Toward an Anglican Rite

Our readers (Oberon and Samson) have begun to wonder whether I am moving from my native and beloved Anglican Church to that of Rome. I am.

Having from boyhood sung in choirs of men and boys in Anglican cathedrals, I am and always have been, not just a liturgical Christian of the Western lung of the Universal Church, but an extremely conservative, extremely high church liturgical Christian. Thanks be to God for Cardinal Newman and his Oxford Movement, which spawned the tremendous global reflorescence of traditional Anglo-Catholic liturgy and music this last sesquicentennium. Its vitality right up through about 1998 meant that throughout my life I have been blessed by regular participation in more really ancient liturgy and music than almost any normal sort of Western Christian these days. No other communion has anywhere had such choirs as the Anglicans have everywhere lately had. Thus when I was a young man and our local Catholic cathedral was planning a festival Mass in celebration of the installation of John Paul II, they rang up my Anglican cathedral to ask if we might be able to help, so that they could have a choir competent to sing a festival Te Deum and Jubilate Deo, and a Mass, together with all the Psalms, responses, and so forth. We were glad to oblige; we felt that J2P2, as we called him, was our Pope too, albeit at a decent remove. We processed into the Cathedral, a vast old marmoreal pile in the Romanesque style, full of smoke and silk and jammed with several thousand priests and religious. We sang plain chant – in Latin of course, standard operating procedure for us. The mass was by Palestrina; the Te Deum and Jubilate, I think, were by Victoria.

Now this was all splendid, but none of it was at all unusual for us. Our impression was that it must be quite usual for the Catholics too (how not?), and that we had been invited to sing mostly as a gesture of ecumenical good will. We were therefore stunned when, at the end of the service, out in the narthex after recessing (this time with organum) and finishing with the Ite Missa Est – complete with crashing finale on the Deo Gratias (you might not think that crashing finales are possible in plain chant, but let me tell you …), we were mobbed by priests, monks and nuns, thanking us profusely, with tears streaming down their faces. They had not heard such music in decades. They were terrifically moved.

It broke my heart. And it stiffened my resolve to keep going with the Anglican liturgical and choral tradition, the tradition of the West, which Rome had apparently lost. The scale of that tragedy – to the Church, and to the West – was horrifying to me. Having been immersed in it from infancy, I had thought it prevalent throughout the Catholic communion, as well as our own, in rather the same way that oxygen and clothing everywhere prevailed. But not so! We in my little Cathedral Choir were quite alone.

The Tradition had died in the Roman Communion. The horror of this apprehension was immense.

The Anglicans had kept a tiny flame of that sacred fire burning, and it must not be allowed to go out.

So I remained stoutly, determinedly Anglican. As I grew, so did my knowledge and understanding of what I was singing – and, with them, my devotion. The better I understood them, the more I found the old doctrines and practices attractive, and the modern innovations of the latter day Anglican church, which to my youthful eye had seemed unremarkable, came to seem more and more thin, sophomoric, stupid, and ugly. I began to turn a jaundiced eye on all things modern. Every week, I sang prayers three thousand years old, often to music written 1500 years ago, sometimes in buildings that had stood for almost a thousand years. And it was all so beautiful; and good; and holy.

The sanctity rolled off it in palpable waves, that would catch me up and transport me to heights of unutterable sublimity.

Modernity has nothing – nothing – that is even in the same category.

This patrimony had to be preserved. It was my duty.

And then the tsunami of modernism finished the Anglican Church. Literally the only thing left of the patrimony was a choir here and there, and the older buildings. And the choirs were dropping like flies, mostly because it was felt to be unfair to keep the girls out. Once the girls were singing in the choirs, the boys wanted nothing to do with them. Boys of six and seven – the age when boys must start singing, if they are ever to be any good before their voices change – heartily loathe girls, and want nothing to do with them, or with anything that girls do. Who wants to catch cooties? The very idea is revolting; I can almost taste the bile of that revulsion in the back of my throat, even now.

