21 October 2009

Unburn Cranmer

I wonder what poor Thomas Cranmer would have thought of the current events in the ecclesiastical world. But, in a curious sort of way, yesterday's revelations make him - in my view - quite the man of the moment. Cranmer, perhaps almost single-handed, created the sacral dialect which was identical with the notion of Anglican worship until the 1970s; and it is worth noting that even when Anglicanism followed ICEL into unforunate modernity, little of what emerged was quite as horrible as what ICEL produced. It is clear that Cranmer's periods and cadences continued to influence and constrict his successors, while the Roman Catholic translators were culturally free to construct ex nihilo their own new disastrous liturgical style. What went wrong in Anglican liturgy was that there was very little inclination, after one or two efforts in 1928, to translate from those ancient Latin sources upon which Cranmer drew. Indeed, there must be a suspicion that most modern Anglican liturgists may not be comfortable in dead languages. The English Common Worship provided a complete set of proper postcommunions, but not a single one of them came from the the postcommunions of the ancient Roman sacramentaries. It is to the credit of the compilers that they did not plagiarise and so saddle us with the frightful ICEL Sacramentary; but they could have attempted to find someone who could have tried their hands at translating Latin originsals. Or might it be that those originals are just too simple and workmanlike; not 'clever' enough? Whatever the reason, the result has been that new compositions often look like pompous product of late twentieth century middle-class wordsmiths, convinced that their own talents and insights absolve them from the need felt by the early popes, who composed theLatin collects, to express a limited number of ideas in a few elegant words.

Happily, there is help at hand in the various competing Anglo-Catholic Altar Missals produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although they do not always attain the heights of Cranmer at his best, they provide usually good and often excellent renderings of the formulae in the Sarum or Tridentine Roman Rites. There are gems like Mgr Ronald Knox's Cranmerian pastiche of the Exsultet. This is a tradition which deserves to be reappropriated by its heirs. The Book of Divine Worship is only a first beginning in such a process, which, I hope, in this period after the announcement of the Apostolic Constitution, will be carried to completion. The authorisation also of the English Missal would in fact make available the Tridentine Rite in elegant, sacral English.

As an ardent Latinist who says a Latin EF Mass most weekday moernings, I thank God for Summorum Pontificum. But the additional availability of the audible parts of the same rite in the sacral dialect of the Anglican tradition could only enrich a Catholic Church which already encompasses so much (mostly undesirable) variety. And such a rite would, after all, merely fulfil the provisions of Vatican II about maintaining the 'substantial unity' of the Roman Rite; about allowing a 'suitable' place to vernacular languages; and about ensuring that new forms should in some way grow 'organically' from forms already existing.


Kim Andrew D'Souza said...

Amen. Perhaps the Holy Father will authorize the English Missal as the usus antiquior of the Anglican use? How wonderful that would be!

Independent said...

Perhaps the Pope should offer to become a President of the Prayer Book Society? Subjec to certain adjustments of course.