Thursday, January 17, 2013

Classical Vestiture and Ceremonial

A peculiar thing was said to me recently, a person was implying that choir dress, cassock, surplice and tippet, is "low church". This sort of uninformed assertion is one of the worst, in my opinion. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the history of clerical attire in classical Anglicanism. Since there appears to be a hunger for the recovery of classical Anglicanism in conservative circles, I think it's equally important to recover classical vestiture and ceremonial just as much as classical theology in the recovery of the formularies, the reason being that we is said and done in worship, together with what is worn, says quite a bit about the theology of the presbyter leading.

Choir dress can hardly be called low church, considering it was the universal uniform of Anglican clergymen, after the Reformation. The mass vestments were outlawed because of the theology they imply, i.e. that Christ's presence is located within bread and wine and that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world. In lieu of the mass vestments, the Reformers adopted the choir dress as the ecclesiastical garb of the ministers of the Church of England. This dress is specified in the 1604 Canons. Parish clergy are to wear a cassock, full-English surplice, tippet, and hood, pertaining to their degree, if they have one, the gown could be worn in the pulpit for the sermon. Cathedral clergy are permitted to wear the cope to show the dignity of the cathedral parish, at the time of Holy Communion. This was the uniform dress of all clergy, regardless of churchmanship, until the advent of the Ritualist movement (it is important to remember that a chasuble was not used until 1854 and not becoming commonplace until well into the 20th century). If any vestiture could be called "low church", it would be the wearing of the gown throughout the service, instead of only during the sermon. The use of mass vestments in divine service is equally un-Anglican as using the Missal instead of duly authorized forms of prayer.

Equally important for those thirsty for classical Anglicanism is the renewal of classical ceremonial. There has been an unhealthy acquisition of Roman ceremonial over the past century, due to the influence of the Ritualist movement. The classical approach to ceremonial is found in the rubrics of the prayer book and the canons. I do not intend to go through step by step through the Office for Holy Communion, but to touch on a few subjects. First, the old gesture, not appointed in the Prayer Book, but enforced by Canon, is the bowing at the name of Jesus throughout the service, including but not limited to in the Creed. The rest of the ceremonial is exactly as printed in the Prayer Book. That meaning, when the Prayer Book says to turn to the table, he does so. At the canon, he takes the paten into his hands, he does not elevate it. He does not genuflect or bow towards the elements after this action. He takes the ablutions at the end of the service, not in the Roman position. There are also three actions which have ancient approval that could be adopted by Anglican clergymen, that is the taking of the elements into the hands at the words of institution, the extending of the hands over the elements at the invocation, and the elevation at the end of the canon.

All of this to point out that the purpose of the liturgy in the Anglican tradition is to teach the congregation about the Gospel, not to create a spectacle which causes superstition. The liturgy, both the ritual and ceremonial, in the Anglican tradition are simple, for a plethora of reasons beyond that which I have already stated. The desire to complicate the liturgy arises from a non-Anglican understanding what we do in church and why we do it. My hope is that with the desire to recover classical Anglicanism will also yield a desire to shed off the Roman symbolical language we have adopted.

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