By PETER By PETER F. ANSON
Looking Backwards VIII
THE music in the extreme Anglo" Catholic churches varied as much as the ceremonial. In some plainchant was the rule, in others one could listen to the florid masses of Gounod, Mozart, Beethoven or Schubert—on the great festivals with orchestral accompaniment. The psalms at Even. song —those at Matins were usually recited—were always sung to Gregorian tones, according to the Mechlin or Ratisbon versions, with loud rumbling harmonies on the organ. But the Cowley Fathers in their church at Oxford had already adopted the editions of the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society, and it was there that I first heard plainchant sung quietly and rhythmically by boys' voices—an absolute revelation of beauty.
Yet I confess there was something very invigorating in the lusty virile manner in which " Gregorians " were generally sung in most Anglo-Catholic churches. I have a sort of feeling that people would not dislike plainchant half so much 4 we could get back to the old Mechlin or Ratisbon versions—but this, I know, is sheer heresy! I would like to transport some of my Catholic friends to a Sunday morning Sung Eucharist at St. Matthew's, Westminster, about thirty-five years ago. Here the congregation used to be provided with books that contained the plainchant music in modern notation.' It may not have been very "correct" plainchant, but what fun it was singing it! It was the sort of music that one can still hear in out-of-the-way country parishes in France. The books contained many of the 17th century French tunes for the office hymns—tunes that go with a swing and which suggest baroque angels soaring up to heaven.
THE English Hymnal had been pub lished in 1906 and I well remember the sensation it caused. It was a marked improvement in every respect on the older _editions of Hymns Ancient and Modern and before long its bright green binding could be seen in many AngloCatholic churches, but in some dioceses it was banned by the bishops because it contained direct invocations of Our Lady and the saints. So an expurgated edition was brought out to pacify episcopal scruples about " Mariolatry." It is typical of Anglicanism that the " views " of the chief editor of the English Hymnal—the late Canon Percy Dearmer, should have undergone such a profotind change in twenty years that he felt obliged to revise many of the hymns in later editions — leaving out all references to the Virgin Birth of Our I.ord, the doctrine of Hell and much else besides.
The mention of Percy Dearmer reminds me that for at least one year I was a member of the congregation of St. Mary's, Primrose Hill, London, the church where he carried out the principles of ceremonial laid down in his now famous book The Parson's Hand book. Here the Sunday services were long and elaborate. The Book of Common Prayer was followed to the letter, but with the most ornate ceremonial, for every detail of which Percy Dearmer could produce some recognised Anglican authority. He could prove conclusively that the type of worship he had evolved was in no way illegal or contrary to the episcopal or Privy Council legislation. I was just a little weary of the exotic functions in most of the leading AngloCatholic churches in London and had already begun to have misgivings that they were based far more on the private judgment of the clergy—who seemed to have no real authority behind them for their borrowings from Rome, and their reckless tampering with the authorised liturgy of the Church of England.
IT was at St. Mary's, Primrose Hill, that
I first realised that the details of worship must be governed by authority, and that the only authority which could be accepted was that Church to which one belonged. The white-washed brick walls of St. Mary's—the stately, yet simple altar with its two candlesticks standing on the mensa and no 'lower vases, the reverently sung Mattins, the processional Litany, then Phe solemn dignified Choral Eucharist, the well-designed vestments, the exquisitely rendered plainchant, the generous but non-ceremonial use of inccnsc, the Prayer Book rite carried out with no interpolations or verbal additions —here was what seemed to be an almost perfect manifestation of Anglicanism at its very best. But it was not all mere ceremonial—there was the social message of almost every sermon—a Christianity that had some relation to everyday life, to the England of thirty or more years ago.
It is sometimes imagined that Anglicans are attracted to Catholicism by its services. For some of us it was Catholic services—at least those in Great Britain— which were one of the chief obstacles to our conversion. We got everything we wanted to satisfy our devotional needs so far as mere externals went. Before I made my submission to the Holy See in 1913 I had a fairly wide experience of Catholic churches in England and often went to Mass in them, especially on weekdays, being troubled with no scruples about committing an act of schism by patronising the " Italian Mission." I must confess that it was only in certain Benedictine Abbeys that I discovered any liturgical worship that compensated for what I could find in so many Anglo-Catholic parishes. I have been looking backwards long enough. You will be getting bored with these random memories of a middle-aged convert. So I will stop.