At the very end of the Rose Dinner, the yearly banquet in conjunction with the National March for Life here in Ottawa, I briefly participated in a conversation in which a former Anglican who had converted about seven or eight years ago and now attends a Traditional Latin Mass regularly, said something to the effect that English is a Protestant language.
He said that just as the Reformation was taking place, the English of Cranmer — he probably added the he was a heretic or he didn't need to as it would be assumed — had something to do with the gelling or establishment of the English language in a consistent form — some kind of standardizing perhaps? — and that somehow made the language inherently Protestant. There is no way for English to express the concept of Transubstantiation, he said.
Jeeesh! It had been a looooooong day and most of it I was on my feet walking and lugging my camera around, so I quickly exited, hoping and praying that after seven years as a Catholic I am not like this, seeing everything as either Catholic or Protestant anything with the least taint of the latter is irredeemably bad. Now, in my crabbiness, I might certainly be unfairly judging my friend, because I didn't stick around for the extended commentary.
If I weren't so tired I would have said that English is very good at saying whatever it needs to say, even if it has to rob another language to say it. Esprit de corps, Schadenfreude, running amok, are some examples that come to mind. As for Transubstantiation, how about Real Presence? Captures the mystery of what happens in reality without one's having to get an explanation of Aristotle's substance and accident. And looks like in the word Transubstantiation, English robbed Latin, no?
And I recall from some conversations during this whole Ordinariate roll-out hearing that many Anglo-Papalists threw out the Prayer Book because of that dastardly Cranmer, that horrible Protestant. Can't even say a syllable by the man, so let's opt for the modern translation! Doesn't matter if it has a tin ear for music and is a dynamic equivalent translation that isn't really true to the Latin or Greek, let's shun Cranmer like he's got Protestant cooties that will cause heretic disease if you catch them.
Thankfully that attitude seems to be changing. Here's an excerpt of an article in the Catholic Herald that talks about the renovation of Cranmer:
Evensong’s beauties are the work of Coverdale and Cranmer, two men who led the revolt against the unity of the Church, and overthrew the great work of time, the historic faith of this country. Cranmer’s liturgical reforms were not reforms in any true sense, they were a wrecking of the monastic offices and their replacement with something superficially like yet utterly alien. The Cranmerian Prayer Book provoked rebellions in England, let us remember. The West Country rebels of 1549 protested that they found the Cranmerian service that replaced the Mass no more than “a Christmas game” . The Northern Rebels who entered Durham in 1569 tore up the Prayer Book and had the Mass celebrated in the Cathedral once more. In 1596 one of my collateral ancestors, the Blessed George Errington, was hanged, drawn and quartered at York, along with three others martyrs, because of his Catholic faith, a faith he and many others simply could not recognise in the Cranmerian Prayer Book.
Thus the experience of Cranmerian English leaves me feeling conflicted. I love it and I hate it, and I feel I ought to love it, as it is so beautiful, and because it has inspired so many of our great poets, not least among whom is T.S. Eliot.
That’s why I am profoundly pleased by something that happened earlier that day in London. I attended a meeting about the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, at which Mgr Burnham, the assistant to the Ordinary, told the assembled guests that a Customary is in preparation. This is essentially what we might call an office book, with various readings drawn from the English spiritual tradition, such as Newman’s writings from his Anglican days; but it also draws on those fine psalms and prayers used by Cranmer, with some doctrinal alterations. Mgr Burnham also spoke of the growing popularity of Evensong and Benediction amidst Ordinariate congregations.
What this Customary will do, it seems to me, is posthumously reCatholicise Cranmer and reclaim him for our tradition; it will make the Cranmerian liturgy, which I find a cause of division and conflict, into something that will bring about unity. It will mean that from now on, I need not find Evensong alien. Perhaps Dr Cranmer himself would approve. I hope so! It certainly promotes the healing of a cultural and religious wound.
The Ordinariate, which I greatly welcome, is already enriching us in many ways. Long may it continue to grow and flourish.
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Amen! And eventually the Catholic Church did come around to translating the Mass into the vernacular, though centuries later.
The original English translation was done by men who, even if they were heretics, knew their Latin, knew their Greek, knew their English, knew that texts needed to be metered to be sung or chanted, and that they had to be easy on the ear so they could be more easily committed to memory.
I hope the King James Version is next to get Catholicized.
As a journalist who covers the Catholic Church, among the places I see the most life and vibrancy are those that have re-incorporated Protestant zeal — for the Bible, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit via the charismatic renewal — into the Church. When brought back into the fullness of the faith, these gifts that gained traction in the evangelical or charismatic world illuminate aspects of the faith that were always there but were neglected by modernism, formalism, post-Vatican II trendiness or whatever. Yes, the Traditional Latin Mass Catholic are often horrified by this stuff, but then I'm kind of horrified by their horror. While I respect TLM folks and the desire to keep alive tradition in the Church, I am not a traditionalist. I almost don't dare go now to a TLM in case I become one. (Just kidding. I will go and probably enjoy it.)
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