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Curiouser and curiouser: the Pope has now turned the Book of Common Prayer (well, quite a bit of it) into a Catholic liturgy

Evensong and Benediction at Blackfriars: what next?

By on Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Blackfriars' chapel in Oxford, where later this month an Evensong and Benediction will be celebrated by the Oxford ordinariate group. Photo: Br Lawrence Lew, OP

Blackfriars' chapel in Oxford, where later this month an Evensong and Benediction will be celebrated by the Oxford ordinariate group. Photo: Br Lawrence Lew, OP

I have been pondering this week about two items of news to do with the way in which, slowly but surely, the results of Anglicanorum coetibus are unfolding throughout the English-speaking world. The first is a story about the beginnings of an American ordinariate; here it is, as reported in the New York Times:

Maryland: Episcopal Parish Will Join Catholic Church

An Episcopal parish in Blandensburg will be the first in the United States to join the Roman Catholic Church under a new streamlined conversion process created by Pope Benedict XVI, leaders of both church groups said Monday. St Luke’s Episcopal Parish will come under the care of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who is forming a United States ordinariate – effectively a national diocese – for Episcopalians converting under the pope’s plan. Bishop John Chane of Washington, an Episcopalian, said he had approved St Luke’s decision and would allow the congregation to continue worshipping in their church under a lease with an option to buy the building.

To describe Anglicanorum coetibus as “a new streamlined conversion process” is particularly crass, but what do you expect from the New York Times? As a conversion process, in fact, there’s nothing particularly new about it in the US: it already existed there, on a parish by parish basis, in the so-called “Anglican Use Pastoral Provision”, whereby Anglican Parishes converted, but became not, as under the ordinariate, part of a new jurisdiction but simply joined the local diocese.

This could lead to some strange, even ironic, results. I was present back in the 90s at the ordination in Fort Worth Cathedral (Texas) of a former Anglican priest who had been received into the Catholic Church with his people (virtually all of them came). It was a moving event; and afterwards, back at the parish church (which as in Maryland this week the local Anglican bishop had generously allowed them to keep: what a contrast to what’s happened here) his first Mass was celebrated, and was followed by the singing of the Te Deum, of course in the old 1662 Prayer Book translation, and sung to the famous setting by Charles Villiers Stanford. The “diocesan liturgist”, who was present, presumably, to make sure that no reactionary enormities were perpetrated, asked me at the reception afterwards about the Te Deum, of which (I’m not making this up) she (a supposed liturgist) had never heard. “Is that a typically Anglican prayer, would you say?”, she asked me, quizzically.

There will be no nonsense of that sort under the ordinariate, of course; but the incident was instructive, all the same. What it shows, apart from the necessity for a separate jurisdiction, is how much of the patrimony these Anglican converts are bringing with them derives from Catholic sources that we have lost or at least temporarily mislaid.

I thought of this incident when I saw, on an (English) ordinariate blog, the ordinariate Portal, another – to me – amazingly poignant news story:

Solemn Evensong & Benediction at Blackfriars, Oxford

Solemn Evensong & Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament will be celebrated by the Oxford Ordinariate Group at Blackfriars, Oxford, at 7.30pm on Wednesday 15 June, by kind permission of the Prior and Community.

A very simple announcement: but what floods of memory it brought back! Evensong and Benediction was our version, of course, of Vespers and Benediction; it was all part of our attempt to Catholicise Anglicanism. When I became a Catholic 20 years ago, it all seemed to me suddenly a rather ridiculous thing to do. Evensong was profoundly Anglican and therefore Protestant: how could you Catholicise it by sticking on to the end of it a “Benediction” celebrated with a monstrance containing an invalidly consecrated host? The whole thing was an illusion, irredeemably defective (what an ecclesial snob one could suddenly become). But what has happened to Evensong now? Now, it is the ordinariate’s evening office: it has the Pope’s blessing and validation: now it is effectively a Catholic liturgy, duly recognised and authorised. What I looked down on, the Pope has now affirmed, making me feel suddenly very foolish.

What the Pope, God bless him, has actually done is to re-appropriate a liturgy whose origins were in the first place entirely Catholic. As the Anglo-Catholic liturgist and divine Percy Dearmer (a friend of G K Chesterton) pointed out, the first Anglican Prayer Book “was not created in a vacuum, but derives from several sources. First and foremost was the Sarum Rite, or the Latin liturgy developed in Salisbury in the 13th century, and widely used in England. Two other influences were a reformed Roman Breviary of the Spanish Cardinal Quiñones, and a book on doctrine and liturgy by Hermann von Wied, Archbishop of Cologne.”