So, recruitment collapsed. Boy choirs vanished. There are still quite a few in the colleges and cathedrals of Britain, but the devolution of Anglicanism is general, and unless modernism itself soon disintegrates, which God send, they cannot last long there, either; for in a modern, PC church, there can be no principled defense of a tradition such as the choir of men and boys.

I faced a difficult choice. The Anglican Communion in the West had kept up with a bowdlerized Book of Common Prayer, and a bowdlerized Hymnal that kept most of the well-beloved old hymns, but it had abandoned any extra-liturgical talk of sin, salvation or sanctity for Social Gospel Pharisaism, aka PC. Aside from a guttering flame here and there – one or two parishes per megalopolis – it is not any longer a truly Christian outfit.

So, naturally, its liturgical tradition is vanishing in train with its theology. This extends even to the use of the Book of Common Prayer, which is the cultural glue that has held the Anglican Communion together, and formed its peculiar genius. More and more, Anglican parishes are moving to the use of home-made programs, produced on the fly each week, that print out the prayers, hymns, and readings in their entirety – or, often, not quite. This gives free rein to local ministers to edit any text they like – a liberty they often employ.

I had to do something. The Anglican liturgical patrimony is evaporating, and its Christianity is dead.

Having realized I had to move, I looked about me. I considered only Orthodoxy and Catholicism, for I knew I would need both liturgy and ancient tradition. The former was not really a viable candidate for me, not because of any doctrinal problem, but only because the liturgy would be totally foreign, and a move to Orthodoxy would take me altogether out of the fight for traditional Western liturgy and music. I might have gone with one of the traditional Anglican schismatic churches, of which there are a few in my area, but I had to think they might not last too long, as being so tiny; and many of them are falling back into communion with Rome, in any case, especially now with the advent of the Anglican Ordinariate.

So I am moving to Rome. I am in the midst of RCIA, working my way through the Catechism, and discovering that I have been doctrinally Catholic all along. The sole exception, I suppose, would be the question of the validity of Anglican orders, but since those are now more and more admixed with women bishops, it begins to look like a dead letter.

There is the filioque, of course, but I have never found myself at all exercised about that question, one way or the other.

I don’t feel I am leaving anything behind. Or no, I do; but it is a sinking ship, whose company would soon have had no use for the likes of me anyway. It is a beautiful ship nonetheless, and I grieve horribly as I watch it slip beneath the waves. But that is that; I must on.

I am fortunate to have discovered quite a traditional parish in my vicinity. They celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass every week, and have about six choirs. I have joined one of them, an elite ensemble, singing about 45 minutes of polyphony and plain chant every service (that’s a *lot.* I come out of every service exhausted, and delighted). It is not the BCP, but as the font thereof it is intensely satisfying; and there is not a jot of bowdlerization to be seen anywhere in the parish, not a single concession to PC. Indeed, it is the sort of place where the women all wear veils or hats, the men all wear coat and tie, and the children who are old enough to be able to control their wiggling are all solemn, grave and intent, quite obviously aware that they are participating in something so Important that it is Holy. Hallelujah!

I have hopes, as time goes on, of joining an Anglican Ordinariate parish, if one should form nearby, and continuing there with the (only slightly edited) Book of Common Prayer now in use in the Ordinariate. I hope, that is to say, to contribute to the development of an Anglican Rite within the Catholic Church, that can stand alongside the Latin Rite, and the other rites, as a permanent home for the expression of the sublime beauties of the Anglican patrimony.

I am embarrassed to admit that I have not worked out a detailed theological or philosophical justification for my move to Rome. It is much more basic than that, and more visceral; as though the world had tilted so as to guide me in a particular direction. I came abruptly to the gut decision that I had to leave Canterbury; in the midst of my intense grief, my wife said, “Oh, Kristor, surely there is a parish somewhere in the Bay Area with good music. It’s the Bay Area, after all.” She went online, and there it was: six choirs, TLM, smells and bells, Gothic building, thriving congregation, dozens of catechetical and service programs, fifty young confirmands per year, conservative theology, traditional culture: it felt Providential. It still does.

