Sunday, 30 November 2008

Practical Liturgy – Worship and the Sacraments

Patrick Comerford

Our public worship and our Sacramental life are at the very heart of our understanding of both the Church and our ministry.

This understanding is underpinned and explicit in the Anglican formularies.

For examples, we can turn to the 39 Articles:

Article 19, “Of the Church,” tells us the Church is where the “Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments … duly administered.”

Article 24 – which, at first, looks as if it is about preaching in the common language of the people – also makes a clear, inseparable link between the ministry of word, or preaching, and sacramental ministry.

Article 25, “Of the Sacraments,” tells us that the Sacraments “are not only badges or tokens” of the Christian faith, but “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace and God’s will.”

This article says there are “two Sacraments ordained of Christ” – “Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.”

But there are also “five commonly called Sacraments,” which are “Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction.”

Article 26 makes it clear that the reception and effectiveness of the Sacraments do not depend on the worthiness of the ministers of the sacrament; rather, they depend instead on Christ’s ordinance and institution.

Article 27, “Of Baptism,” tells us that it is by Baptism that we are “grafted into the Church,” adopted by God as his own children.

Article 28, “Of the Lord’s Supper,” says the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is a sign of the love of Christians among one another, a “Sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death,” a “partaking of the Body of Christ,” and a “partaking of the Blood of Christ.”

Article 29, in a very mystical way, is accepting that the Church is the Real Body of Christ, the sacrament is the Mystical Body of Christ.

And Article 30 is also an encouragement to regular participation in the Holy Communion by all members of the Church.

So, of the 39 Articles, at least eight (19, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30) are specifically concerned with setting out for us as Anglicans the Sacramental foundations for the life of the Church.

The centrality of the Sacrament of Communion:

As the first of the General Directions for Public Worship in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 75), and as Bishop Harold Miller says, “The Holy Communion is the central act of worship in the church.” Bishop Miller says it is the most normative and complete act of Sunday worship.

The directions under the Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 18) say that in the Church of Ireland on Sundays and Principal Holy Days “it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and in each parish church or in a church within a parochial union or group of parishes.” General Direction 1 also says: “Holy Communion is to be celebrated on the principal days as set out in the Calendar and regularly on Sundays and festivals for which provision is made …”


We use different words to describe this “central act of worship in the church”. These words include:

● The Sacrament;

● The Mass;

● The Lord’s Supper;

● The Holy Communion;

● The Eucharist;

● The Great Thanksgiving;

● The Liturgy.

But can any one of these terms alone serve adequately enough to describe the Great Mystery of the Heavenly Banquet to which we are being invited and to which the whole of creation is invited?

An insight into what worship should be like:

Bishop Miller is quite right when he says: “The Holy Communion gives us a window into all that is most vital in our regular worship.” As we have it, this is not simply the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. It is a combination of both a Liturgy of the Word, a Prayer Service, and a Liturgy of the Sacrament.

Bishop Colin Buchanan has summarised it as “a Bible study, followed by a prayer meeting, followed by a meal.”

In Acts 2: 42, we find the following basic elements in the worship of the early Apostolic Church:

● The Apostles’ Teaching;

● The fellowship;

● The breaking of bread;

● The prayers.

The basic structure has five elements:

● The Gathering of God’s People;

● Proclaiming and receiving the word;

● The Prayers of the People;

● Celebrating at the Lord’s Table;

● Going out as God’s People.

Of course, to identify those five basic elements in the structure is not to give them equal weight or importance. They are not, and they are not of equal length either.

The central sections are:

● Proclaiming and receiving the word (Element 2);

● Celebrating at the Lord’s Table. (Element 4).

The priority given today to the prayers of the people (Element 3) – including the intercessions and thanksgivings, the Lord’s Prayer and Penitence (if they are not used in other places), perhaps the Prayer of Humble Access, and the Peace – is due to the fresh insights we have gained from the modern liturgical movement.

The two other elements – the first (The Gathering of God’s People) and the last (Going out as God’s People) – lead us into the other three, and then lead us out of them.

The Gathering of God’s People:

The Greek work εκκλεσια (ekklesia), which we translate as “Church,” refers to the gathering of the people, the call out of the world and into the assembly.

