches and the beauty and solemnity of our services the better will we be fitted to participate in it hereafter.

Rec.—You are right. I have often thought how very strangely one would feel who had been only accustomed to the baldness of an unliturgical worship, or even to the ideal beauty of the Church's services in the days of our Revolutionary fathers, in case he should be translated suddenly into the midst of that celestial adoration. But you are mistaken in supposing that this view of the subject has not been presented.

Par.—Pray tell me where?

Rec.—There is a little volume of "Sermons on the Liturgy," published by Mr. Pott, which is easily accessible, and in it you will find an admirable sermon on "The Liturgy of Heaven."

Par.—"On the Liturgy of Heaven!" By whom, pray tell me?

Rec.—By the Right Rev. Bishop (then Dr.) Coxe. It is on the text, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." I have the book upon my table; let me read a few extracts to you. (Reads): "Reason itself requires that we should conceive of the heavenly service as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, ordered with ritual dignity and harmony. Its ultimate perfections are unfolded to us, in the Apocalypse, as consisting in the common adoration of multitudes whom no man can number; and may God grant that we ourselves may be included, every one of us, in that glorious fellowship of the redeemed, with the divers orders of angels! But is it possible to conceive of that innumerable company as indulging, every one, his own personal raptures, and giving vent to his own psalm and doxology, without tune or time? Does Babel lend us our ideas of the New Jerusalem! Are we to suppose that a single ministrant is a voice to all the rest, uttering his own fervors of spirit in words of private genius, without even a responsive amen? Or does a solitary angel mumble in an unknown tongue? Or do they celebrate a pompous pageant, while ten thousand times ten thousand merely look on, or kneel down mechanically, with theatrical signals and promptings. We know that they worship 'in spirit and in truth.' Theirs is a reasonable service, and proceeds with decency and order. Common sense decides, then, that it cannot be other than a worship of method and beautiful concord. Their heavenly instincts may supply the rubric, but all proceeds with ritual solemnity; the voices of the angelic ministrants are liturgically intermixed with antiphons and responses, with amens and alleluias."

Par.—How beautiful!

Rec.—But wait: there is much more. (Reads again): "But in the Apocalypse we have the full evangelical 'pattern in the mount.' There we see what is meant by our being 'kings and priests unto God.' It is the patriarchs and apostles that lead the heavenly choirs; it is the ransomed that teach the angels a new song. None can so glorify God, for the overthrow of Satan, as those who have come out of great tribulations, and have overcome him 'by the blood of the Lamb.' Hence we see the four and twenty elders,—representing, probably, patriarchs and prophets, with the twelve Apostles,—standing nearest the throne, with harps and golden vials; and we read, 'They sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy . . . for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, and hast made us, unto our God, kings and priests.' To this majestic hymn comes a response not less worthy of immortal tongues. Myriads answer with one voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain;' and then breaks in, apparently from the whole universe of God, the grand chorus, 'Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever.' To this the four cherubs say Amen; and then there is a silent adoration, like that which concludes our services; 'The four and twenty elders fell down and worshiped Him that liveth for ever and ever.'

"Time fails us to follow the Evangelist in his visions of the glory that shall be revealed. But he is sometimes minute, even as to the rubrics of that heavenly Liturgy: 'When those living ones give glory, the elders fall down before Him;' all proceeds in order as a ceremonial, but not as a lifeless ceremony. Every word is heard and caught up, and responded to and echoed, by the millions of the redeemed. 'They are before the throne of God, and serve Him, day and night, in His temples;' and poor as is our humble attempt to do 'as in heaven, so in earth,' who that has kept an Easter in a well-ordered church, and in the worship of our own Liturgy, can fail to recognize its likeness to the eternal Paschal Feast above. On that day, ten thousand altars of our own Anglo-Catholic communion, under every meridian, if not in every zone, and all round the world, are spread with the fair linen-cloth, and prepared for the Eucharistic Supper of the Lamb. As nearly as possible with one voice, and certainly in the same words, thousands of thousands at the same moment worship the Crucified. The sun, going from east to west, looks down upon the same scene of devotion, renewed from hour to hour, as he rises upon successive lands. 'It is one ring of church-bells all round the globe, and one Alleluia from all the kneeling sacramental host. At the appointed moment is heard in every church the same Sursum corda—'Lift up your hearts.' The answer comes, 'We lift them up unto the Lord.' 'Let us give thanks unto our Lord God,' says the celebrant, and the people answer, 'It is meet and right so to do.' When the minister turns to the altar and says,—'It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty,' he adds the Easter Preface, in these words, 'But chiefly are we bound to praise Thee for the glorious resurrection of Thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, for He is the very Paschal Lamb which was offered for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by His death hath destroyed death, and by His rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life.' And when the ministering elder hath said these words, then, with an outbreaking of glorious music, or in plain responsive speech, they lift up their voice with one accord and glorify God, saying, 'Therefore with angels and archangels, and with the whole company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of Thy glory: glory be to Thee, O Lord, Most High. Amen.'"

Par.—You amaze me!

Rec.—I have only read a portion of the sermon to you; I will lend you the volume, and you may study it at your leisure. I advise you to make yourself familiar with the strain of thought, for it is admirably expressed, and will open some entirely new and most delightful themes of meditation. You will observe, too, that the sermon is valuable for the testimony it gives to the importance of "Ritualism;" it concedes, nay proves unanswerably, the Scriptural and heavenly warrant for a rich Ritual in the public service of God, and places the whole subject upon the highest ground, namely, that in worship, which is the highest of all duties, we should aim to do His will on earth, even as it is done in heaven.

Par.—True! I think that whatever objection may be made to Ritual, it cannot be regarded as either unscriptural or unspiritual. I shall feel hereafter as if, in going to the services of the Church, I were not only worshiping and falling down and kneeling before the Lord my Maker, but that in some way—I know not how—I were learning to bear my part in the worship of the Church in glory.

Rec.—Would that we all could realize it; but it is now time for service; will you go with me to the church?

Par.—Most gladly. I feel that I can say with fuller meaning than ever,—"Lord I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honor dwelleth."

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