44 thoughts on “Toward an Anglican Rite

  1. I am re-reading Man’s Unconquerable Mind by the great English philologist and literary critic RW Chambers, and reveling in the warmth and humility of this great scholar’s mind. I had always assumed he was a Roman Catholic, from his biography of Thomas More, and long term friendship with JRR Tolkien – but it turns out he was another Anglo Catholic to add to (the later) CS Lewis and Charles Williams and Nevill Coghill among the Inklings…

    Anglo Catholicism truly was a great tradition during its heyday, and remained very strong up into the mid-1950s when there were hundreds of young men each year becoming Anglican monks and friars… and so on.

    It has been dying for a long time, a process quickened by its two Achilles heels of (Christian-) socialism and a gratingly epicene style. A third Achilles heel – if that makes any sense! – was the hostility to the BCP – or at least an obsessive desire to edit and revise it to make it unambiguously Catholic – leading to the national blow-up over the Prayer book of 1928 – from which the Anglo Catholics apparently learned nothing.

    The writing on the wall for Anglo Catholics can be seen from The Crockford’s File by William Oddie. Since then Anglo Catholic men of principle have been leaving the Church of England (including Father Oddie himself – who went on to edit The Catholic Herald) – and Anglo Catholics have been living on borrowed time; and with solidly ‘liberal’ bishops and archbishops, I can see no way of reversing the trend from within the CoE.

    It remains to be seen whether the Anglican Ordinariate will provide a lifeline, but I don’t think the current Pope will do anything to help it and the British RC bishops remain hostile.

  2. Is there a spiritual refuge for a traditional Christian in any of the institutions that call themselves “churches” at the present time?

    • Yes, but It Depends.

      I can’t speak to other denominations, but for Protestants, the only real hope of finding a traditionalist church is in a Confessional (also called Creedal) denomination. Alan Roebuck wrote an excellent article on this topic.

      Many Confessional churches are Reformed, i.e., Calvinist, though not all are.

      I found my spiritual refuge in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, though if I did not have an OPC nearby, I would attend any church affiliated with the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.

  3. Congratulations, Kristor. (I know, you’ll say you don’t deserve them). I took the same trip many years ago. I wasn’t concerned with “smells and bells” or the TLM or the choirs (though I did join one) at the time, but only with the search for that surviving thread of truth winding its way through history from Jesus to the modern age, and thus to you and me. My gratitude to God for Newman is like your own, though I didn’t discover him until after the fact.

    Regarding those schismatic Anglo-Catholics: one such parish just a few blocks from my home finally went Roman within the past year. I hope to visit it soon and hear the liturgy of my youth.

    it felt Providential. It still does.

    Rest assured that it was. The action of grace always is.

    • Thanks, Bill. One of the spooky aspects of the process is that, as my wife noticed the other day, things in our life that would seem to have nothing to do with church have begun subtly falling into place since we started attending catechism class, and really focusing on the faith in a systematic way. It’s like things are lining up.

      I might say that this is just coincidental, but in an orderly universe there can be no such thing as mere coincidence, or therefore meaningless accident. I might then say that this sort of thing has always been going on, and all that’s changed is we now notice it better. But then that would be a meaningful accident in itself, no?

      Now that I’ve said this, of course, things will start falling apart somehow. No rest for the weary, no good deed unpunished, Murphy’s Law, and all that. Yet even should that happen – as indeed, now that I think of it, it very much did, starting on Sunday – it would now seem to me almost that things falling apart was somehow a way for them to come together in a new and better configuration.

      • You have found a port in a storm, as Newman somewhat put it. But storms will lash the port as well, sometimes stirred up by those you thought had offered you safe harbor. Sink your anchor deep.

  4. Kristor, I have been in the process of joining the Anglican Ordinariate for some time (personal issues have slowed things down). Our Traditional Anglican Communion parish did not join the Ordinariate but our (former) bishop’s church did. It’s the parish Mr. Luse is referring to I believe.

    I always found teaching at my TAC parish to be ambiguous. For example, the sacrament of Confession. The Anglican teaching is usually something like “all may, some should, none must.” About as clear as mud.

