A few weeks ago, during one of our now-periodic visits to Charleston, I took the opportunity to worship with the Corpus Christi Community at St. Mary of the Annunciation Church downtown.
What a revelation.
Long-time readers know that I have always had a keen interest in the authentic, traditional diversity of Catholicism, most vividly expressed in its religious orders with their varied charisms and in the different rites of the Church. We don’t have an Anglican Use parish here in Birmingham, but for a mid-sized Southern city, it’s sort of amazing what we do have: a parish at which the Extraordinary Form is regularly celebrated and supported without controversy (and not the only one in the diocese of Birmingham, either – take that New York City!); Maronite Rite and Melkite. At least once a year, the Catholic school that my boys attended would celebrate a Maronite Rite Liturgy.
(Perhaps you’re wondering about that? Well, there are a lot of Lebanese and Greeks in the South, and they’ve been here since the late 19th and early 20th centuries – folks who came to work for railroads and other industries. Birmingham’s food culture has a strong Middle Eastern and Greek streak running through it, and it’s earned.)
I had been wanting to attend the Anglican Use (not Rite!) liturgy there in Charleston since my son and daughter-in-law moved there, and finally got my chance.
Sorry I don’t have better photos. I wish I had the courage to take something besides surreptitious photos at Mass…but maybe I don’t, either.
Here’s my confession:
Long-time readers know that for a while, I followed the Episcopal/Anglican Wars fairly closely. I did, that is, until the acronyms spun out of control and I couldn’t muster the energy to untangle them yet again. I was grateful for the establishment of the Ordinariate, but I confess (here we go) that I did think sometimes…um…really? Why can’t they just become Roman and suffer lame liturgy with the rest of us? SACRIFICE, people! If it’s true….you’ll jump no matter what, right?
Yes, I understand that there was more to it, and these conversions were fraught with complexity, tension, pain and joy. But I admit, I really didn’t get the liturgy thing. To my superficial eye, it was mostly about psalmody and Vespers. (Although I admit, I have followed Atonement Parish in San Antonio for years and long thought that if I were to ever move just for the sake of my children going to a particular school…it would be Atonement Academy….)
If you have the opportunity, I’d encourage you to worship with an Anglican Use community. Here’s what struck me about the liturgy:
(Note: I should have written this post immediately after attending…it was a month ago, and I can’t be as specific as I would like.)
- The differences between this and the Roman Rite Mass were clear. I’m sure you can find discussions and comparisons online, perhaps even contentious ones. The structure is, of course, the same, but the differences are intriguing and expressive of a more explicit sense of humility as well as greater formality than your typical, contemporary Roman Rite Mass.
- I suppose to the superficial observer, the use of ad orientem is worth remarking on, but to me at this point, it’s not really. Except I just did. Well, then. The very next Mass I attended in Charleston, at a Roman Rite parish, was celebrated ad orientem and it is not a big deal to me at all..except for the fact that I wish it would be reinstated now, everywhere that it’s possible. (Also…this is an old discussion for me. I’ve run several blog posts on it over the years, including those in which we talked about Lutheran, Anglican and Eastern Christian use of ad orientem. Do an image search for “Lutheran altar” and see how many of them are slam up against the back wall….)
- What struck me most about the Anglican Use liturgy was the same thing that struck me about Eastern Rite liturgies – not the external postures so much as the internal posture of humility which it assumes and fosters. The emphasis is on supplication and humility. You don’t pray “have mercy on us” a zillion times as you do in an Eastern liturgy, but you do say it – or something like it – a lot more than you do in the Roman Rite.
- You will say a lot more of everything in the Anglican Use liturgy. The post-Vatican II Roman Rite is quite stripped down and streamlined, that being, of course, one of the intentions of those who constructed it. There is a verbal richness about the Anglican Use that I found comforting and akin to a richly adorned physical space.
So, it was a great experience, and I finally “get it.” I get the reluctance to leave it behind – it preserves much – not just in the Mass itself, but in the other traditions that the Anglican Use brings with it – that were lost in the Roman Rite after the Second Vatican Council.
It was great to see Fr. Patrick Allen again that day – I had met him before at the Cathedral last fall, and he’d brought his children to my book-signing in Charleston in December. And added bonus? I finally got to meet Dawn Eden! As it happens, she was giving a talk in Charleston that very day and was at Mass. It was a delight to finally meet!