We are there first and foremost as the gathered or assembled church, believers. Others may be guests, and welcomed guests, but it is not a secular gathering, on the one hand, nor, on the other hand, is it a meeting for evangelism. The presumption first and foremost is that those present will be baptised believers.

We meet in his name, and we do as he commanded us.

We meet together not as a collection of neighbours, or even as a collection of individual Christians, but as the One Body of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit.

As we are told: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10: 24-25).

The liturgy is essentially what we do, what we do together – hence the description “Common Prayer”. It is not about common texts or common language, but what we do in common, what we do with one another.

When we gather, chattering and gossip are natural. But how do we move from that to being gathered as the worshipping assembly?

How you create this silence is important in gathering the assembly, in gathering the people together as the Church.

In the chapel in the Church Ireland Theological Institute, I have asked in the Chapel Handbook, that we should have silence once the candles are lit. In a parish setting, Bishop Miller, suggests, for example, giving out the notices five minutes before the liturgy begins so that people can then settle down and be prepared for being gathered together as the liturgical, celebrating, people.

The processional hymn too can have the same effect. If you use one it should not be announced as “We begin our worship with Hymn Number 857 …”

Once you have set out on that course of moving across the boundary from the secular to the sacred, from the temporal to the eternal, from the earthly to the heavenly, then you reverse it by not having a proper liturgical greeting.

The liturgical greetings can be: “The Lord be with you …,” but may vary: “Christ is Risen …” or “Grace, mercy and peace”, or even something else. But we chose one we then have to announce and explain first of all, so that the announcement and explanation become the call to worship, not the liturgical greeting.

Two points are worth emphasising:

1, The liturgical greeting is not the same as “Good Morning.”

2, The liturgical greeting establishes who is presiding, the presidency.

Perhaps the liturgical greeting can be followed by a sentence of scripture, reflecting the theme of the liturgy, the readings, or the season.

After the liturgical greeting, we can then have our welcome, which may include strangers and visitors (but with sensitivity), those who have come back. Then we can be confident who is being gathered; an introduction to the theme or topic lets us know as the gathered people what to expect.

This section of the liturgy also includes:

The Collect for Purity: this is of pre-Reformation origin, but was given prominence by Cranmer, and has become part of received and accepted Anglican tradition since 1549.

The Penitence: This is part of the tradition of Anglicanism, dating back to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. But in earlier Holy Communion services in the Church of Ireland it came at a later point, as a response to the Word of God and as preparation for the Holy Communion. Its optional use at that point remains, after the Word has been proclaimed, at the point when the catechumens were dismissed. But today we see it as preparation for the whole event.

The Gloria: In Holy Communion I, the Gloria comes at the end. Here is its more usual place in historical understanding of liturgy, and this is also a return to its place in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It is here as a reminder that we are here to praise God.

The Collect of the Day: the collect of the day sums up, collects us together at the end of this section, and links us into the next:

Proclaiming and receiving the word:

The proclaiming and receiving of the word is a two-way movement, and its normative components on Sundays are:

First Reading (usually Old Testament, but there are exceptions when it may be Acts);

1, Psalm

2, Second Reading (usually an Epistle reading, but there are exceptions when it may be Acts);

3, Canticle, Gradual hymn, Anthem, Alleluia, &c.

4, Gospel

5, Sermon

6, Creed

These provide us with some difficulties:

1, The reading of the Epistle and the Gospel are traditional, and deeply-etched in memories within the Church of Ireland. Why add an Old Testament reading? We forget that Cranmer’s model did not expect the Holy Communion service to be used without being preceded by Morning Prayer, which provided for an Old Testament reading.

2, People object to three readings and a Psalm and Gradual, complaining about length. But properly speaking, the liturgy must be both the full word and the full sacrament. Which part of the Bible is dispensable – the Old Testament, the Psalm? Which part of the Sacramental liturgy is dispensable – the taking, blessing, breaking or the giving?

Proclaiming the Word:

The readings are provided by the Lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary, with a thee-year cycle. This morning, the First Sunday of Advent, sees the beginning of Year B, and Year C begins next year on 29 November.

The readings can be found in the Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland Directory, on the Church of Ireland website, and each week in the Church of Ireland Gazette.

