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How the Ordinariate is healing England’s cultural wounds

Four hundred years after the bitter conflicts of religion, the Church is posthumously reCatholicising Archbishop Cranmer and reclaiming him for our tradition

By on Friday, 11 May 2012

One of ours now

One of ours now

Yesterday I was in a cathedral city in the south of England, and having time to spare, and because it was raining, I decided to visit the cathedral and stay for Evensong. I am, like so many in this country, familiar with Evensong; I find it both beautiful and alien at the same time. I both love it and hate it. I only go to Evensong to listen to it, never to take part.

Evensong’s beauties are the work of Coverdale and Cranmer, two men who led the revolt against the unity of the Church, and overthrew the great work of time, the historic faith of this country. Cranmer’s liturgical reforms were not reforms in any true sense, they were a wrecking of the monastic offices and their replacement with something superficially like yet utterly alien. The Cranmerian Prayer Book provoked rebellions in England, let us remember. The West Country rebels of 1549 protested that they found the Cranmerian service that replaced the Mass no more than “a Christmas game” . The Northern Rebels who entered Durham in 1569 tore up the Prayer Book and had the Mass celebrated in the Cathedral once more. In 1596 one of my collateral ancestors, the Blessed George Errington, was hanged, drawn and quartered at York, along with three others martyrs, because of his Catholic faith, a faith he and many others simply could not recognise in the Cranmerian Prayer Book.

Thus the experience of Cranmerian English leaves me feeling conflicted. I love it and I hate it, and I feel I ought to love it, as it is so beautiful, and because it has inspired so many of our great poets, not least among whom is T.S. Eliot.

That’s why I am profoundly pleased by something that happened earlier that day in London. I attended a meeting about the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, at which Mgr Burnham, the assistant to the Ordinary, told the assembled guests that a Customary is in preparation.  This is essentially what we might call an office book, with various readings drawn from the English spiritual tradition, such as Newman’s writings from his Anglican days; but it also draws on those fine psalms and prayers used by Cranmer, with some doctrinal alterations. Mgr Burnham also spoke of the growing popularity of Evensong and Benediction amidst Ordinariate congregations.

What this Customary will do, it seems to me, is posthumously reCatholicise Cranmer and reclaim him for our tradition; it will make the Cranmerian liturgy, which I find a cause of division and conflict, into something that will bring about unity. It will mean that from now on, I need not find Evensong alien. Perhaps Dr Cranmer himself would approve. I hope so! It certainly promotes the healing of a cultural and religious wound.

The Ordinariate, which I greatly welcome, is already enriching us in many ways. Long may it continue to grow and flourish.

  • Patrick_Hadley

    Why should we want to re-Catholicise Cranmer? Who cares whether he would approve of the Ordinariate? I cannot understand why a Catholic should look for the posthumous approval of a man who did so much harm to the Church.

    Who is next on the list Luther or Calvin?

  • October671

     Should we not try to be like the Good Shepherd who goes in search of those who are lost?  Perhaps Cranmer, even now, languishes in Purgatory waiting for healing, and perhaps our Evensong prayers may help him. Fr ALS was not looking, I think, for approval of Cranmer, only healing of the wounds of the English Church. We cannot nurse our bitterness for ever.

  • RuariJM

    Unlikely to be Calvin but I understand that the Lutheran Church is moving towards Rome.

  • Roystonsapperata

    Cranmer sided with the King and allowed a Bigamist Marriage to go ahead – Cranmer was never a Catholic, and only realised, when it was to late, the damage that he had caused.

  • anncouper-johnston

    I was brought up Anglican and thus to revere Cranmer, who stood against the wicked old Church that had fallen into such lax ways and became a martyr for the cause.  A closer examination of the history had me discovering that when he was appointed by the Pope in 1532 he was already so “Reformed” that he had secretly married.  So I had been taught to look up to a man who was a hypocrite and a liar (and he kept that marriage secret until the end of the reign of Henry VIII).  Sir Roy Strong once estimated that we lost 90% of our cultural heritage at the Reformation …. an achievement to be proud of??  

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thank you for your nice and insightful comment!

  • Patrick_Hadley

    October671 – “Fr ALS was not looking, I think, for approval of Cranmer”

    Fr Lucie-Smith “Perhaps Dr Cranmer would approve, I hope so!”

