Monday, November 17, 2014

Thomas Cranmer and the Novus Ordo

Absolution at the 
catafalque in the 
Sarum Rite 

In my previous post, I mentioned that one of the arguments for discontinuity of the Reformation and Post-Reformation Church of England with the Church of England before the Reformation was the new liturgy imposed on the Anglican Church by the Prayer Books of 1549, 1552, and 1559.   If this break in liturgical Tradition signifies not continuity with the ancient Church of England but a new Church, how can we say that the Liturgical Reforms in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church imposed by Paul VI (the so-called Novus Ordo) do not signify a break with historic Catholicism?  A Catholic who lived in the 1950’s or the 1850’s or the 1250’s would not recognize the current liturgy in the Catholic Church.  How then can we claim continuity?
The reason I bring up this question, of course, is that there are those on the lunatic fringe of Catholicism—or perhaps now beyond even the fringes of Catholicism—who make this argument that the Vatican II Reforms of the Liturgy are somehow equivalent to the liturgical changes made by various Protestant groups from Luther’s Deutsche Messe of the 1520’s to the far more radical revision of the liturgy followed a generation later by the Anabaptist tradition down to the Restoration Tradition with the Disciples of Christ and other Campbellite groups.  Why then does not the Novus Ordo represent a break in Catholicism? 
I think we can see the difference when we compare the liturgical changes in the Anglican Tradition in the sixteenth century with the Catholic experience after Vatican II. 
First: What happened in the sixteenth century Church of England.
In 1549 King Edward VI of England had published under royal mandate a new set of liturgical books for England that did not reform but which abandoned the traditional English rites in favor of entirely new rites.   There had been in England (including the Principality of Wales) for centuries four principal liturgical traditions: the Rites of Sarum (Salisbury), York, Hereford, and Bangor.  Sarum was by far the most common of these rites, the others being more or less localized in the dioceses for which they are named.  These rites preserved ancient English features and differed significantly, though not substantially, from Catholic Rites followed on the continent.   (There were a wide variety of different Catholic Rites in the Western Church as distinct local Rites had developed in the various ecclesiastical provinces and even dioceses.  The “Roman Rite” was but one of many.)  The English Rites—like most Western Rites followed the classic pattern of the Liturgy and used the “Roman Canon” (what is today called Eucharistic Prayer I).  The differences that made the English Rites unique were mostly in the various proper antiphons and in the lectionary and in the rubrics, though the offertory differed from some continental rites in as that it had but a single offering of bread and wine together accompanied by the prayer Suscipe Sancte Trinitas.  After the break with Rome, Henry VIII abolished the Rites of York, Hereford, and Bangor so that the entire kingdom followed the Sarum Usage.  Then, in 1544—still in Henry’s Reign—Cranmer introduced the English Litany, a vernacular set of versicles, responses and collects into the Sarum Liturgy replacing the Latin Litany used in the processional rites which were distinct to the Sarum Usage.  Finally, early in the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer introduced a set of vernacular prayers preparatory for Holy Communion into the Sarum Mass.  All this was done within the context of the ancient Sarum Rite.   But the 1549 book published by Royal Warrant abandoned the Sarum Rite for a Liturgy which, much like Luther’s 1523 Formula Missae, preserved the basic structure of the Mass but not only gave up many distinct Sarum prayers and traditions but eliminated every reference to Sacrifice.  Unlike Luther’s Formula Missae, Cranmer did not do away with the Canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer), retaining only the Words of Institution, but he did eliminate any idea of Eucharistic Sacrifice both from the Canon and from any “offertory” prayers as the bread and wine were prepared. 
The 1549 Liturgy was meant to be the first step towards a more radical liturgy modeled on the Protestant worship found in the Reformed Churches on the Continent, in particular Geneva and Zurich.  The 1552 Prayer Book then introduced a far more Protestant liturgy.  While the 1552 Book left the Liturgy of the Word somewhat intact, moving the Gloria to a post-communion and stripping away the introit (the gradual and alleluia and any sequences had disappeared in the 1549 Book), the Eucharistic Rite was horribly mauled.  The rite placed the distribution of Holy Communion immediately after the Words of Institution, leaving the Canon to be finished in some post-communion prayers and moving the Lord’s Prayer to after Communion.  The purpose in putting the reception of Holy Communion immediately after the Words of Consecration was to emphasize that the Sacrament is given to us for eating Christ’s Body and drinking Christ’s Blood, not for adoration.    Moreover, the 1552 Prayer Book eliminated any vestments other than the surplice (the cope was optional in cathedrals and collegiate churches), the altar cross and candles, and indeed the altar itself (replacing it with a plain wooden table positioned in the chancel.)  All this was to take away any idea of sacrifice and/or its corollary, the priestly ministry of the ordained clergy. 
