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Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Anglican Use Experiment

The Anglican Use Experiment
Today is my last of four days in Kansas City. It's been an eventful weekend, with a sorta-surprise birthday party for me (my birthday isn't until next month, but this is my last time in town for a while), my parent's anniversary (on Valentine's Day), President's Day (errr, Washington's Birthday), Mardi Gras (today), and so forth. It's gotta be an incredible rarity to have Valentine's Day, President's Day, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday on four consecutive days -- if anyone knows the frequency, I'd be curious.

Anyways, in addition to everything else, my little brother Ben and I went to an Anglican Use Mass, the form of Mass based upon the Book of Divine Worship, and specially designed for converts from Anglicanism. The Mass was at St. Therese Little Flower parish over on 5814 Euclid Avenue. It's a struggling part of town (I actually grew up not terribly far from there), and the parish is majority-minority, as I understand, but with a small, mostly-white group of former Anglicans. This unique makeup has lead to some intraparish tensions, but it's also lead to some pretty interesting liturgical choices:

Our Gospel Choir lends to a very spiritual and upbeat liturgy at our Sunday, 9:15 am Mass. We are also privileged to be the first Catholic parish in the Kansas City area to host an Anglican Use Mass, held Sunday mornings at 11:15 am.It's incredibly unique in this regard: there are literally no other parishes which offer these two forms of Mass every Sunday. Parishoners thank the pastor, Fr. Ernie Davis, who -by the way - has an interesting blog addressing Anglican Use issues amongst other things. Fr. Davis is, by the way, a married priest with three kids, so that's sort of unique.

My little brother's only 14, but he's incredibly smart and very holy. For example, night before last, we went to a burger place, and he explained why he prefers Aristotelian logic to modern symbolic logic while we waited for our food. So having him along was a boon, since it provided a couple interesting perspectives. Here's our pro and con list from our personal experience:


* The Mass is celebrated ad orientum, with the priest turning to the people when speaking to them, and towards the liturgical east when speaking to God. It's the better way to do things, in my opinion.

* Beautiful, traditional liturgy
* It's closer to the Latin texts. For instance, when the priest says "The Lord be with you," we respond "and with thy spirit," which is what the Latin says, rather than "and also with you," which is the normal Roman Rite "translation."

* Incredible Eucharistic prayers. Right before Communion, the people say in unison:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. * Songs are all orthodox, carefully chosen, etc.
* Everyone receives the Eucharist while kneeling on the kneelers at the front of the church. There's no Communion rail anymore, but I wouldn't be shocked if one were restored.
* It's a good preview where the Roman Rite seems to be headed, particularly with the new translations, and the greater emphasis on the centrality of the Eucharist, and the reverence due Christ in the Eucharist.

* Because Anglican Use doesn't attract a lot of people, and St. Therese is a small parish community anyways, everyone knew everyone, and everyone greeted us afterwards.


* The songs are hard to sing. They use old chant melodies, and often will hold a word or phrase or note much longer than Ben or I were used to.

* Related to the first, the Anglican Use Mass (at least this one) wasn't "let's sing verse 1 of this song." It was "let's sing all 5 verses," at the entrance, the recessional, and right after the Gospel. Probably wouldn't have been that bad, if the songs weren't so hard.

* Since we were new to it, we both had our noses in the Missalette more than either of us would have liked.

* The Gospel is sung. I actually enjoyed this, but Ben found it harder to follow what was being said.

* It seems unnecessary to me to use Old English. Some people get a lot out of this, because there's a natural tendency to want to use a distinct prayer language. For the Jews, it was Hebrew (while the vernacular was Aramaic, and later, Yiddish); For Catholics for centuries, it was Latin (with various vernaculars); For Protestants (including Anglicans), it's often King James English, as if God speaks in thee's and thy's. To an extent, Old English adds an element of reverence: "Thy will be done" just sounds more reverent than "Your will be done," even if there's no great rational reason. But there were points where Ben particularly seemed confused about what the phrasing even meant.

* Sadly, not many people were there. We were about halfway back on the left side, and there were only three people in front of us. Total, there were maybe 20 people there or so, on a Sunday.

* The homily was from an Ethiopian priest for Catholic Relief Services, so I feel like we didn't come on the best Sunday -- we didn't get to hear the pastor's homily, or get quite the same feel for how things are "normally" done.

Overall, we liked it a lot. Most of the Cons we had were due to our own inexperience, the newness of the Mass in that parish, and the generic homily. And while both Ben and I wished more people were there, the small community had some serious benefits. After every Anglican Use Mass, everyone goes downstairs and has lunch together. One of the women in the congregation was seriously a good cook, and we sat with her family and munched on some delicious food. She'd also made truffles, and Ben inadvertently had rum (which was in some of the truffles) for the first time. The parishioners were amazing. One of them had worked in the rectory at St. Francis Xavier with my great-aunt Josephine (for whom I'm named), and she regaled us with plenty of stories. A few others asked my brother lots of questions about Aquinas High School. Everyone seemed to know everyone else by name, and yet really appreciated us newcomers.

For himself, Fr. Davies was incredibly charitable and welcoming. I get the feeling he's liturgically orthodox but very invested in social issues as well, which is the perfect match, particularly for a parish like St. Therese Little Flower. He's a vegetarian, but a pastor first. I actually saw this for myself -- a parishoner had made Mexican chili and really wanted his opinion. And this chili wasn't mildly meaty - it had no beans. It was basically chunks of meat in spicy sauce. Fr. Davies explained he was vegetarian, but said he wouldn't refuse it if the parishioner made him a bowl. And he didn't. I was pretty impressed, because I know how hard that must have been for him.

I asked him how it was that he converted, and he said that it was pretty simple, really: "I realized I wasn't Catholic." He'd been living as an Anglican priest, imagining that the Anglican Church was really just the Catholic Church of England (as many Anglo-Catholics imagine it to be), and that the only real difference was one of polity. He said he started to notice that the Anglican Church didn't act like the Catholic Church, and that he increasingly realized that he wasn't in the Catholic Church - so he corrected it. Really, he made the whole thing seem almost like some simple error (whoops, wrong address! I meant to be pastor at the Catholic Church down the street), but I think he's just not trying to over-dramatize his conversion. Father made no attempt to disguise the fact that real tensions exist within the parish, and I got the impression that the mostly-white Anglican Use parishoners were viewed as unwelcome intruders with a stuffy liturgy. I commend the parishioners who really are committed to unity within the Body of Christ for sticking it out and learning to love their brethren across both racial and liturgical lines.

If you're in a part of the country which offers the Anglican Use Mass, I really do think that you should stop in and check it out, and maybe let me know what you think. Also, check out the Order of the Mass according to the Book of Divine Worship, available here. It's short enough to read through in one sitting.