When we are proclaiming the word, we should use the lectern, use the Bible itself, not lectionaries, and never print outs. We should note the differences in introductions, acclamations or proclamations, and we should take care about who should read, and how they read.

The place of the sermon is important too. We have a breaking of the word – just as we have a breaking of the bread, and we have receiving too. It is important to take account of this two-way movement of proclaiming and receiving. The Creed is not a prayer, but a response to the Word, an affirmation that we are the gathered people of faith. At the Eucharist, we do not use the Apostle’s Creed. And while we do not always use the Nicene Creed on weekdays, we always use it on Sundays.

The Prayers of the People:

The rubrics for the intercessions are on page 206 (but see also pp 237-239). We should always include the name of the bishop of the diocese in the Sunday intercessions, every week, and I have to ask why we so often forget to give thanks for those who have gone before us in the faith.

We should remember these are the Prayers of the People, not of the clergy!! And we should remember that if they are too long, and include too much, they spoil the climax that should come in the great prayer that is the Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic offering.

The prayer then links us with the next stage.

This is the only place in Holy Communion 2 in the Book of Common Prayer where provision is made for the Prayer if Humble Access, but only in a very few limited circumstances. The Prayer of Humble Access was written by Cranmer, and some see it as pure Anglicanism. But it comes from pre-liturgy prayers of preparation used by the priest before the liturgy in pre-Reformation days, and was a private prayer. Some may question its use here after confession and absolution, but it is not penitential, it is intended as an exhortation to regular Communion. Personally, I use it at the fraction and before the invitation.

The Peace comes next. There were objections from some people in the pews to its introduction in the Church of Ireland. I still hear people say they feel that it is not very Anglican. But it predates the liturgical reforms that came with Vatican II and was introduced into Anglican liturgies first in 1948 in India, where it was adapted from the Syrian Orthodox liturgy.

We are being reconciled with God and with one another, so this is not any old peace. It is not the “peace man” of 1968. It is the peace of Christ, it is peace between each and every one of us, before we come to the altar – and there is a very good Gospel injunction for that.

The Offertory: How important is the offertory? There was a move to abolish the prayer: “Lord, yours is the greatness …” but it was left in the Book of Common Prayer as optional, and where it is printed causes confusion about where and to use it (p. 208). But the offertory is not primarily about the collection, it is first and foremost about the offering of ourselves and our labour through the work of human hands and the fruit of the earth.

With the offertory comes the preparation of the table. This can be done by laity, especially by children. So often I find not only that the altar has been prepared and laid out, and sometimes that even the bread and wine are already on the table before we even start. It is better to do all this – the preparation of the altar and bringing up the bread and wine – together at this stage. And the offering is best brought up through the people, rather than from a side credence table, or, even worse, placed on the altar before we even start.

Celebrating at the Lord’s Table:

I want to keep on pointing out, time and again, that there are four actions of Jesus at the Last Supper that are crucial to our celebrating the Lord’s Supper:

1, The taking of the bread and wine;

2, The blessing or giving thanks (hence the word Eucharist);

3, The Breaking of the Bread

4, The giving or reception of the Communion.

This “four-fold” action has been accepted generally, through the writings of the Anglican liturgist and monk, Dom Gregory Dix.

One action leads to the other: taking, giving thanks; breaking; and giving or distributing.

Others talk of a seven-fold movement:

1, Taking bread;

2, Giving thanks;

3, Breaking the bread;

4, Distributing;

5, Taking the cup;

6, Giving thanks;

7, Distributing.

1, Taking:

Sometimes we get this wrong in our churches. I dread finding the bread and wine already placed on the table/altar, and I’m not even happy with our practice here of placing it on the credence table.

How do we symbolise taking?

It may be enough simply to take them in your hands if they are already placed there, or have just been brought to you. But show you are doing this – this is not about elevation, it is an essential action in the Eucharist.

Only the bishop or priest may then say: “Christ our Passover …” (p. 208); it is part of the president’s role, and cannot be delegated to a deacon, server or reader.

Like the opening greeting at the beginning of the liturgy, these words tell us what we are about to do. We are about to celebrate the feast, and this is no longer bread and wine for secular use.

2, The Great Thanksgiving:

The meaning of the word Eucharist is Thanksgiving.