  • Lazarus

    1) Rehabilitating Cranmer is less about suddenly discovering that he was a Catholic after all (he clearly wasn’t) but rather about rehabilitating his contribution to beauty. The Church under Benedict is rediscovering the need for beauty, particularly in liturgy. Bringing the beauties of Cranmer (and the KJV) which have entered so deeply into English literature into Catholicism is something utterly wonderful.

    2) I’d make a sharper distinction between Cranmer’s liturgical reforms with respect to the Mass (which are wholly contemptible) and his reforms to the other offices (which had their predecessors in Catholicism). Speaking personally, I’ve found the rhythm and simplified content of daily matins and evensong much easier to base a prayer life on than the Breviary, and there already exists a Catholic ‘reworking’ of this in the American Anglican Use. 

    As Father Lucie-Smith says, the Ordinariate is already enriching us and will continue to do so.

  • daclamat

    The problem is that the Shepherds are doing all the bleating. Thank heaven for the Border Collies,who keep the flock on the move, and the Patou who keep the wolf, lynx and bear  away. The ordinariate healing wounds?  Hasn’t anyone noticed the running purulent sores? It is said that a camel is a horse designed by the a committee. And the modern Roman liturgy? Thank God for Cranmer’s sense of beauty.

  • Apostolic

    Less animosity, perhaps, but on key issues – the priesthood, marriage and other social teaching – unfortunately further away than ever; indeed further away from Luther than ever.

  • Alan

    I don’t think we can, or should, speculate about whether Cranmer, or anyone else, is in Purgatory (or elsewhere).  He may be in Heaven, we simply have no idea.

  • chiaramonti

    Cramner’s lack of principles and eagerness to do Henry’s bidding (aided and abetted by Cromwell) was responsible for a problem hardly mentioned by most historians.  Having declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon null and void (there was no divorce as we know it in those days) so that he could marry Anne Bolyen – thereby rendering Henry’s daughter, Mary, Illegitimate, he happily did the same again, when Henry tired of her and immediately declared that marriage null and void virtually on the eve of Ann’s execution. This meant that Elizabeth, too, was declared illegitimate. Unlike Mary,however, whom the Church always recognized as legitimate, Elizabeth was rendered illegitimate both in the eyes of the law and the Church. Although Henry, by his will, and Parliament later, restored Elizabeth (and Mary) to the line of succession, Elizabeth, throughout her reign, had a deep concern about her right to rule. Hence her sensitivity about Mary Queen of Scots and others who arguably had a better right to the throne than she. When Pius V excommunicated her, the combination of these events undoubtedly had a significant role in her attitude to “Jesuits and seminary priests” many of whom died for the faith but judged (and God knows how) to be traitors. Otherwise, Elizabeth was far more broadminded and liberal in religious matters than many Catholic writers allow. She hardly bothered the “Marian priests”, and turned a blind eye to Catholic practices providing suitable discretion was applied. She never permitted the likes of the genius William Byrd, a devout Catholic, to be harmed and was tolerant of even strong dissent (although carefully expressed) by such persons as Viscount Montague, the only lay peer to speak forcefully against the Act of Supremacy as it made its way through Parliament. We can only wonder what might have happened had Elizabeth felt more secure in her origins. Cramner’s unprincipled actions were certainly a source of her anxieties.

    Nevertheless he did possess a certain style when it came to the use of English!

  • Parasum

    The only Evensong worth bothering with is the Anglican one in the BCP, not some ersatz “RC”-ification of it.    

    “…but it also draws on those fine psalms and prayers used by Cranmer, with some doctrinal alterations.”

    ## Given the atrocious mess that Innocent VIII & his fellow-barbarians made of the Breviary hymns (they were subjected to some revoltingly tasteless Classicisation, with ample use of substitutions such as “Olympus” for “caelum”) that news does not sound good. Modern Catholicism is so cloth-eared & tasteless that it perpetrates Brutalist statues of JP2 in Rome itself, or designs churches that are an argument between a public urinal & Sydney Opera House, or allows junk like that hideous nonsense of the Resurrection from a nuclear explosion (also in Rome). As for the revised Missal, its English version was made by translators who overlooked perfectly obvious Biblical references. Altering the BCP in a Catholic direction will leave a similar train of devastation & ruin. Need one mention the tasteless & grossly inartistic vestments clergy commonly wear ?  The wearers look like shabby imitations of Julian Clary. 


  • aearon43

    Well at least you’ll LOOK GOOD in your heresy and schism, then?

