21 March 2011

Exchanges with a correspondent remind me ...

... of an episode when I still taught GCSE. A paper asked the question "In Christian worship, what symbolises Christ?" My candidates, of course, wrote "The Altar", but the correct answer was deemed to be "Bread".

Next time round, there was a picture of an Anglican clergyman standing at an Eagle lectern, with the question "Name the garment he is wearing". My candidates had not been taught much about Anglican Choir Dress, and could not recognise a surplice. I pointed out that the Subject was called "Christianity as a World Religion"*; asked whether the Board expected candidates to know every vestment used in every Church or Ecclesial Body ... the Byzantine epigonation .... the Lutheran ruff ... ; and suggested that, if they didn't, they should rename their subject as "Middle-of-the-road Anglican Tat".

After this, I and some other Public School Heads of Theology had a meeting with the Board. We were told to calm down and remember that the Board had to take account of the fact that in most schools, Religious studies was provided for by dragging off the games field any 'teacher' who had a gap in their time table. I gave up offering the GCSE, and we just concentrated on the A level which, pre2001, was still examined by people who knew something.

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* Strange, this. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, were not described as " ... as a World Religion". Not strange ... what this really meant was "There's no suggestion anybody might believe it".

6 comments:

Ian+ said...

In my parish, where requiems are the normal send-off, I invited a predecessor to assist at a Burial Office. I was duly kitted in choir habit. So as he drew his cassock-alb (eeewww!) from his case he declared, "I'm sorry, Ian, but I don't have one of those black Protestant thingies." "That's alright," said I, "your purple stole will do." In Canada, you see, the cassock-alb is becoming the standard all-purpose garment.

Joshua said...

Surplices are rare as hen's teeth among Catholic clergy these days - if one didn't go to Mass at a cathedral or attend a Latin Mass (and that is the situation for vast majority of Catholics) one would never see a surplice; ill-shapen albs have replaced them as servers' apparel in all but the most traditional centres; and even if Vespers, say, is celebrated, all too often the alb is worn by the priest and any servers assisting.

GOR said...

Right Joshua, the surplice has disappeared from Masses here in the US also – except in the EF. I suspect the ‘ill-fitting alb’ has been adopted as the unisex garment, given that we now have female altar boys… But when celebrants wear just an Alb and a Stole to celebrate Mass, it really rankles and looks very ‘Protestant’.

A far cry from years ago! Back then - 50+ years ago in Ireland – each boy had to provide his own surplice, while soutanes were usually hand-me-downs. It was a point of pride for mothers to have the surplice sparklingly white, starched and ironed (“Bring that surplice home. It needs washing!”). While I’m sure there was a sense that only the best was good enough for the Altar, some maternal competition was not far below the surface as well…

Joshua said...

I still remember Fr J. holding out a modern alb's bosom in such a way as to suggest a matronly wearer, and murmuring that it was the "ecumenical" garb...

He also told me of being highly amused to see a Uniting Church lady minister attired in alb and crossed stole...

Joshua said...

I've just returned from Compline and Benediction - I was ambushed by my parish priest afterward, and persuaded, together with several other members of the choir, to "volunteer" as an acolyte for Sunday Mass. After a run-through of how to set up for, assist at and pack up after Mass, we were fitted for albs as a matter of course...

I think Father well knows that I'm not available on First Sundays, because that is when I go to Hobart to be M.C., in surplice and cassock, at Tasmania's one and only permitted Missa cantata.

It will be strange to serve Novus Ordo one Sunday and 1962 the next.

Adrian said...

I well remember that meeting - when the unfortunate woman from the board, who had obviously come minded to show us poor saps what we were doing wrong, told us that the answer to 'What happens in Confirmation' was 'It's when you confirm the promises made for you in Baptism', the entire room turned on her and exclaimed, 'No, it isn't!' She left considerably discomfited.