The Eucharistic liturgy which emerged was, of course, entirely defective from a Catholic point of view, simply invalid, and deliberately so: it was made brutally clear that this was not the sacrifice of the Mass. But Cardinal Quiñones’s attempt at streamlining the Breviary was adopted virtually in its totality. The Morning Office – a conflation of Lauds and Matins, and the Evening Office, and Evensong – a conflation of Vespers and Compline (thus containing both the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, both of course in wonderful Tudor English) – were thus irreproachably Catholic in their origins and content.

And it has to be said that the result was something of great beauty. What beautiful prayers these offices contained! Correction: contain. I reread some of them yesterday; by the time I had finished, I was overwhelmed by what I had so lightly cast off and by the wonders that now were restored to me, with a wonderful irony by the Holy Father himself. I wonder if at Blackfriars they will say, in gratitude for all the blessings vouchsafed to them in Anglicanorum coetibus, that wonderful prayer, the General Thanksgiving:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; [*particularly to those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for thy late mercies vouchsafed unto them.] We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

“The means of grace and the hope of glory”: were ever the blessings of the Christian life ever so concisely, so perfectly and so beautifully evoked? Whether they use this beautiful prayer at Blackfriars, they will surely say that wonderful, quintessentially Anglican prayer, so deeply embedded in my own Evensong memories:

O LORD, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may retort, of course, that that’s not an Anglican prayer at all, it’s by Cardinal Newman, and that therefore I can’t claim that as part of the Anglican patrimony the ordinariate is bringing over the Tiber! Well, sorry, but it is an Anglican prayer: just like some of Newman’s greatest hymns (to this day sung just as much by Anglicans as by us) it was written not only when Newman was an Anglican, but also at a time when he was still quite clear in his mind that he could never become a Catholic. Its origins are in the splendidly oratorical final paragraph of a sermon he preached as vicar of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford (they don’t preach sermons like this any more):

But for us, let us glory in what they disown; let us beg of our Divine Lord to take to Him His great power, and manifest Himself more and more, and reign both in our hearts and in the world. Let us beg of Him to stand by us in trouble, and guide us on our dangerous way. May He, as of old, choose “the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty”. May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last!

For me, and I suspect for many other former Anglicans, the ordinariate isn’t just a welcome development, but one affecting directly only those most closely concerned. It’s something that to our great surprise is affecting many of us, too. Catholics sometimes used to say to me (indeed, Cardinal Hume once said it) that when Anglicans become Catholics, they bring their Anglicanism with them. Not on your life, I thought, grinding my teeth; Anglicanism and the whole Anglican mentality is something I want to leave well behind me. Well, I was dead right about a good deal of it, certainly, maybe most particularly the secessionist, anti-Roman, anti-sacramental and anti-Marian bits: all the betrayals of the Mediaeval ecclesia anglicana. But when I left the Church of England, I grimly turned my back also on some priceless treasures. Now I have been given them back without even asking for them. And by whom? Why, by the Pope of Rome himself. It is all strange, passing strange. Truly, God moves in a mysterious and wondrous way: Praise be to God.

Further details about Solemn Evensong & Benediction at Blackfriars, Oxford, at 7.30pm on Wednesday 15 June, are available here.

  • Anonymous

    What a beautiful and affecting post.

  • Anonymous

    What a beautiful and affecting post.

  • Ben Whitworth

    Your use of the verb ‘to re-appropriate’ is a very subtle and gently ironical allusion, of course, to Newman’s Tract 75. I spotted it if no-one else did! Thank you for an excellent post.

  • Tim Tindal-Robertson

    Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of language of some of the prayers of my Anglican days. The Pope has been urging us to appreciate and promote beauty as an expression of the truth about God.  I pray that beauty of expression and not merely a concern for fidelity of translation, will be a feature of the new missal that is being introduced. Beauty and of course correct expression in language, are needed in prayer in order to raise up heart and mind to God. Banality and trviality – “and also with you” (mate, one can also almost hear being said) deaden the sense of the transcendent, that we have had to endure in the defective translation that is now being replaced. Praise be to God ! Tim T-R

  • Aaron

    I found this article very interesting, but where is the evidence that the Pope has authorised the BCP Evensong as a permanent form of the liturgy for the Ordinariate?  Has anyone even seen the liturgical books which are yet to be approved by Rome?

    It seems that this is just a one-off event at Blackfriars.

  • MatthewM

    Just an update/correction to this wonderful story. Mount Calvary, Baltimore  
    is the first Episcopal Church parish to leave TEC and prepare to enter the Ordinariate.