In the Book of Common Prayer, there are three Thanksgiving Prayers: 1 (p. 209); 2 (p. 212); and 3 (p. 216). If you think that’s too many or too confusing, as I’ve heard some people complain, compare these with the eight in the Church of England’s Common Worship.

The spirit of the three prayers is thanksgiving and communal; it is not supposed to be quiet or penitential, and it is never singular.

The appropriate posture is standing. We are all celebrating, and we are all standing. Do not change that by asking people to kneel, or asking them to kneel for the Sanctus. The only rubric for posture at the Holy Communion is to stand. And the normal place for presiding is behind the altar or table, with hands out-stretched throughout the prayer (see Harold Millar, p. 137).

Basic structure of Prayers 1 and 2:

1, The opening dialogue (including Sursum Corda, “Lift up your hearts”): This is the opening dialogue between the presider and the people. It is an introduction that leads into the thanksgiving.

2, The Preface, which may include a Proper Preface: This is an address to God the Father, it is prayer and not just narrative. There may be a particular one for the day or season (see pp 224-235). We thank God for the story of salvation.

3, The Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy …) and Benedictus qui venit: This is an ancient Christian hymn, dating to the first century, but with its roots in Isaiah 6: 3. The Benedictus qui venit comes from Matthew 21: 9. Note that Prayer 3 has the Sanctus in a different place, so that it is a climax.

4, The Institution narrative (“On the night …”): Some priests often emphasise these particular words by adopting a slower pace in saying the words, by an affected tone of reverence, and with genuflections. But is this the moment of consecration? No, it is one whole event, and one whole movement, and we should not indicate that one moment is more sacred that the others.

5, Anamnesis (recalling past event and making present today): This is not simply mental remembrance or recollection, like looking at a holiday snapshot. For Jews celebrating Passover involved making the moment of liberation real for them that night … it is not just a past event, but becomes a living reality. The crucifixion and resurrection are real events for me today, and so too is the Lord’s Supper. I do not just remember those events, I am there. How would you answer the question posed in that old American spiritual: “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?”

6, Acclamations: there are three sets of acclamations, three each for Prayer 1, 2, and 3. In 1, we remember, we celebrate, and we look forward (p. 210); these are addressed to God. In 2, Christ has died …, is risen …, … and will come again (p. 215); these are not addressed to anyone, they are simply acclamations. In 3: Dying, you destroyed …, Rising.., come again … (p. 217); these are addressed to Christ.

7, The Epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is called down, but on whom or on what? On us? On the elements? Or on the event?

8, Doxology (praise) and Amen.

Prayer 3 calls for much more engagement, involvement and interaction, and demands that the celebrant should be more encouraging. But so often this falls flat at the Great Amen, which should be rising crescendo rather than a repetitious full stop. !!! rather than …

We then return to common prayer.

Rite 2 had a different place for Lord’s Prayer, if it has not been used already at the end of the intercessions.

Fraction: We now have the breaking of the bread, which is not merely a function in the distribution (See Acts 2: 42). The fraction takes place here and not at the words of institution, where we recall in words what Christ did before we actually repeat the actions ourselves. The bread that we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ and makes us one body (see I Corinthians 10: 16-17).

Action 4: The Communion:

Giving and receiving are important throughout. We proclaim and receive Christ in the word, and we give and receive Christ under the elements of bread and wine. All should receive, just as all should hear the word. There should be no Christian spectators at the Eucharist. We are all one body, and Christ’s body was broken enough on the cross; he is risen, and we should not be a broken body at the Eucharist. All should, indeed all must, receive.

The words we use at the distribution should be noted. There is choice, but that choice should be made by the presiding minister, and should be followed by anyone else involved in the distribution – they should never fall back on their own personal preferences. And whichever words are used, the response is always: Amen. In the chapel here I have actually heard both “Thanks” and (on one occasion, I jest not) “Cheers.”

Following the invitation, do you think that at the distribution people should stand or kneel? Our communion rails make it difficult for people to do anything other than kneel, and most people feel kneeling is a sign of reverence. We have a lot of teaching to do here. Standing is the appropriate posture for celebrating, and should be the appropriate posture here, as we are still in the act of celebration.

Going out as God’s People

The Great Silence should be silence. It should not be interrupted by the clatter and din of ablutions.

