Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Anglican High Mass

This past Sunday I attended my first Anglican service, at St. James church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The service was actually a Tridentine high Mass, sung in English, with celebrant, deacon, and sub-deacon facing the altar. There was enough incense to make the Dalai Lama’s eyes water.

I was most pleasantly surprised and relieved to find at the front of this beautiful church pamphlets containing the entire text of the liturgy of the Mass, along with instructions to stand, sit, and kneel at the appropriate places. The pamphlet also contained information about the music performed during the service, as well as what was essentially the church’s Sunday bulletin.

Sunday Mass at the Catholic church I attended for four years was partly a social occasion for many of the members of the congregation, largely made up of Filipinos. There were lots of greetings, chatting, and laughter. Not so in the Anglican church. In the church pamphlet, on a page headed “Before Mass,” is written: “You are encouraged to take the opportunity before Mass for silence, stillness, and prayer. Please refrain from talking before Mass begins.” At the end of the Mass, I was also surprised to see that there was no rush to exit the church. Even after the closing hymn was over, the members of the congregation remained in the pews to pray quietly. I was almost embarrassed to be the first to get up and leave the church.

The Mass itself was beautiful. The liturgy was celebrated with great reverence; there was no rushing through any of the elements. I was moved by one practice that is either uniquely Anglican or unique to this church: For the gospel reading, the acolytes, thurifer (constantly swinging the thurible), sub-deacon, and deacon (who is actually the reader) move into the center aisle of the church; as I was on the aisle, the deacon read the gospel—clearly and meaningfully—within a few feet of where I stood. The homily—on prayer—which was also given by the deacon, was well considered, well prepared, and relevant. Holy Communion was distributed to communicants as they knelt at an altar rail; I had not seen this practice since pre-Vatican II days.

This was my first Anglican high Mass, so I felt awkward at times because I was not familiar with the liturgy. I have also been accustomed to the larger, more lively congregations of my former Catholic church; the silence in St. James before and after Mass was a little disconcerting. Nevertheless, the community is welcoming, and from what I read in the bulletin, is also gay friendly. I will definitely visit this church again.

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  1. Many, many Anglican churches do that with the Gospel. I love it too. I'm glad you enjoyed the service.

  2. Our Dean on occasion reads the gospel from the centre isle but our last Dean always did it that way. Our Bishop always delivers his homily at the congregation level as well. We also always receive Communion at the altar rail, but not all Anglican churches do.
    I have never attended an Anglican high mass and would like to experienc that one day, but I am not sure it is something I would enjoy on an ongoing basis. Sorry, but it feels too "Catholic" for me.

    1. I think you may feel very comfortable at St. James but you should make a correction to your blog. The Anglican Mass/Eucharist is, by definition, not Tridentine, as Trent was the Council of the Counter-Reformation. The Book of Common Prayer used the English Sarum Rite, the English language, the principles of the Benedictine Hours, and a measure of Reformation theology.

  3. Thom, thanks for the info and for your comment.

    Marg, that is exactly what attracts me.

  4. As beautiful as the Anglican Mass is (usually much better than you'll find in most Roman churches), I much prefer the simpler and less ornate celebration of the 1928 BCP or the EPUSA 1979 rite. The Anglican Mass still looks more Roman than Rome and anything but a part of the Anglican patrimony.

    The 1979 "novus ordo" liturgy of the EPUSA or "Common Worship" used in Britain are perfect for both Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It's contemporary with appropriate bows towards Cranmerian tradition and the Byzantine liturgy without leaning too heavily toward the more florid and annoyingly tedious eastern rites . It's a far better liturgy in every respect than the Pauline, Roman novus ordo of 1970..