    Aaron- Don’t know what was used in England but here in the U.S. it is part of the Book of Divine Worship and other liturgies authorized by Rome for the Pastoral Provision parishes established since 1983. Many Ordinariate bound groups in the U.S. and Canada are using it. I would love to know what was used there, can anyone find out?

  • Ratbag


  • pete

    And don’t forget the royal wedding text! that “forsaking all others” got my attention and should be ADDED IMMEDIATELY TO THE ROMAN RITE IN THE USA, with it’s high divorce rate among Catholics (since Vat II) !

  • Canvention

    I have very much appreciated the Anglican Use liturgy when I visisted San Antonio.  I would very  much enjoy being able to participate locally if more Anglican churches join the Ordinariate. 

  • Parasum

    “The “diocesan liturgist”, who was present, presumably, to make sure that
    no reactionary enormities were perpetrated, asked me at the reception
    afterwards about the Te Deum, of which (I’m not making this up) she (a
    supposed liturgist) had never heard. “Is that a typically Anglican
    prayer, would you say?”, she asked me, quizzically.”

    Please say that’s a joke.

    The word “liturgist”  is becoming devalued – one of the worst results of that, is that liturgiology becomes suspect, and hateful. “Liberal”, “Christian”, “devout”, & many other words are already all but unusable – as for “gender” & celibacy”, these are regularly misused by people who ought to know better.

    People who know nothing of liturgiology, which is a species of theology,  & are qualified only to drape art not quite up to the standards of a discerning ten-year old around the sanctuary, are *not* liturgists – any more than Tracy Emin or Damien Hirst or Chris Ofili are artists.

  • AgingPapist

    Thank you Dr. Oddie for a moving tribute to the beauty of Anglican liturgy. By the way, the first parish in the U.S. to accept the ordinariate is Mount Calvary Episcopal Church in Baltimore Maryland and not St. Luke’s in Bladensburg. All the U.S. news sources, not just “The New York Times”,  got it wrong.

    Unfortunately, that Catholic liturgist of whom you spoke is all too typical of the philistines inhabiting the Church of Rome. It is little wonder the pope is so anxious to save the Anglican patrimony and enshrine it within the RCC. Catholics desperately need it and, hopefully, it will replace both the Novus Ordo and the antique liturgy of Pius V.

    It is the only English language liturgy within Christendom worth listening to, observing, and worthy of our participation.   My only fear is that other popish liturgical neanderthals, especially the bishops, will try to Romanize the ordinariate liturgy and office further down the road.  They already resent the considerable measure of independence Anglo Catholic converts to the ordinariate will possess under the terms laid out by the pope.  These creatures in purple are green with envy and red with rage that the pope has given the converts so much independence.

    Before sending up too many Te Deums, English or Latin, in thanksgiving for what the pope is doing, it would pay for ALL Anglicans to be on their guard that the hard-earned privileges enjoyed under the ordinariate aren’t chipped away by the priestly pervert-protecting hierarchy.

  • AndrewWS

    “All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: Rise, clasp My hand, and come!” (Thompson: The Hound of Heaven)

  • AgingPapist

    and Pete  you seriously expect by adding this prayer that the divorce rate amongst Catholics suddenly plummets? Oh dear, you have been living in a cave.

  • AgingPapist

    Glad to see Anglicans are using “The Book of Divine Worship”. It is the best English language liturgy available in the See of Rome today. Latin-rite parishes should be doing the same. To wait for Benedict’s benediction and go ahead to start using it is like waiting for Gadot.

  • Ens

    Thank you for this beautiful and moving article. It really is a massive grace from God to bring the Anglicans back into the fold, together with all the wonderful patrimony they bring with them. GK Chesterton and all the English saints in heaven must be more especially happy with all these events!

  • W Oddie

    I am assuming of course that this event is consonant with the approved liturgical texts, decided but not yet published. Mgr Andrew Burnham (formerly Bp of Ebbsfleet), doyen of the Oxford ordinariate group and (I couldn’t get there, so i’m assuming) celebrant at the Evensong & Benediction at Blackfriars certainly knows by now. So I think you’ll find that that’s how it will turn out.

  • W Oddie

    Was the baltimore parish actually episcopalian or TEC? The story is, I think, that this is the first actual episcolpalian, rather than breakaway parish. I’me not arguing, by the way, just asking.

