|Cardinal William Allen|
It was not only the Church of England, taken out of the Roman Communion, that snapped its links with its own ancient heritage during the reigns of Kings Henry VIII and Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I, but under Elizabeth, the Catholic Church in England represents not a continuity with the pre-Reformation Church but a new body—radically discontinuous with the Ancient Medieval Church on that sceptered isle—introduced into England from the continent. (Aren’t you glad that you’re not in fifth grade and Sister M. Humpty Dumpty isn’t making you diagram my sentences.)
Argument for continuity: The Church of England, an entity now no longer part of the universal communion centered in the Bishop and Church of Rome, retained the ancient cathedral and parish churches, albeit stripped of most of their ornaments and even of much of their revenues. Argument either way: There is persistent argument as to whether the links of the Apostolic Succession were broken as the new Elizabethan Bishops, consecrated to their office by Cranmer’s reformed Ordinal, replaced the Catholic hierarchy. (Catholics say the link was broken; Anglicans and Lutherans affirm that it was not, the Orthodox are divided and in the end the arguments—either way—are more political and polemical than soundly theological.) Argument against continuity: The ancient English rites were replaced by Cranmer’s radically altered Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552 and then by Elizabeth’s 1559 Prayer Book, which was a slight modification of the 1552 Book. The Church of England, in abandoning its ancient rites in favor of new rites with a distinct Protestant identity, is a new “Church.”
Yes, those ancient English Rites. England had never known the Roman Rite but had from ancient days its unique and distinct liturgical tradition. While people often refer to the Pre-Reformation Liturgical Tradition of England as the Sarum Rite, and the Sarum Rite was the most commonly used Liturgy in the Kingdom, in fact York, Hereford, and Bangor each also had their own distinct rites. Under Henry VIII, the Sarum Rite became the standard Rite for the entire Kingdom, and York, Hereford ad Bangor Rites were suppressed. Then Edward VI replaced the Sarum Use with the 1549 Prayer Book. The Sarum Rite was still used, however, where the old faith was practiced and it was the liturgy which Queen Mary reintroduced upon her accession in 1553. Abolished again in 1559 by Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity in reintroducing the Protestant Prayer Book of that year, the Sarum Rite was secretly celebrated in those Catholic homes where the old believers gathered for their underground Masses and prayers. But its days would prove to be numbered.
During the reign of Elizabeth, many devout Catholics fled to the continent even as during Mary’s reign the more ardent Protestants had fled the realm for Geneva, Strasbourg, and other Protestant centers. Catholics established themselves, for the most part, in Northern France and in Flanders (today’s Belgium). There they built monasteries, religious houses, and seminaries for English vocations. The seminaries supplied priests to return secretly to England to minister to those English who clung to “the old faith.”
Just as the Second Vatican Council called for the Church to “reform” the old rites of its day, so too the Council of Trent had called for the Mass of its time to be reformed. Pope Saint Pius V established a commission to revise the older missals and create a standard rite for the Western Church. We now call this revised liturgy the “Tridentine Rite,” and it was the Mass with which those of us “of a certain age” (as one grand old lady of my acquaintance likes to describe herself and her contemporaries) grew up. In 1570 Pius V promulgated a new Missal introducing this revised Rite, and any Rite, whether of a place or of a religious Order, that could not show that it had been in continuous use for at least 200 years was suppressed. The English seminaries on the Continent gave up the traditional English Rites in favor of the “new” Missal of Pius V. When the priests trained in those seminaries returned to England they celebrated the Mass and Sacraments, not according to the ancient rites of the English Church, but to the new revised Rite of Pius V that they had learned during their training.
The liturgy was the most obvious change in the Catholic Church in post-Reformation England, but not the only one. When Elizabeth had come to the Throne, a few English Sees, including the Primatial See at Canterbury, were empty, but there were still plenty of Catholic bishops from the reign of Queen Mary. With the exception of Anthony Kitchin, Bishop of Llandalf in Wales, all Elizabeth’s bishops refused the Act of Supremacy and were deposed rather than accede to the break with Rome. Rome, of course, still recognized these men as the legitimate bishops in their sees, but as they died (some in prison, some under house arrest, some in retirement, but all peacefully, no martyrs) Rome failed to name new bishops, loyal to Rome, to their sees. This created a double problem. By not naming successors, Rome gave tacit acknowledgement to the validity of the new appointments. More critical than this rather abstract point, Rome’s failure to appoint new bishops left England without a hierarchy. William Allen, an English priest and exile who had founded the English Colleges at Douai (later moved temporarily to Rheims), Valladolid, and Rome to train priests for “the English Mission,” exercised considerable authority over the priest on the English Mission because of his role in establishing the seminaries. After Allen’s death in Rome in 1594, however, there was a real authority-vacuum. In 1598 Enrico Caetani, scion of a prelate-ridden old and noble Roman family who had succeeded Allen as “Cardinal Protector” of England appointed George Blackwell as “Archpriest” to be the superior of the English mission. This led to a conflict between the Jesuits and the secular clergy who had very different approaches to serving the Catholic faithful in England. The conflict between the religious order clergy and the secular clergy meant that the Archpriest program never really worked out, and in 1623 Clement VIII appointed William Bishop as Vicar Apostolic of England, Scotland, and Wales, giving him authority over all priests in England, secular and religious. Bishop was consecrated in Paris in June 1623 (thus becoming Bishop Bishop, neither the first nor the last to hold that particular distinction). Bishop died the following year and was succeeded as Vicar Apostolic by Richard Smith. When a warrant was sworn-out for Smith’s arrest (for being an agent of the Pope) in 1631, Smith fled the Kingdom to Paris and there was no Bishop in England again until 1688 when Innocent XI appointed four regional Vicars Apostolic. However, Bishop Bishop, during his brief tenure, had appointed 20 secular priests to be a “chapter.” As Bishop had no cathedral, and in fact not even a proper diocese, the legal status of this chapter was disputed but during the long vacancy from Smith’s fleeing England in 1631 until the appointment of the Vicars Apostolic in 1688, the chapter functioned as a diocesan chapter is meant to function during the sede vacante of the bishop with the Dean acting as Vicar General and granting all the necessary dispensations, faculties, etc. Since the Holy See never challenged the arrangement “the old Chapter” is considered to have been irregular but valid.
From 1688 until the creation of the English Hierarchy in 1850, the Catholic Church in England was administered by Vicars Apostolic. When a Catholic hierarchy was appointed for England in 1850 Rome did not “restore” the pre-Reformation hierarchy with its various sees such as Canterbury and York and Winchester and Lincoln, but created new sees for them (though often taking the names of Sees of the English Church from pre-Conquest Anglo-Saxon sees). Again, the failure of Rome to revive the pre-Reformation sees concedes a legitimacy to the Bishops of the Church of England who currently hold them. Granted, to have given the Catholic Bishops the titles of sees held by the State Church would have broken an Act of Parliament (passed specifically to stop the Pope from appointing Catholic Bishops to the medieval sees) and would have made the new bishops subject to fines and even arrest, but conceding the point is symbolic in the most profound sense of that word. Creating new sees for the Catholic Bishops, Rome admited that it was not restoring the ancient hierarchy but installing a new one. Gone were the medieval rites; gone were the medieval bishoprics—the Catholic Church in England was neither continuous with nor a restoration of the pre-Reformation Church but a new and somewhat non-English institution introduced onto that Island whose Church had once given us Hugh of Lincoln and Thomas à Becket and the Venerable Bede and Cuthbert of Lindisfarne and even Thomas More and John Fisher.