Cranmer’s intent was to eliminate the ideas
1.   that the Eucharist is a Sacrifice
2.   that Christ is physically present in the Eucharistic bread and wine and thus they can (or should) be adored. 
3.   That the minister of the Eucharist is a priest in the sense of one who is set aside to offer sacrifice. 
The ancient Sarum usage was restored when Queen Mary ascended the throne in 1553 but in 1559, the year after her death, the Protestant Liturgy was again restored by Elizabeth with the 1559 Prayer Book. 
Eleven years later, Pope Pius V—the same Pope who earlier that same year had excommunicated Elizabeth—issued a new Missal for most of the Western Church, eliminating the variety of Rites which had grown up and mandating a uniform Rite for most of the Western Church.  Only those places and those Religious Orders who could show that they had a unique Rite going back at least 200 years were permitted to retain their usages rather than adopt this Roman Rite.  This Roman Rite of Pius V was not the ancient and traditional Roman Rite but a Rite artfully constructed from elements taken from the principal rites of the Western Church.  It eliminated many of the repetitions common in the older rites and it embroidered the 16th century usage of the Papal Chapel with various (and I would be willing to say, the best) collects, prayers, antiphons, sequences, etc) from different Rites used in the Western Church.  The Reform of the Liturgy following the Council of Trent not only introduced a new Missal, but it eliminated many old customs such as curtaining the altar from view during penitential seasons.  So as to give the faithful more access to the altar and the liturgy, the reforms of Pius V moved the altars from the distant east ends of churches closer to the people, relocating the choirs (in the sense of the chancels, not the scholae cantorum)  behind the altars in what had been the old presbyteria.  In those places where there had been a chancel screen blocking the view of the altar, the screens were torn down.  Most importantly, it gave the Catholic Church a more or less standard liturgical format. 
That liturgy of Pius V underwent minor changes over the centuries, especially under Pius X and then again under Pius XII.  But the Bishops present at the Second Vatican Council wanted a thorough reform of the Rites to facilitate the laity being given a full and intelligent participatory role in the Liturgy. 
The Reforms issued by Paul VI in the 1970 Missal were drastic compared to the earlier reforms of the 1570 Rites, but they were not revolutionary as had been Cranmer’s.  The theology and practice of Eucharistic Sacrifice were clarified and maintained.  The Sacramental nature of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was reinforced by the prayers and rubrics.  Repetitions and accretions that had crept into the liturgy were eliminated and ancient practices, lost over the centuries, were restored.   Perhaps the most fundamental shift in the liturgy is that Scholastic Theology took a back seat to Patristic Theology and Praxis in designing the 1570 Missal.  But the main direction of the Liturgical Reforms of Paul VI were
1.   a wider and more increased use of scripture in the new lectionary
2.   the translation of the Mass into the language of the faithful to enable them to more consciously participate both in attentive listening and active involvement in the Liturgy
3.   the redistribution of ministries to restore to the baptized their proper role in the liturgy, most notably restoring the ancient ministries of reader and cantor. 
4.   a emphasis on the Sacrificial nature of the Mass as a participation in the One Eternal Sacrifice of Christ offered on Calvary
Cranmer’s liturgy was meant to be a break with tradition—both doctrinally and in praxis.  Paul VI’s reforms were built on tradition and were anxious to restore the faith of the Church as handed down from ancient times without the liturgy becoming anachronistic.  While a Catholic of the 1850’s or the 1550’s might not recognize today’s liturgy, Saint Augustine or Saint Ambrose or Saint Gregory the Great would.  The Liturgy of Paul VI is consistent with the Faith of The Fathers.


  1. Well stated and argued! I have to say that I am not real happy with the changes the American bishops adopted in 2010. It forced a lot of parishes to outlay big sums of money to replace pew cards, pew hymnals, choir hymnals, and Mass booklets. I think the USCCB did it because they. could.

  2. On the question of sacrifice, I have been amazed with the new "English" translation of the Roman Missal, at just how much sacrificial language there is, especially in the prayers formerly known as the Secret ("super oblata") , and in the various anaphoras. The tiresome liturgical cranks (the "New" Liturgical Movement) who decry the protestantization of the reformed rite have lost one of their rallying cries -- though the admittedly shoddy ICEL paraphrase had largely "bled" this language out, a la a Cranmer.