  • Ken Neill

    As it happened, I sang that Te Deum at St. Mary’s, Arlington and was part of the parish for two years, at which time another AU parish was erected closer to home.  The liturgist of whom you speak is now retired and things are better in the diocese (we have a new, more traditional bishop as well). 

    One point: St. Mary’s, Arlington not only took the property, but the brand new mortgage on their brand new church.  Bp. Pope may have had his religious confusions (bouncing between Catholic and Anglican over the years), but he was no fool.

    Finally, I first sang the Stanford in a Catholic parish, and have since sung it in another Catholic parish, though the latter pastored by a former Episcopalian.

  • W Oddie

    How very interesting: That’s PRECISELY (as you realised)  the parish and the occasion I was writing about. How good to hear from you, and how good to know to that things are better in that diocese. But AU parishes would be better in the new ordinariate: and I’m sure that’s where most of them will end up, Apart from anything else, how else are their present PPs to be replaced? 

  • W Oddie

    sorry, no joke.

  • Alan

    >> “What the Pope, God bless him, has actually done is to re-appropriate a
    liturgy whose origins were in the
    >> first place entirely Catholic.”

    “Re-appropriate” might be too strong a word, how about “re-incorporate”?

    And perhaps one day, also the church buildings, abbeys, etc., and the whole of the CofE. A pipe dream? Perhaps, but also a prayer. We can’t discount the power of prayer. After all, who would have thought we’d see so much progress already in so little time.

  • AgingPapist

    I think is was a parish of the Protestant Episcopal Church.  However, I’m not certain.

  • Mark Gliddon

    As a former Anglican Priest myself I can identify with everything this article brings forth with such beauty. As a Catholic Priest I will bring it with me officially sanctioned by the Holy Father himself, the Pope of Rome. I too for a time wanted desperately to leave it behind me, all idiocy that Dr Oddie testified to. As time went on however, I began to yearn for the language and the music of my past. I realise now that in my immaturity I wanted a reaction and as a young man still to ‘make a statement’ or ‘nail my colours to the mast’ and reject everything of my past as an Anglican and before that as a Pentecostal Protestant. I believe we are entering into something new and exciting in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of God. What a time to be Ordained (God willing). 

  • Michelle Eves

    No wonder so many turn away from God with people like you.

    Our churches in our Anglican community belong to God, our Queen &  country, Our nations and realms.Not Roman catholics.

    Ask your pope and his army of rich bishops to spend its money on some quality buildings instead on comfort and splendourt in rome and stop dreaming of stealing ours.

  • Michelle Eves

    Let me tell you about the ordinariate from my experience. Many of those who who set out on the ‘new path’ in search of God and attending catechism indoctrinmations classes just refused to be ‘ received’ into the roman catholic church.

    They couldnt accept worshipping the pope instead of God and Christ.

  • Michelle Eves

    Most anglicans will never take up oath to your roman pope because he enjoys the company of kings, Queens, the hauty and powerful.

    Jesus was never like that !

  • Anonymous

    I inadvertantly pressed the wrong box; Like instead of Reply.  To my shame I will have said I liked your post.
    This is an old chestnut about Churches and Abbeys. Just remember though that prior to the reformation most of what are now Anglican Cathedrals, and the oldest and most beautiful churches where actually Roman Catholic until forcibly taken by the emerging protestant schism.

  • RJ

    We don’t want to deprive you of anything, but one might ask: Who built the pre-Reformation churches?

  • RJ

    No, we don’t worship the Pope.

  • Father Ron Smith

    Maybe, Mr. Oddie, this incident has been mediated to you in order to make you regret your Tiber-crossing? You obviously have a yearning for the order and beauty of Anglican Liturgy, which still includes Evensong and Benediction – despite your snide reference to it’s impropriety. You could always return to Mother, leaving Aunty in her present state of confusion and intolerance.

  • Michelle Eves

    What pre-reformist churchs still standing is it you are referring to? By whose hands were they built and was it not the British who payed for them?

  • Michelle Eves

    Further to my reply to RJ, the few roman pre-reformist churches were taken back into British care on behalf of Christianity.

  • Michelle Eves

    I take it you don’t read canon law, the roman cateshims and roman catholic history:
    “Those whom the Pope of Rome doth separate, it is not a man that separates them but God. For the Pope holdeth place on earth, not simply of a man but of the true God….dissolves, not by human but rather by divine authority….I am in all and above all, so that God Himself and I, the vicar of God, hath both one consistory, and I am able to do almost all that God can do…wherefore, if those things that I do be said not to be done of man, but of God, what do you make of me but God? Again, if prelates of the Church be called of Constantine for gods, I then being above all prelates, seem by this reason to be above all gods.