    • Thanks, Zip. Yeah, people have thought me Catholic for years, ever since I started writing. Like I said, I have always been Catholic from a doctrinal point of view. One of the really fun things about buckling down and systematically reading the Catechism for the first time is that I keep encountering in it, spelled out – often in the words of the Fathers – the very solutions to theological conundra that I had independently, and quite laboriously, worked out on my own. This, too, smells like Providence at work.

      You know, it’s funny. When we enjoy a burst of insight, that resolves some thorny intellectual problem, it feels like the idea is simply ours. But it isn’t. The work that we did to arrive at it is in some sense ours, but the place we have arrived must always have been there to begin with, in order for us to stumble into it. When we climb a mountain, we can take some credit for the climb, but we would never think to take credit for the summit itself.

      • Kristor,
        You mean I shouldn’t name that wall I just walked into “Zippy’s Wall”?

        Aye, that regular experience of seeing (or crashing into) something “out there” for the first time myself is why I tell people I am a Platonist, at least of a “lite” variety.

      • Hah! Right. Come to think of it, it was *very* bad form for an explorer to name a mountain or island for himself. For his first mate, sure; but not for himself. Sometimes his crew would take the matter out of his hands, but even that was pushing it.

      • There is a an image used to mock those who try to work out theology on their own; warning them that if they persevere to the top of the mountain, they will find all the Church Fathers already sitting there.

        I honestly fail to see how that is an unpleasant outcome though, even granted that not everyone enjoys hiking up and down mountains.

      • Indeed. Would I be disappointed to summit out and find Fremont, Hudson, Magellan, and Cook sitting around a campfire and swapping yarns? No, indeed.

        Sometimes, though, it seems to me that I have to do the climbing myself even to understand what the Fathers I had read were talking about. I go back to Athanasius after a period of years of work in theology, and understand him (or feel that I do) for the first time. But then, the same thing happens the next time I return to him. Ditto for Paul, a fortiori. There is no bottom to those depths; you peel the onion without ever getting quite to the center of it, and each layer is both thicker than the last, and encloses a larger volume.

    • As was I, but with (for some reason I can’t recall — must have been a hint in an old post) a lurking worry that he might actually be Anglican. 🙂 Finally, my questions have been answered!

      But, Kristor, I must say I’m still baffled. I understand there are often branches, conservative and liberal, in the mainstream Protestant churches, but my impression of Anglicanism was only that, as you wrote, “its Christianity” is long dead; and said branches only undermine their legitimacy even more. If you don’t mind me asking, do you think you perhaps rationalized remaining Anglican for your love of music? You have always seemed impeccably reasonable to me, and I’ve quite a bias against the claim of logical coherency in Protestantism (heh), so I hope you understand why I find this so curious!

      I’ve also read your reply comment to Will’s question on the Filioque. I’d be very interested to read what thoughts you propose on the subject, as it’s one I’ve been shamefully leaving in the dark for a later date.

      • I should have been clearer in the post. I think Christianity is quite vibrant in the schismatic traditional Anglican communions, and for that matter also in some traditional parishes still associated with the Episcopal Church of the USA. And Anglican Christianity is wonderfully orthodox and alive in Africa and points further east, where it is growing rapidly (and where cooperation and fellowship among Catholics, Evangelicals and Anglicans is, one reads, quite close and friendly).

        In the main body of Anglicanism in the Anglosphere, however, Christianity is almost gone, replaced by PC Pharisaism and the theology of “whatever.”

        I don’t think I rationalized my continued membership in the Episcopal Church for the sake of my love of music. It never got to rationalization; this wasn’t an intellectual decision, but a movement of the heart. The parish where I had worshipped for fifteen years was a fairly traditional haven from the broader changes overtaking the main bodies of Anglospheric Anglicanism, for a long time. I was able to worship there in spirit and in truth. It was not perfect, but it was not intolerable; indeed, in many ways it was quite wonderful. Then last summer the accumulation of absurdities in the Diocese was suddenly intolerable, and I felt for the first time strongly that I had to make a decision. So, I did.

