Friday, April 18, 2008

Catholics, music and the Pope

All year I've wanted to post something to the effect that while us Anglo-Catholics are emulating many of the best liturgical practices of the Roman Catholic Church, since Vatican II that liturgy has morphed (or even disappeared) from RCC parishes, at least in the US. (I've held off, hoping to have time to do more research, but that time hasn't materialized).

The incongruity -- of Anglo-Catholics being more “Catholic” in their worship than Roman Catholics -- hit me when visiting two of the oldest Christian churches in the Western United States. Over the past year or two, our family has been visiting as many of the 21 California missions as opportunity permits. These missions -- established from 1769 to 1823 -- were established (mainly) to bring Christianity to the natives of California.

On two occasions, we went to church services. At the Carmel Mission (established 1770) we attended morning mass, while at Mission San Antonio de Padua (est. 1771) we just missed services due to out-of-date information on their service times. At Carmel, they had a great choir and a wonderful organ, but the worship (from Today's Missal) was definitely a Rite II-style contemporary hymn approach. We didn't hear the service at Mission San Antonio, but given that they were putting away the amplifiers for the electric guitar, it seems reasonable to presume that it was praise-type music.

Of course, this week Pope Benedict XVI is visiting the East Coast, including celebrating two mega-Masses. In reading Hymnography Unbound, the bloggress noted how the Pontiff and his American bishops are trying to straddle various musical traditions within the American church.

This week, the story was updated by others who had more time to pursue the details. First, on Wednesday the Washington Post wrote about the musical tensions within the American RCC and how this week's masses fit into those tensions. Then on Thursday, GetReligion (Lutheran) bloggress Mollie Ziegler made sense of the Post article by providing context around all the existing tensions in the church.

I don't know that anyone knows how the revival of interest in traditional liturgy (and music) will play out in the RCC or in the American Anglican tradition. After all, the 19th century Oxford Movement was not anticipated before it happened.

However, what is clear is that the Catholic church (with 50 million American adult members) has a lot more room for specialized tastes than do the Anglican/Episcopal churches (with 3+ million). So in terms of sheer numbers, in the US there will always be a larger pool of Catholics interested in Gregorian chant (if not Wesleyan hymns) than there will be Anglicans or even Lutherans or Presbyterians.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

What is a church?

The continuing Anglicans of Virginia who formed CANA have won round #1 in their property fight. Certainly continuing Anglicans around North America are celebrating this victory, even if many rounds of appeals remain.

In reading the hometown news articles — in the Washington Post and Washington Times — I was struck by a fundamental question: what is a church? Here are some of the critical quotes from the latter story:
"We are obviously disappointed in yesterday's ruling," said a statement from Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori about the 83-page decision released late Thursday night.

The decision "plainly deprives the Episcopal Church and the Diocese, as well as all hierarchical churches, of their historic constitutional rights to structure their polity free from governmental interference," she said, "and thus violates the First Amendment and cannot be enforced."


Henry Burt, diocesan spokesman, suggested the ruling imperils religious freedom.

"At issue is the government"s ability to intrude into the freedom of the Episcopal Church and other churches to organize and govern themselves according to their faith and doctrine," he said.

In a letter to members of the diocese posted on, Virginia Bishop Peter Lee said the 11 churches are still "wrongfully occupying Episcopal Church property" but that "this was not a final decision and the court did not award any property or assets."

Doug Smith, executive director for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy in Richmond, called the judge's decision "chilling," adding leaders of other mainline denominations represented by his center are "gravely concerned."

"It seems that government is attempting to take over governance of the Episcopal Church," he said. "This preliminary ruling puts every hierarchical denomination on notice that a group of persons who no longer wish to be part of the particular denomination can now split off, form a new group, self-declare they are a branch of the original group and assert rights under law regardless of the denomination's own rules."
Of course, some of this is pure nonsense. The government is not “intruding” — it was, after all, TEC that asked the government to get involved in enforcing a property rights dispute. I’m a firm believer of freedom of religion, but the government retains a clear role in enforcing certain secular rules (such as who owns what property and who owns who what money).

But fundamentally, the TEC apologists make a claim that might be true in England, but not here. A state church is the norm in much of Europe, but a major motivation for the initial settlement of New England was religious freedom.

Also, the leadership of PECUSA is elected and not appointed — suggesting a bottom-up, American view of governance. If churches are voluntary associations of individuals, how does TEC assert a right to tell individual branches what to do — particularly since those branches provided the resources to create their branches?

Finally, the national church doesn’t legal title to the resources — the PECUSA model until recently was a confederation of bishoprics. In dioceses where the bishop holds the title to land, the legal options for the seceders are more difficult, but for much (most) of Protestant America, the individual parish is what a “church” is.