While this refers to the Latin (“old”) form of the Roman Catholic Mass, a lot of what the author says here can be seen to apply to the classical Anglican tradition of Common Prayer, as well, as I hope to show by some judicious “tweaking” of the linked article:
“First of all, the [classical liturgy] is simply more beautiful than the modern one: better vestments, more solemn songs, more reverence. Beauty is an attribute of God. If beauty decreases, it becomes more difficult to see God.”
The classical, traditional Anglican liturgy is beautiful, dignified, and reverent: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” could have been written with it in mind!
“Second, the [classical Prayer Book liturgy] provides a deeper sense of [Anglican] identity. [Public worship] in many parishes today has become too similar to [generic] Protestant celebrations. And if we wanted to be [generic] Protestants, we could easily convert.”
The liturgical movement has blurred distinctions between churches. The liturgy in many contemporary Episcopal churches, for instance, is (intentionally, on the part of the reformers) difficult to distinguish from a Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian one. Sameness, uniformity, is boring and dilutes the distinctiveness, energy, and integrity of authentic traditions.
“I would say that the [classical Prayer Book liturgy] is ‘rigid’ itself – and that’s a good thing. We, the younger generation, need some rigidity, surrounded as we are by weak systems of thought and ‘liquid societies.’ If we perceive the Mass as something rigid, uncompromising and rigorous, it can be attractive. If it is just something social, then we have better social places to go.”
This is an aspect which is often lost on proponents of “contemporary” liturgy, “contemporary” worship: if the Church is going to try to compete with secular culture on its own terms, it’s ultimately going to lose. As the author points out, if worship is “just something social, then we have better social places to go.” The Church is at its strongest when it is providing a credible alternative to secular, social norms and practices.
Praise choruses and praise bands may be attractive and interesting for a time, but over time, the reality is that few churches are going to be able to compete with the professional Christian bands… and let’s face it, most Christian bands, even professional ones, can’t produce output that is lyrically or musically on the level of secular ones.
If “Christian entertainment” is the focus of our “worship experience,” whether we call it that or not, then we are going to lose. On the other hand, liturgy that has stood the test of time for 450 years or more of glorifying God and edifying the human worship provides that aforementioned credible alternative! And if it’s demanding, all the better: we may not always be able to meet those demands, but they give us a goal to strive for.
Now, the Prayer Book tradition of Common Prayer doesn’t have the 1600-year-plus history of the Latin Mass, nor the claim of at one time being a universal liturgical language, this is true. But it combines many of the same features, as described above, with the virtue of being “understanded of the people” without the need to learn a completely different language.
Not always 100% understandable without effort, for speakers of contemporary English, but I am of the opinion that this is not only all right, but actually a plus. Latin liturgy is proof that being linguistically comprehensible is not the sine qua non of liturgy in the first place, and the fact that Caroline English requires a certain amount of attention, application, and focus for neophytes is actually, I believe, a good thing.
Despite the physical and intellectual laziness of a lot of folks these days, the human spirit tends to rise to challenges, and become bored and dissatisfied with things that are too easy. “What is cheaply got is found to be of nothing worth,” as the old saying goes. Besides, as indicated above, the classical liturgy is beautiful, dignified, and reverent – attributes important for worshiping God. Too-easy “accessibility” can become an excuse for, again, laziness: spiritual and well as intellectual.
Finally, to reference the article again, “If this doesn’t persuade you of the lasting value of the [classical Prayer Book liturgy], then how about this? Think of all the saints who were shaped by it throughout the centuries. If it produced them, it can’t be that bad, can it?”
Saints like Thomas Cranmer himself, Richard Hooker, William Laud, Nicholas Ferrar, George Herbert, John Donne, Edward Pusey, John Keble, and Michael Ramsey, among others… many others, known and unknown, honored and forgotten.
I am no longer officially a “young person.” Heck, I’m not even an honorary young person, these days! But I loved the traditional liturgy, the classical tradition of Common Prayer, when I discovered it at age 24, and I have loved it ever since, for all of the reasons above.
It will not, of course, appeal to everyone. But what it will do is form those who do respond to it in an unmatched tradition of what John Wesley called “solid, scriptural, rational piety.” That is something worth doing, I think.