  • baige867

  • Charles Windsor

    Cultural healing will also occur when historians recognize the Catholicism of William Shakespeare, Britain’s greatest writer. Also deserving of historical recognition are Catholics such as composers Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, poet Alexander Pope, and composer of Rule Britania Thomas Arne.
    The Anglicans not only stole the Cathedrals but also stole pieces of history. Its high time the record was straightened.

  • parepidemos

    By writing “Fr ALS was not looking, I think, for approval of Cranmer” October671 clearly means Catholic Church approval of Cranmer. The context of the sentence also makes it obvious that it has nothing to do with Cranmer approving anything. Grammatically, for your understanding of the sentence to be correct it would require the word “by” rather than “of” before Cranmer. You have not only misread the sentence (which is excusable) but also employed it quite out of context (which is not excusable).

  • parepidemos

    Perhaps you would benefit from a little charity in your comments. Remember that Unitatis Redinegratio states that Catholicism does not reject anything which is of God in other churches and faiths.

  • Benedict Carter

    Cultural healing will occur when England is once again Catholic – but not the neo-protestant “Catholicism” of so much of the visible Church now, which neither Luther nor Calvin nor a pagan priestess would have much problem with.

  • Benedict Carter

    It’s called Modernism.

  • Recusant

    If you think the Catholics are bad, wait till you see your cousins the Episcopalians…

  • Patrick_Hadley

     The context was:
    1. Fr Lucie-Smith’s comment “Perhaps Dr Cranmer would approve, I hope so!”
    2. My reply, ” I cannot understand why a Catholic should look for the posthumous approval of a man who did so much harm to the Church.”

    Clearly both Fr Lucie-Smith and I were both talking about whether or not we hope that Cranmer would approve our choice of prayers.

    In that context it seemed reasonable to assume that October671 was talking about the same thing as Fr L-S and I, namely whether or not we hope for Cranmer’s approval, when he made his response. If that was not his meaning then it seems that he has misunderstood the point that Fr L-S was making. In that case my simple juxtaposition of my comment with that of Fr L-S can hardly be said to be inexcusable since it would be directing October671, without criticism, to the words in question.

  • JabbaPapa

    hmm, careful dear Benedict, careful — remember the advice of those who have a care for your soul ;)

  • The New Catholic

    While the actions of Cranmer and Bucer and co. were obviously schismatic, and while some of the details of their liturgy make me cringe (notably the fudged way that the Strasbourg ordination rite was Englished twice to try and do duty for the separate grades of priest and bishop), there is also a leaven of poetry and no small quantity of well-translated pre-Reformation text in the BCP; we can find truth in the writings of Jerome and Origen regardless of their doctrinal quirks, and Hippolytus of Rome was both heresiarch and saint…

  • HedgePriest

    Three points in answer to ones raised here:
    Rome hasn’t authorised the KJV for Ordinariate use, but some cheap KJV lite horror instead.
    In the advert for the Customary, The Traditional names of Matins [and Lauds], Evensong [or Vespers] and Compline are referred to as Morning, Evening and Night Prayer respectively. Draw your own conclusions.
    Also, it appears that there will be no ‘Extraordinary Form’ Ordinariate Rite either based on the 1549 Prayer Book or the Sarum Rite.
    Methinks that the Ordinariate ain’t all they’re cracked up to be when it comes to the Anglican Patrimony.

  • buckle

    The SSPX are even less “obviously schismatic” and they are detested by all and sundry.

    The priest who has this has authored this piece has a very impressive CV in terms of his education and yet I have read his contributions a few times now and each one is worse than the last. He is sure to gain a promotion soon in the modern church.

  • Benedict Carter

    Agree 100% Buckle. He’s Nu-Church to the core.

  • Little Black Censored

     Yes, Luther and Calvin! Bring them all in.

  • Little Black Censored

     “Cranmer’s liturgical reforms with respect to the Mass (which are wholly contemptible)
    You underestimate him. A lot of what Cranmer did was accepted by Rome in the 20th century.

  • Little Black Censored

     “Nevertheless he did possess a certain style when it came to the use of English!”
    Very big of you!

  • Benedict Carter

    Very, very  doubtful. In Scandinavia, the Lutherans are as neo-pagan as the Episcopalians in the US. They are moving further away, not closer. 

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thank you for your kind comment!

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thanks for your kind comment too!

  • Little Black Censored

    “The Anglicans not only stole the Cathedrals… etc, etc.”
    For how many more centuries are you going to play the victim card?