        The grief I felt in the immediate aftermath of that decision was due to my conviction that I would never again sing as a Levite in the Temple of the Lord. It turned out to be premature, thanks be to God.

        I should say finally that I still believe that the Lord is truly worshipped by many who attend Episcopalian services, and that many are thereby saved. But this happens despite the attitudes and acts of almost all the Episcopal hierarchy, and then only on account of the continued majesty and truth of the Book of Common Prayer, insofar as it is still used – and, of course, on account of the Scriptures (insofar as they are still used – would that this were only a quip).

        As for the filioque, I have lately been diving yet deeper into the doctrine of the Trinity, and I do indeed now have some thoughts about it. But let me come up from this particular deep dive, before I try writing about that Mystery again.

  5. I wish you well on your journey, and I am happy to see that you will labor in the fields made possible by Anglicanorum Coetibus. To a smaller extent (and more from tribal reasons and from a general appreciation of beauty than from personal investment), I share your anguish when I look at what has happened to the Englishman’s religion. What a pity. Perhaps, your ilk might act as leaven for the wretched and long-suffering papist hordes in America. They need it (and a pox be upon the Saint Louis Jesuits)!

  6. Welcome Dúnadan! It’s been ten years since my conversion from Lutheranism. If my ten years is anything to go by, expect a heavy Cross, enemies Legion (both in and outside the Church), and consolations few and far between. The good news? I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Deo Gratias!

    • Thanks, Scott. Yeah, the last thing I expect is for things to be easier henceforth. On the contrary. But that’s rather the point. If your religion isn’t thrashing you, what good is it, anyway?

  7. I’m Anglican as well but have been leaning Orthodox went to a local OCA for there were many problems so I’m hoping for a Western Rite church will show some day in NC

  8. Apostolicae Curae with its holding that Anglican ordinations are “absolutely null and utterly void” would seem to settle the matter from the Roman Catholic side. Saepius Officio, the official Anglican answer, saw the papal bill as “aimed at overthrowing our whole position as a Church.” Reconciling this with Vatican II and the ecumenical movement is beyond me.

    Many of my ancestors were English, and many were Anglican. I suspect, but cannot yet prove, that at least one of my ancestors left Elizabethan England for Catholic Flanders. I can document that many of my English ancestors were Puritans, for example, John Lathrop, an Anglican clergyman who was sent to Newgate prison for his religious non-conformity. He was eventually released from prison on the condition that he go to New England, which he did, and where he was instrumental in founding the town of Barnstable, Massachusetts. His descendants include many prominent early Latter-day Saints.

    As Charles Williams put it, the acts of those long dead affect us, and our acts will affect those long dead as well at those not yet born.

  9. I expected a lot of the TLM traditional Catholics to be hostile or at least lukewarm towards the Ordinariate but I have found most of them to be positive about it. I had expected they wouldn’t be supportive because pre-Vatican II, I imagine the Church would have told Anglicans to become Latin Rite Catholics if they wanted to be Catholic. I don’t think the pre-Vatican II Church would have made such a generous offer to Anglicans but who knows.

  10. Not sure why you even mentioned the Filioque; Anglicans (as Lutherans, Reformed) hold to it just as Rome does; whole Western Church does.

    • Mostly I suppose because before I began working through the Catechism I had never worried about it. Now I find myself ruminating upon it, as upon an issue not quite yet completely settled, after all – thus worth contemplating.

  11. Kristor, as a Catholic, I feel sad about your story. I am glad we have you among us, but I can relate to the sense of grief that pervades your story. I hope something of the beauty and tradition of the Anglican Church can be saved.

  12. First our great late Captain and friend, Lawrence Auster. And now our Bard, Kristor! Some days I despair, some days I’m bored. And some days I feel like laughing and throwing my hat in the air! Congratulations, and welcome.

    • Thanks, Patrick. You do me a great honor, which while unmerited is most encouraging. On the other hand, I rather wish you had not used that terrific and wonderful word, “bard.” I already have enough trouble writing posts. I have to keep telling myself, “Kristor, it’s a *blogpost,* already; it doesn’t need to be deathless prose. Just knock it out and be done with it.” Now I shall feel pressure to make my posts not just deathless, but Homeric.

