By Law Established

Vestry-Room, formerly Court of Arches, St. Mary-le-Bow. Illustration from Old England, A Pictorial Museum edited by Charles Knight (James Sangster & Co, c 1845).

Management Consultants will speak unto Hierarchs

In the wake of suggestions that ordinations should take place without a celebration of the Mass, and that the common Eucharistic cup should be replaced with individual glasses, William Davage asks how these canonical irregularities came to be proposed in the first place.

In the early days of this blog I contributed an essay (https://allthingslawfulandhonest.wordpress.com/2020/06/24/reformation-a-work-in-progress/) expressing an anxiety that some with authority in the Church of England might see the pandemic and “lockdown” restrictions imposed by government, and self-imposed on churches, as a splendid opportunity to complete the protestant Reformation.

In more recent days there have been a few more straws in the wind, and sometimes evidence stronger than that, which give rise to increased suspicion and alarm. These further concerns do not merely question a Catholic understanding of the Church of England or its iteration as a Via Media between Geneva and Rome. Rather they undermine more generally an Anglican understanding of the Church of England as a Church by law established.

Recent days have revealed suspicions that at least two dioceses had been planning to hold ordinations with no celebration of the Eucharist as part of the service, a rite unknown in the authorized liturgies of the Church of England. Mercifully any such plans have been prevented. This immediately raised a few eyebrows, however, and questions such as whether or not legal advice had been taken.

Here were echoes of the advice (disguised as an instruction) to prevent priests from entering their churches to pray or to offer Mass, even alone, which was similarly lacking the buttress of legal advice. Were the lawyers not asked because the enquirers feared, or knew, the answer they would receive?

The question of legality, though, was not the first to spring to my mind. I asked, how could this policy ever have been thought of in the first place? How was it even conceivable by anyone in a position of responsibility in the Church of England? In my naivety, it did not occur to me that anyone, especially anyone in episcopal authority, with even a passing familiarity with Anglican practices, formularies, traditions, ethos, canon law, custom and practice, or the Book of Common Prayer could think it possible.

Sacraments seem to be dispensable. Legal arguments have recently been circulated in the press as part of an attempt to prove that individual cups for Holy Communion are legal. It seems that each communicant should have a small individual glass of wine. Perhaps the (presently unsaid) “Amen” should change to “Cheers”. This seems to be directed at the current COVID instructions to administer in one kind. Although I am not aware of any bishop yet voicing support for such a change, the recent track record in defence of the Sacraments is not encouraging. Why is energy being expended in the councils of the Church in an effort to promote and defend something that is clearly and demonstrably not Anglican. Is it possibly because receiving in one kind is perceived as a Roman Catholic practice?

Were the proponents of these ideas to have attended Mass at either Clifton Cathedral or the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, as I have done before “lockdown”, they may have noticed, as I did, that a large majority of communicants received in both kinds. Of course, for many years communion was, with some exceptions, limited to one kind. In the wake of Vatican II communion under both kinds could be granted as bishops thought fitting, not only to clergy and religious but to the laity. Regular provision requires episcopal authority, and bishops in many countries have given blanket authority to administer under both kinds. Modern practice in much of the English-speaking world, as in much of Europe, is to offer communion in both kinds, allowing communicants to choose whether to receive in one or both forms. Catholic teaching is that Christ is sacramentally present under each species, equally and fully. Nothing of his sacramental presence is lacking in either species.

Behind all this lies something profoundly disturbing. So lacking is the episcopate in understanding of its duty to guard and teach the Catholic Faith as received by the Church of England, so enfeebled its grasp of its prophetic office, that it has turned to recruiting advisors from beyond the confessional boundaries. These management consultants frequently possess neither knowledge of, nor concern for, our Anglican heritage. Their language is not rooted in the Prayer Book, nor in the King James Bible, the Revised Standard, New English, or Jerusalem Bibles. It is the language of management speak, of outcomes, targets, strategies, structures, focus groups, team-building. It embraces a transient trend, already dated and jaded, rather than eternal verities that speak heart to heart, soul to soul.

The disillusion with our leadership from Anglicans of every hue is almost palpable. How is confidence to be restored, unless we encourage the advancement to the episcopate of those who are not only learned in our Anglican heritage, but who also demonstrate commitment to a spirituality rooted in prayer and sacrament, and not in corporate management?

The Rev’d William Davage

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