Immaculate Conception 1994

Andrew Burnham

IT WAS on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 1994, that I left St John’s, Carrington, where I had been Vicar since 1987.  There were the seeds of what was later to happen in the final service: the music was the Mozart ‘Coronation Mass’ and, rather daringly, I sang the Sursum corda and Præfatio in Latin.  I was leaving the parish because I was finding it increasingly impossible to be the local representative of the Church of England amidst the ecclesiological chaos of the time.  Moving to St Stephen’s House, Oxford, as Vice-Principal (through the good offices of Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, whom I had known since New College days), I understood my new task to be one of formation of clergy – whether those clergy  (myself included) remained part of the Church of England or not in the medium to long term was not my concern or pre-occupation.  Serving alongside able academic colleagues was not only stimulating but formative and I remain grateful for that time.  My brief, as someone moving from parish ministry, were the twin portfolios of liturgy and mission, and I learnt a great deal from several years as Chair of the BTh Supervisory Committee, collaborating with colleagues from the various different Oxford theological training institutions.  I also served on the General Synod, as an Oxford proctor – a minor miracle that election! – and as Chairman of the ‘Catholic Group’ on Synod and a member of the Church of England Liturgical Commission.  All of that led to me being invited in 2000 to be Bishop of Ebbsfleet.

This flood of reminiscence – prompted by a reminder from my old friend Fr Bill Gull – has led me to reflect on some of what was left behind when, ten years ago, I became a Catholic.  I am thinking not of the obvious stuff – cathedrals and parish churches, clergy and congregations – but of the matters with which I was concerned, teaching at St Stephen’s House.  Mission, for everyone in the West, remains in crisis.  To say that no one knows how to do it or what to do is a gross generalisation but captures something of the dilemma that is faced by the inexorable decline of Christendom and the cultural patrimony of Christianity.  I cannot pretend that I knew much about mission either.  I studied and regurgitated the insights of David Bosch and Grace Davie but managed little more.  What I have more in mind about what I left behind are the liturgical developments which have taken place in the Church of England.

When I became a Catholic, and on the strength of my Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion, the pocket version of which (2003) still brings in the odd shilling of royalties, and Heaven and Earth in Little Space: The Re-Enchantment of Liturgy (2010), I was invited by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to be Co-chair of Anglicanæ Traditiones, the commission which worked on the liturgical texts for the new Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans who had become Catholics.  It was an honour: the real Chair was Archbishop Gus diNoia.  The results of that commission were very satisfying: the Calendar, Pastoral Services, and Missal were a conservative reworking of traditional Anglican liturgical sources.  Though there are traces of the American Book of Common Prayer of 1979, as filtered by the Book of Divine Worship 2003, what we really have is the Anglo-catholic consensus of how things were in England in 1960, before half a century of upheavals in the liturgy of the Church of England.   This classical corpus of, so to say ‘pre-conciliar’ Anglicanism, is very much what Pope Benedict XVI envisaged and it resonates with – but is distinct from – pre-conciliar Roman liturgy, 1962 and all that.  All this has since been further consolidated, specially in ‘the Commonwealth Edition’, by Divine Worship: Daily Office (2021), the classical Anglican Office, as known in 1960, with what is essentially the 1922 Table of Lessons, updated in 1961.  Though I played no part in this development – which largely replaces my own contribution, The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham (2012) – I cannot but admire the fine liturgical book Ordinariate folk have for their daily prayers.  I shall persevere with Latin on my iPad but many prefer a proper liturgical book as is, strictly speaking, canonically required.

In liturgical terms, what I left behind when I celebrated the Eucharist for the last time as an Anglican on St Andrew’s Day, 2010, the tenth anniversary of my consecration as a bishop, was half a century of liturgical work in the Church of England.  I had followed the progress of this work since 1965, and had the privilege of taking part in some of it, but continued reflection is not just nostalgia but pondering what particular use, in due course, it might be to Ordinariate Catholics and thence to Catholics more widely. 

Before proceeding further, several principles need to be established.  One is that liturgy cannot be discounted simply because of its association with errant theologies.  If that view were taken, nothing of Cranmer and his prayer books would be admissible.  Much of Cranmer however has been already grafted into Catholic life and liturgy.  Another principle is that there should be no accommodation of the deliberate ambiguity and evasion indulged in by Anglicans to include incompatible theologies.  It is for this reason that none of the Anglican Eucharistic Prayers – not even Cranmer’s 1549 prayer – is deployable.  All of the modern work necessitated equivocation in the Synodical process by which they were authorised.  We are hunting for buried treasure in liturgies rather than adopting actual forms of liturgy.

At this point one recalls the usual response of Anglo-catholics to the best efforts of Anglican liturgists.  This response a century ago led to a wholesale rejection not only of the 1927/1928 Prayer Book but also of the suggestions of the bishops thereafter as to material from it that was salvageable and serviceable.   It led also to unfavourable comparisons between modern Anglican liturgical reforms and post-conciliar Roman liturgy, when, objectively speaking, the Anglican vernacular was stronger. Much of this response was tribal rather than literary or theological.  The Anglo-catholic worldview was – and presumably still is – quite sharply expressed.  Much derision was heaped on the Alternative Service Book 1980 and the Common Worship services at the turn of the millennium and some of the real gems in such collections as Lent, Holy Week, Easter 1986, The Promise of His Glory 1990, Enriching the Christian Year 1992, and the various recensions of the Anglican Franciscan Celebrating Common Prayer deserve to be remembered more fondly.  Arguably the best material from such collections have already been captured in the volumes of Common Worship but the tendency of Anglo-catholics has been to greet official publications with derision, mocking their equivocations.  When obliged, magpie-like, they pick out what is most useable and pastorally apt and combine that with whatever they have chosen to use from post-conciliar Catholic liturgy.  Personally I would have welcomed the opportunity to incorporate some Anglican prayers into the modern Roman Mass, much as I did as an Anglican.

Departure from the parish life in 1994 and from the Church of England in 2010 have indeed been loss and gain, in more senses than one.  What I was brought up with as a cathedral chorister in the early 1960s is still around:  the Prayer Book, the RSV, and decent hymn books – but there have been many good things since, not least from the work of the Church of England Liturgical Commission in the second half of the twentieth century.  Meanwhile, on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2021, 27 years after leaving St John’s, Carrington, I am happily serving a different parish in the full communion of the Catholic Church.  Such is the goodness of God and the powerful intercession of the one who on account of God’s prevenient grace was untouched by any stain of sin that I am richly blessed.  May you, reading this, be similarly blessed.

East Hendred

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

8th December 2021