  • Little Black Censored

     You are right, HedgePriest. They tell us we can bring our patrimony, then we have to wait to be told what that patrimony is, by people who haven’t a clue.

  • Benedict Carter

    And that disastrous fact will one day, please God soon, be reversed.

  • JessicaHof

    Catholicism is part of our history and culture, however much some would now like to rewrite the former and extirpate it from the latter. But centuries of State-sponsored anti-Papism is not overcome easily; I do wonder how much of the vitriol over the child abuse scandal derives from that source, as well as the more obvious feelings we all share? Despite the hopes of the ‘second spring’, progress is painfully slow.
    The Catholic Church of Pius IX did not know how to use Newman’s great talents, and it is a mark of his greatness of spirit and the Grace that he enjoyed that he suffered so much and yet obeyed so greatly. Some say that your Bishops’ Conference does not want or know how to use the Ordinariate, despite the fact that the Holy Father himself sponsors it.
    I don’t know that ‘reCatholicising’ Cranmer would amount to much more than creating a version of him more acceptable to some. England needs a second Pope Gregory and a second Augustine. I can see that saintly man, Pope Benedict as the former- but on the horizon I see no one who could be the latter.

  • Fourth Norn

    Hey, a little respect please! The very idea of an argument between a public urinal and the Sydney Opera House! Have you been to the latter? Not much of an argument with any other building I’ve been in let alone a public convenience.

  • Alan

    I can’t understand why you remain in the Catholic Church when you seem to hate so much of its manifestations.
    Interesting that you advocate the Sarum Rite rather than the Tridentine.  Even the Sarum Rite, however, was not the original.

  • Apostolic

    For as long as you continue to play the mock continuity/”ancient” church card, and longer, for truth will out, and no amount of possession will ever give you title.

  • Apostolic

    The Catholic Church isn’t some sort of medievalesque antiquarian outfit worthy of Pinewood  Studios in the 1940s, ready to provide some spoofy religious ceremonies for film depictions of Robin Hood or Ivanhoe. If that is what you want, no wonder you do not want the Ordinariate.

  • buckle

    Nothing personal as we are all living on the same reservation. Even I don’t believe that an Oxford education is enough to get you off it. One has only to listen to our primeminister for 30 seconds to understand that.

  • RuariJM

    To both of you – I’d heard something about the German Lutheran Church? Misinformation?

  • Benedict Carter

    It was the local ancient usage in England until the Reformation. Traditonalists like myself are not only for the so-called Tridentine Rite, but all the ancient rites of the Church: the Dominican, the Braga Rite, the Mozarabic, the Chaldean and so on. 

    As to your barb about my dislike of Catholic “manifestations”: I reject completely the Modernism and outright Protestantism that permeates the post-Vatican II Church. 

    But then, Alan, every Catholic should do, shouldn’t he???

  • Little Black Censored

    Anybody who can say that “the Anglicans”, whoever they were, “stole” the cathedrals is probably incapable of discussing the subject sensibly. What happened was in effect nationalization of the Church of England by the government, to be incorporated into the nation state. Who were these “Anglicans” who “stole” the cathedrals? It makes no sense – it is anachronistic – to say to members of the C of E today to say “you stole them”.
    In any case, you would certainly not be grateful to be given responsibility for their upkeep now.

  • Little Black Censored

     What an extraordinary comment!
    The AV is, apart from anything else, one of the very greatest foundation texts of modern English, along with the BCP and the works of Shakespeare. It is of course an essential part of Anglican patrimony, and has the same sort of intrinsic authority as the Roman Canon. Nobody has the right to ban its use.

  • Nisi prius nuisance

    Rehabilitating Cranmer, Coverdale and the KJV and all that rests on the idea that there is any beauty in their turn of phrase in the first place, which is, much like the snark’s taste in landscapes, “a sentiment open to doubt”.

  • Alan

    Why?  I became a Catholic after Vatican II, which to my mind removed certain objectionable aspects which existed before (“error has no rights” etc.).  If the Church renounced Vatican II and all its works, I doubt if I would wish to remain.  Obviously your position is opposite to mine.  Except that you choose to remain, even though you seem to be totally out of sympathy with the Church as she is today.

  • October671

    Ah. I meant to say perhaps you were not looking for us to be approving of Cranmer!

  • Benedict Carter

    Then you are still a Protestant in your heart.