We should use the appropriate Post-Communion Prayer, just as we would never think of dispensing with the Collect of the Day.

The Blessing may be preceded or followed by a post-Communion or recessional hymn.

The Dismissal is the dismissal, the end. Let the people go. It is inappropriate to dismiss the people before the blessing, or after dismissing them to ask them to stay back for yet another hymn.

Summary and Conclusions:

The Sacramental life of the Church cannot be separated from the worshipping life of the Church. But the flipside of that is that the worshipping life of the Church should not be separated form its sacramental life. Worship and Sacraments are inseparable

The Church does not make the sacraments, the sacraments, more particularly the Eucharist, make the Church. The Church is the real body of Christ; the Sacrament is the mystical body of Christ. We cannot separate either. Nor should we separate the liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes for a lecture to Year I students on the NSM (Non-Stipendiary Ministry) course on Sunday 30 November 2008.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Anglo-Catholic Movement: more relevant today than ever?

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin: marking the 175th anniversary of the Oxford Movement

Patrick Comerford


One of the early historians of the Oxford Movement, S.L. Ollard, describes the story of the Oxford Movement as one that captures “every sort of interest”: “It is exciting, romantic, chivalrous, like the story of a crusade. It has its humour as well as its tragedy. And the actors in it were among the most spiritual men who have ever lived …” He includes “poets like Keble, Newman, Isaac Williams, and Faber; men of letters like Newman and Dean Church; preachers whose sermons are read today, divines and theologians whose fame will last as long as Christianity endures. So that a more interesting subject hardly exists in the whole of Church history.”

However, this evening I want to move away from the language of romance and chivalry, and certainly to distance myself from drawing parallels with the crusade. Without giving a history of the Oxford Movement or of Anglo-Catholicism, I want to attempt to make an honest assessment of the Oxford Movement, whose 175th anniversary we are celebrating, and more particularly of Anglo-Catholicism. In particular, I would like to look at their impact on the Church of Ireland, more generally at the legacy they have left the wider Anglican family, and to ask what is the relevance of both in our lives today.

I would like to avoid being too limited by definitions and terminology and to accept from the beginning that there is a continuum, a living thread, an unbroken chain, that links Hooker with the Caroline Divine, the Nonjurors, the High Church tradition that became distinct in the reign of Queen Anne and the Hanoverian Georges, the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, and for the entire Catholic Revival in the Anglican Communion in the 19th century and even after that, including especially the Anglo-Catholic movement.

The Oxford Movement changed not just the Church of England, and also the Church of Ireland, but the wider Church. For the Oxford Movement was a movement of Christian renewal – theological, liturgical, pastoral, and spiritual – and it was missionary in nature, demanding conviction and courage and exerting an influence on the whole Church.

Anniversaries and commemorations

There’s an Irish and an Anglican propensity to indulge ourselves in commemorating anniversaries. In the past few months, in very appropriate ways, we have been commemorating the ninetieth anniversary of the end of World War I, the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. At the other end of the scale, on one forum, in recent weeks, there’s been a discussion about how to mark the forty-fifth anniversary of Dr Who and the Tardis.

But what are the appropriate multipliers that make an anniversary worth commemorating? Do they always have to end in zero or five? Why do 90 and 70 appear to be fine, but 45 has an air of frivolity to it?

We commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Oxford Movement in 1938, and the 150th anniversary in 1988. The Centenary Congress in 1933 heard two papers on “The Next Hundred Years,” one from the Revd Dr N.P. Williams of Christ Church, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford, the other from the Revd Dr David Rosenthal, Vicar of Saint Agatha’s in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, wondering what the next 100 years would hold for the Oxford Movement. Well, 75 of those years have passed. So, why are we bothering to mark the 175th anniversary in 2008? Have we made any progress over those years? Is there anything to look forward to for their heirs of the Oxford Movement over the next quarter century, never mind the next century?

I associate anniversaries with recalling the memory of the dead, rather than giving fresh impetus and new life to the living. I certainly felt that many of the television and magazine features on the 40th anniversary of the events of 1968 made me realise how much we had discarded the values and hopes of that year of protests … we had packed them away up into the attic along with flared trousers, flowery shirts and our vinyl copies of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the year before.