      Sing in me, Muse of the Dunedain ….

  13. ” …. six choirs, TLM, smells and bells, Gothic building, thriving congregation, dozens of catechetical and service programs, fifty young confirmands per year, conservative theology, traditional culture …”

    First, congratulations and welcome. I think it was Anne Muggerdidge who once told a convert, “Welcome to the Catholic Church. Here’s a bucket, start bailing!”

    Now I have to ask – **six** choirs and a TLM in the Bay Area? Seriously? Do you mean THE Bay Area, or some other bay on the east coast? I’m dying to know where this is. Can’t be St. Margaret Mary’s, can’t be Our Mother of Perpetual Help … what’s left?

    • St. Margaret Mary’s. There may not be quite exactly six choirs, but there were and are more than I can keep track of. Hold on, let me go look up the program at their website … OK, we’ve got the Pacific Collegium (the outfit I sing with), the St. Joseph’s Choir, the Chorus Magnificat, the St. MM Choir, the Sacred Heart Women’s Choir, and the Men’s Schola. That’s six by my count. Plus the Requiem Choir, which sings at funerals.

      And get this: the priests and lectors seem all to be able to sing plainchant, too, quite respectably. That *never* happens.

      I’m telling you, man. This place is hopping.

      This makes me think we should start a list of Traditionalist churches, for the benefit of our readers.

      • Thanks, Kristor. I was told that attendance at the TLM is fewer than 100 on Sunday, so some of those choirs must be for the Latin Novus Ordo. Anyway, I plan to visit the parish next year and look forward to it. We have several friends who attend regularly. In the meantime get yourself over to St. Stephen the First Martyr in Sacramento, a parish of the FSSP that is fully TLM with around 800 souls, mostly young families, and an amazing music program.

      • Well, I can’t yet say that my sample is significant, but I have yet to attend a TLM at St. MM with fewer than 500 other people. The nave is generally pretty packed, and it is a pretty big building.

        You are right about the choirs; they don’t all sing at the TLM. The whole schedule is rather vast and confusing to me, still; there’s so much of it.

        I have heard there is a TLM at St. Vincent’s up in Marin.

      • Wow, very glad to hear that you’ve seen 500 at the TLM at St. Margaret Mary’s! We’ve been to St. Vincent’s in San Rafael. It’s an idyllic setting and they probably have between 50 and 100 on Sunday. The choir is very good, according to my oldest children, who were privileged to sing with them. By the way, Kristor, you might want to get acquainted with the CMAA and, if possible, attend their Colloquium in the summer: . You’ll meet lots of people on the same page musically.

  14. Kristor, I think a list of traditionalist churches is a great idea. Someone should do an “ecumenical” version. I was once a seminarian in Berkeley with the Anglican Province of Christ the King (Durant and Bowditch), one of those traditionalist Anglican groups you mentioned. As for Catholics, here’s a good directory for “approved” TLM sites:

    And of course, there is the SSPX:

    There are only a tiny handful of Anglican Rite Catholic parishes thus far:

    We could sure use one in northern California!

    We make do by alternating between the FSSP parish in Sacramento, two hours away, and a local SSPX chapel.

  15. Pingback: Traditionalism is also for Protestants | The Orthosphere

  16. Another thread I’ve come far too late to!!

    Wow, so Kristor is crossing the Tiber?! Hallelujah and Amen, says I!

    It’s about time you’ve crossed that river Kristor, you have tricked me into thinking you were Catholic one too many times before, it’s time you pay your dues. 🙂

    lol, well all sillyness aside, I am very happy to read this news Kristor, and I would welcome you with open arms!

    Crossing the Tiber can be a dangerous journey. I will pray for you and yours, that you may weather whatever storms come your way, and that from treacherous waters, you will be guided safely into the harbor that is Rome.


  17. Pingback: Pulling a Location | The Orthosphere


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