Breviary notes

On my very shelves, up here in the High Doganate, there remain various souvenirs from my Anglican days. These include modern classics, such as Lancelot Andrewes his Preces Privatae, Richard Hooker, John Donne, Jeremy Taylor, Laurence Sterne his Sermons (often as entertaining as Tristram Shandy), together with more recent, “breaking news” stuff — the Tracts for the Times¬†and many excellent authors still in print: T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis for instance, or recently in print, such as Austin Farrer, and Eric Mascall. All of these gentlemen Catholic by spirit and inclination, and reverting by habit to Catholic precedent.

On the desert island of Anglicanism, I was never left with nothing to read.

My favourite prayerbook for years was the Andrewes — once edited and translated by John Henry Newman in his Anglican phase. The book is in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and possibly some other languages, and on a weird level might be compared to The Cantos of Ezra Pound — an intensely poetic collocation of tongues, though these “Private Prayers” were never meant for publication. But unmistakably Christian.

And I have yet to mention Cranmer and the liturgical tradition through the Book of Common Prayer (itself largely a distillation of Sarum), and the Authorized Version (which shares much common history with our Douay). It is a tradition the more vexing because it is so good. Like the piece I wrote yesterday in the Catholic Thing (here), I merely mention these things to suggest the size.

To appreciate the words that held the Anglican Church together, so that when they were withdrawn that church fell apart, would require great leisure. For our English-speaking world since Shakespeare, they have provided the principal cultural glue. Not only through Anglican but through Methodist and other church services, they transmitted Christianity through twenty generations. Memorable phrasing guides the mind, for the worse, but also incomparably for the better.

The whole of English literature, in its breadth and insularity, is compact with this Anglican “vision” of Our Lord, so that most of it will be lost on the reader without knowledge of that Anglican KJV and BCP. Behind this, Shakespeare himself, Chaucer and his predecessors, going back to Anglo-Saxons, are riddled with Biblical allusions, and the signs and symbols of religious devotion.

All of this is lost on the contemporary university reader, for the entire field of the humanities has been defoliated — defiled and stripped bare — by the poison of “political correctness.”

One book omitted from my lists is most remarkable. It sank unnoticed soon after publication, in both its British and American incarnations, yet I think it contains an earnest of the liturgical future within the Catholic Church — back into which (I think) all the protestant traditions are gradually folding. This is the Anglican Breviary of 1955.

The project, a development of Catholic tendencies within Anglicans themselves, was to make an English version of the entire Roman Breviary, in the language inherited from the Book of Common Prayer. While little compromises were inserted, to stay in theological touch with Canterbury, and these need correcting, this Breviary is overwhelmingly consonant with the practice of “the General Usages of the Western Church,” and provides a gloriously unabbreviated recension of the entire Divine Office for all the hours of prayer through every day of the year.

It arrived out of season, on the cusp of the degraded Alternative Service Book and the larger Anglican project of liturgical self-immolation, which anticipated ours in “the Spirit of Vatican II.” Years have now passed since I was making it a hobby to retrieve the beautifully-printed masterpieces of both Roman and English traditions, from rubbish tips behind desecrated churches, and redistributing them among friends who could still use them.

But circumstances have changed. Unbeknown to many modernist diehards, the Church is recovering — in places they never visit. That part of the Church which survived the poisonings is growing back. The Latin Mass is recovering, and through Pope Benedict’s Anglicanorum Coetibus, the English Mass has a chance of recovering, too. We have the materials, and by the grace of God, we are also finding the will.