So is there life in the spirit and values of the Oxford Movement that is still relevant to us today? Is there something more than heritage to take out and dust down this evening? Is there a common thread that has continuity over the past 175 years that not only gives us hope and inspiration but that also offers us challenges?

This evening, I think it is important to begin by dispelling a few misconceptions: firstly, that the Oxford Movement had little to do with the Church of Ireland and that it had little impact on the Church of Ireland; and secondly that the Oxford Movement was all about smells and bells – that it was some sort of frivolous Tardis, that was all about appearances but with little relevance to life on this planet.

I would like then to look at some of the achievements of the Tractarians and their heirs in the Anglo-Catholic Movement, to ask about the impact and relevance of those achievements; and then to develop some ideas about the relevance in general of that movement today, especially for Anglicans and for us in the Church of Ireland.

This evening, I want in particular to discuss five ways in which the Oxford Movement changed Anglicanism:

1. This movement renewed Anglicanism so that we are not only the heirs of the reformation, but the repository and guardians of Catholic order, sacraments and doctrine.

2. This movement brought about a renewal in liturgy, worship and sacramental theology in the Anglican Church. The Oxford Movement taught the Anglican Church as a whole to be more Eucharistic in worship.

3. This movement was, essentially, a renewal of our understandings of spirituality and personal holiness, involving a renewed self-sacrificing ideal of priesthood and pastoral ministry, resulting in new lay organisations, and new ways of engaging with devotion, service and missionary outreach.

4. With this movement, we experienced a revival of the religious life, including monks and nuns, friars and sisters.

5. Finally, as Father Steven Salmon has argued in a recent paper, at the heart of the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism is the conviction that the Church should be fun! God is good, and he loves us. If the world is to be reached with the Gospel it badly needs Christians who can laugh at ourselves, show confidence in ourselves and in God, and know that it is always his mission we are involved in, not our own.

The Oxford Movement, Ireland and the Church of Ireland

The assumption that the Church of Ireland was almost devoid of a high church element and that it was unreservedly hostile to Tractarian claims has been questioned by historians such as Peter Nockles. He has shown clearly that there was an influential High Church tradition within the Church of Ireland that looked to English Tractarians for support in the 1830s and the 1840s.

And so the first myth I want to dispel is the one that the Oxford Movement and later Anglo-Catholicism had little to do with the Church of Ireland.

I am sure we are all aware of the claims that even before John Keble’s Assize Sermon in Oxford in 1833, there were leading High Church figures in the Church of Ireland, including bishops such as John Jebb of Limerick, and leading members of the laity such as Alexander Knox who were precursors of the Oxford Movement.

But it was events affecting the life of the Church of Ireland that provided the immediate impetus for the Oxford Movement. The Erastian reforms introduced by the Whigs in the early 1830s questioned the very raison d’être of the Church of Ireland. The objections to the decision by the government to reduce by ten the number of Episcopal sees in the Church of Ireland following the 1832 Reform Act were founded not on ignoring the fact that structures of the Church of Ireland needed to be reformed, but that they were being introduced for reasons of fiscal probity as much as for structural reform, and because the state saw the Church as merely one other department of government.

Tractarian rhetoric stressing apostolic descent and continuity was echoed by High Church figures in Ireland in their concern to demonstrate that they belonged to a Church that was not a creature of the state and was no mere Protestant sect. But, while they held many theological and spiritual ideals in common with the early Tractarians, they nevertheless guarded their independence.

And so, because of key events in the Church of Ireland, the Oxford Movement is traced to the Assize Sermon in Oxford 175 years ago in 1833, when John Keble condemned these proposals as “national apostasy.” As Peter Kerr says, “the ‘spoilation’ of the Irish Church in 1833 provided the initial rallying cry for the Oxford Movement.” In the decades that followed, the movement’s leaders went on to attack liberalism in theology, but they also revived a scholarly interest in Christian origins and in the Fathers of the Early Church (patristics), which led them to reconsider the relationship of the Church of England with the wider Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, John Henry Newman, took his own arguments further than he expected, and became a Roman Catholic in 1845. He was followed later by other Tractarians and their supporters, including G.K. Chesterton, who, like Newman, would spend a lot of time later in Dublin and with him was closely associated with the establishment of what has since become University College Dublin and the National University of Ireland.