  • AgingPapist

    Pope Benedict, like Pope Paul VI,  is a great admirer of Launcelot Andrewes and other Carolines, Cranmer’s artistry as a liturgist, and, especially, the Anglican choral tradition, particularly the offices, and the composers who contributed to that tradition.  He knows the Ordinariate’s liturgy will be the best English liturgy in the Church.  He also knows it will be popular with English-speaking Catholics and help to revolutionize both the EF and the OF in the Latin rite.
    The Ordinariate liturgy will be more popular with Catholics than Anglicans as it helps to create an alternative far superior to either the Tridentine or the Novus Ordo liturgy.  Eventually, the EF and NO as we know them now will disappear and be replaced by a Sarum or BCP-style liturgy for English-speaking Catholics.

  • Scotus

    Who were these Britons who took “the few Roman pre-reformist churches back into “British” care”?  I suspect, madam, that you are confusing England with Britain, English with British and the one true Church (Roman, Catholic and Apostolic) with a bunch of schismatic church pinchers founded by a fat, over-wrought, over-sexed and under-moralled monarch who simply wanted to get his rocks off (as I believe the vernacular has it) with a (succession of ) trollops rather than his lawful wedded wife.

    Since your grasp of geography and history are lacking why should we consider your views on theology or for that matter the law of property?

  • Charles Martel

    Your comment makes no sense as the head of C of E is the English monarch!  The C of E was founded by the haughty and powerful Henry VIII, King of England and serial murderer!

  • BpDominic

    The British monarch is in fact the ‘governor’ of the Church of England, not the ‘head’ – so Michelle’s point stands.

  • BpDominic

    Let us be clear – all the buildings belonged to the English or British people who built them – not to some foreign power masquerading as a church.

  • BpDominic

    Why don’t you give up being all these different ‘things’, and instead submit to Christ, and Him alone, and simply become a Christian?

  • Aunt Raven

    The Bishops will have no jurisdiction over the Ordinariate, which will have its own Ordinary (“= Bishop”) and it will function like a diocese with boundaries concurrent with all dioceses in the country.  So no non Ordinariate Bishop will in any way be able to alter any language of the liturgy according to the (Vatican approved)  Book of Divine Worship.    

  • Aunt Raven

    I have several bound copies of the BDW (Catholic version of the BCP) here in Cheshire.  I believe that the massive text–including the version of Evensong you refer to– can be found online if you Google for it.  I gave a copy of the BDW to The Bishop of Nottingham, who evidently gave it to Archbishop Nichols as he was reported to have brandished it at a news conference last year when the Ordinariate was announced.  

  • Aunt Raven

    In the USA the BDW liturgy has brought an unexpected and astonishing number of lapsed Catholics back to the Church in the three Texas AU parishes I am familiar with.  

  • Aunt Raven

    You are not the only former Anglican / Episcopal priest who has had this experience of initial “zeal to turn a new leaf” but eventually saw the  beauty which is part of the “Anglican cultural patrimony” which is returning to the Church universal.   I think of those clergy of the Ordinariate “are like a householder who brings forth from the storeroom treasures both old and new.”  

  • Aunt Raven

    You are not the only former Anglican / Episcopal priest who has had this experience of initial “zeal to turn a new leaf” but eventually saw the  beauty which is part of the “Anglican cultural patrimony” which is returning to the Church universal.   I think of those clergy of the Ordinariate “are like a householder who brings forth from the storeroom treasures both old and new.”  

  • Guest

    This will never happen.  The Roman rite will always remain but will undergo organic development over the years.  The Church should never force again force liturgical development.  Pope Benedict is reforming the reform by injecting liturgical diversity into the Latin Church.  Eventually, all of the Masses of the Latin rite will influence each other and a far superior liturgy will emerge.

  • Mghysell

    Utter nonsense.  We don’t take an “oath” to the “roman pope” (sic).

    Do you forget that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a British monarch?  That’s like Herod being the head of the Church in Jerusalem.

    Grow a brain, will you?

  • Mghysell

    You are ignorant of British history.  Henry VIII destroyed hundreds of
    monasteries, closed hundreds of Churches, and confiscated many others,
    including Westminster Abbey.

    And for what?  Openly homosexualist bishops, heretic clergy who reject the dogma of the Incarnation, and women’s ordination.

  • Mpr89

    Yes but that doesn’t mean you then go and make up the religion to follow. 

  • Elsie

    “Lo how these Christians love one another!”!

  • Elsie

    “Lo, how these Christians love one another!”!