Thursday, 16 August 2007

Blessed be her glorious Assumption

Mass last night : Perosi's Missa Pontificalis II, Elgar's Ave Maria, a lovely hymn by Fr. Frederick Faber, Sing, sing, ye angel bands and Hail, holy Queen enthroned above. Lovely stuff. But. . .

To pick up on something Andrew mentioned in his post for the eve of this great Solemnity in the Church's calendar, the Assumption does, even to this day, seem to ruffle feathers amongst Anglicans, even those of the Catholic tradition. I shall have to be discreet in mentioning this, but a priest colleague of mine, celebrating a Prayer Book rite Mass yesterday morning, told me that he could not, in all conscience, keep the feast since those attending that particular Cranmerian offering would find it a step too far down the path towards Roman Catholicism. He proposed, instead, to celebrate a festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary (albeit in white vestments and with readings for the Assumption from the Roman Missal) and prefaced the Mass with an introduction about some legend about Mary's passage from death to life. It was, frankly, so vague, it rendered it pointless. Now, I understand that Anglican priests who wish to futher devotion to Our Lady often need to be delicate in their proclamation of the praises of Mary; watchful that devotions to the Blessed Virgin need always to be placed within their proper context in relation to the Blessed Trinity, but I wonder why they often seem to fall into an ecclesiological trap which has as its premise the assumption (no pun intended!) that the Church of England began at the Reformation? For many, like my priest colleague, it seems that the Church of England can only do and say what it has done and said in its official canons, liturgies and proclamations since the time of the Reformation. But surely this is a misnomer? The Church of England has always believed that it is rooted in that same Church founded by S. Augustine in the sixth century; a Church which is a true part of the universal One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Are her pre-Reformation beliefs and heritage to be forgotten? Is the honour due to Our Lady in ages past in this her ancient Dowry to be brushed aside and swept under the carpet? The Oxford Movement and the Catholic revival in places like Walsingham is evidence that it is not the case, but it is still the case for the majority of those within the Church of England and in many a parish of moderate, and even of not so moderate, Catholic leaning. I know, I know, people will cite the facts of the Reformation, etc., but we are a long way from that time now, theologically and liturgically, and for those priests who believe in the organic development of Catholic tradition in spirit and in truth, I only wish they would have the courage of their convictions to encourage their folk to appreciate the fullness of Marian thought and devotion in their parishes. Let's not leave celebrations in honour of Our Lady's Assumption, Immaculate Conception, Holy Name, Sorrows, and all other fruitful aspects of her life to the 'shrine churches' of Anglo-Catholicism. A proper restoration and celebration of full Marian devotion in the life of all of the Church of England's Catholic parishes will not only help us to recover our sense of the domesticity of the Church as a family, but will enable us to appreciate fully all that we are called to be in this world and the next. So : 'Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating this feast in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for whose Assumption the angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God.'

Fr. Lee Kenyon