Rooted in the Church of Ireland

As Peter Kerr points out, it can be argued that Tractarianism “was not something which Newman, [Richard Hurrell] Froude and Pusey attempted to graft on to the Church of England and Ireland, but was indeed the flowering of a deeply rooted tradition within classical Anglicanism.” The deep roots of that tradition were firmly planted in the Caroline Church of Ireland by bishops such as Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) and Archbishop John Bramhall (1594-1663)

Kerr states that “neither Tractarian spirituality, theology nor its later liturgical innovations ever really took any serious hold.” But is difficult to move from this overstatement of an observation to claim, as Peter Kerr does, that “Tractarian principles were more generally rejected” by the Church of Ireland. Nor can it be said with any conviction that the impact of the Oxford Movement and later Anglo-Catholicism on the Church of Ireland was confined to those with an eclectic interest in liturgy and architecture or to a handful of churches in Dublin, including Saint Bartholomew’s, Saint John the Evangelist in Sandymount, and All Saints’, Grangegorman, and a limited number of churches outside Dublin, such as Saint George’s in Belfast.

But in the first half of the 19th century, this movement was already having its impact on the Church of Ireland, even among the bishops. Indeed, I would argue that at disestablishment it was because of the High Church party that our liturgy, our ecclesiology and our social witness were saved for the Church of Ireland.

Three examples from the bench of bishops in the 19th century are worth citing as I attempt to introduce this argument: Richard Mant, Richard Trench and William Alexander.

Richard Mant (1776-1848) was Bishop of Down and Connor (1823-1848, Dromore was added in 1842) during the rise of the Oxford Movement, and he constantly asserted his anti-Tractarian and pro-Protestant principles publishing a critique of several of the Tracts in 1842. Yet Mant was unequivocal about his High Church allegiance. In his Bampton Lectures in Oxford in 1812, he argued that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration was both scripturally based and crucial to the Church’s teaching, and later he was sympathetic to the emphases of the second generation Tractarians, and did not disguise his tolerance for much of what the Oxford Movement stood for. He later argued that episcopacy was the lynchpin of his ecclesiology, concurring with Ignatius that “without the bishop nothing should be done in the Church.”

He took a sharp and critical interest in liturgy in his dioceses, taking issue with infrequent communion, extemporaneous prayer, private baptisms and sloppy baptisms. This led him to issue detailed regulations and instructions to his clergy. And his interest in church architecture and hymn writing eventually set him in Tractarian High Church tradition. He was a patron of the Cambridge Camden Society, also known as the Ecclesiological Society, founded in 1839 by John Mason Neale and others with the Tractarian objective of returning the Church to the “Catholick” religious splendour it saw in the Middle Ages. The society has been closely identified with the work of A.W. Pugin, but more particularly with the work of William Butterfield (1814-1900), who designed both the chapel of Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham (1880), and the chapel of Keble College, Oxford (1876), as well as All Saints’, Margaret Street, London (1859) and Saint Mark’s, Dundela (1899). In his own dioceses, Mant organised a society with similar objectives, the Church Architecture Society.

Mant’s successor, Robert Bent Knox (1808-1893), later Archbishop of Armagh (1885-1893), was tolerant of ritual innovation, condemned as narrow-minded those who complained about ritualism in Dublin churches, and dissented from a judgment against the erection of a cross here in Saint Bartholomew’s.

William Alexander came under the spell of Newman while he was an undergraduate at Oxford, and it is said he almost followed Newman to Rome. It was Alexander who famously recalled how after the passage of disestablishment, how he “reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building.” The day disestablishment came into force, his wife, Cecil Francis Alexander, caught the mood of despair and disdain in the church in lines sung in her husband’s cathedral:

“Look down, Lord of heaven, on our desolation! Fallen, fallen, fallen, is now our Country’s crown. Dimly dawns the New Year on a churchless nation, Ammon and Amalek tread our borders down.”

As Nockles has pointed out, Disestablishment paved the way not for a high church “restoration” on the Caroline model, as Irish high Church leaders hoped and as early Tractarian rhetoric assumed, but for the completion of an evangelical ascendancy rooted in the Irish Articles of 1615 and the church of James Ussher.

