Saturday, 12 May 2012

Cranmer, the daily office and the Latin tradition

Catholic Herald columnist Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith has a quite extraordinary assault on that dastardly Anglican practice of ... Evensong:

Yesterday I was in a cathedral city in the south of England, and having time to spare, and because it was raining, I decided to visit the cathedral and stay for Evensong. I am, like so many in this country, familiar with Evensong; I find it both beautiful and alien at the same time. I both love it and hate it. I only go to Evensong to listen to it, never to take part.

It is an odd position for any Roman Catholic to take, not least in light of the face that successive pontiffs since the beginning of the ARCIC process have participated in Anglican Evensong.  The reason for Fr. Lucie-Smith's antipathy towards Evensong is his view of Cranmer's intention in revising the Offices:

Cranmer’s liturgical reforms were not reforms in any true sense, they were a wrecking of the monastic offices and their replacement with something superficially like yet utterly alien.

"Utterly alien"?  A "wrecking of the monastic offices"?  Benedictus and Magnificat?  The ordered recitation of the Psalter and reading of Scripture? The four daily morning and evening collects taken from the Sacramentary of Gelasius and the Sarum Breviary?

What is more, Cranmer's reforms of the Office were to be echoed by Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium:

By the venerable tradition of the universal Church, Lauds as morning prayer and Vespers as evening prayer are the two hinges on which the daily office turns; hence they are to be considered as the chief hours and are to be celebrated as such ... Readings from sacred scripture shall be arranged so that the riches of God's word may be easily accessible in more abundant measure ... Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually (89-100).

Cranmer's intention in revising the Offices, in combining Matins and Lauds, and Vespers and Compline, was to ensure that Matins and Evensong would be "daily ... said and used throughout the year" by clergy and laity, preferably "in the accustomed place of the Church".  This was no "wrecking of the monastic offices" but - as with Sacrosanctum Concilium - a revision of the daily office so that "its ancient and venerable treasures are to be so adapted that all those to whom they are handed on may more extensively and easily draw profit from them" (90).

For any Roman Catholic to declare Cranmer's reform of the daily office "a wrecking" and "utterly alien" is to reject his or her own liturgical heritage and patrimony.  Whatever the flaws in Cranmer's reform of the eucharistic liturgy - and contemporary Anglican eucharistic liturgies at least implicitly accept that such flaws existed as they now conform to the norms of the historic Western liturgy - his daily office reforms ensured that Anglicanism continued to pray in the tradition of the great Church of the Latin West. Or, to use the words from Benedict XVI's homily at Evensong in Westminster Abbey during his visit to Great Britain in 2010, it is part of "our common heritage of faith".

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