After Disestablishment, Alexander demonstrated his definite Catholic preferences in the controversy over the proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer. He sided with Archbishop Trench against those who wanted a Protestant purge of the Book of Common Prayer. In opposing those proposals, he stressed the authority of the unchanging inheritance of the Christian tradition, “the dogmatic faith from which the Christian Church had for ages looked upon whole generations passing away.” He was particularly grieved by the canon that forbade placing a cross on the altar.

Although he was in great demand as a preacher in Oxford, Cambridge, and cathedrals throughout the Church of England, Alexander was rarely invited to preach because, his daughter believed, of fear of what he might say as a “High Churchman.” In 1895, he was forced to concede to opposition and withdrew an invitation to the great Irish-born Anglo-Catholic slum priest, Father Dolling, to speak at a Church congress in Derry.

Yet, his Tractarian sympathies were not enough to prevent him from being chosen as Archbishop of Armagh a year later in 1896, and throughout their lives, both the Primate and his wife kept in constant touch through letters and through visits with Keble, Pusey, Manning and Samuel Wilberforce.

But even before Alexander, Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886), Archbishop of Dublin (1864-1886) at the time of Disestablishment and known to his detractors as “Puseyite Trench,” is the nearest the Church of Ireland had to a Tractarian bishop.

With Disestablishment, Trench told Archbishop Tait of Canterbury that he feared the “very worst for the future” and a “very dismal catastrophe” for the Church of Ireland. In his first charge to his diocese after disestablishment, Trench expressed fears that the Church of Ireland would cut itself off from other Anglican churches, casting itself off from the rest of Catholic Christendom and splitting “first into two or three, and then probably into a thousand fragments.”

Trench wished to avoid a revision of the Book of Common Prayer, which was proposed with the intent of removing portions used by High Church clergy to justify their ritual practices and of removing other portions seen as obstacles to Protestant non-conformists, such as Presbyterians or Methodists, joining the Church of Ireland. In 1874, Plunket proposed removing the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed, recognising liberty in the understanding of baptism, particularly in regard to baptismal regeneration, and rubrics forbidding eucharistic adoration, omitting the ornaments rubric, enjoining celebration at the north end, and prohibiting bowing or making the sign of the cross. In addition, he sought safeguards against the introduction of the confessional and wanted to omit the sentence in the ordinal conveying authority to forgive sins.

Trench feared that if the demands for revision succeeded, the Church of Ireland could cut itself off from its own history and from other members of the Anglican Communion, and he feared that Church of Ireland might “turn out after all to be no Church, but only a Protestant sect.”

Some clergy refused to accept any revision of the Book of Common Prayer, including William Lee, Archdeacon of Dublin, and William Maturin of Grangegorman. Lee, who refused to recognise the authority of the general synod, appealed for help in England to build a new church in Dublin where only the unrevised Book of Common Prayer would be used, and he received support from Pusey and Liddon.

In the end, due to the efforts of Trench and Alexander, few significant changes were made to the Book of Common Prayer, although a new preface and a number of new prayers and thanksgivings were placed in the new edition, more flexibility was permitted in the use of the liturgy, and a new hymnal and new lectionary were approved. The fears that the Church of Ireland would sever itself from the rest of the Anglican Communion were not realised, but new canons were introduced in 1871, forbidding the use of vestments (Canon 4), instructing the celebration of the Holy Communion from the north side (Canon 5), forbidding the use of lamps or candles except when needed for light (Canon 35), forbidding the placing of a cross on or behind the communion table (Canon 36), and prohibiting the use of the mixed chalice (Canon 37).

But this debate and controversy strengthened High Church opinion within the Church unexpectedly, so that the evangelical or Protestant majority came to recognise there was another view besides its own in the Church, and the debate forced most members to examine the principles and doctrines of their Church and to affirm them.

Constitutional links

Side-by-side with the debate over liturgy and the prayer book was the debate over the constitution of the Church of Ireland. Many see the constitution as it was adopted as a victory for the more Protestant constituencies in the Church, with major concessions by the High Church, Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic constituency. But I venture to disagree. And I’ll tell you why.

The ethos of American Episcopalianism was shaped and formed by the Scottish Episcopal Church, a Nonjuring Church that was Catholic in its tradition and in its liturgy throughout the centuries.

The constitution of the Episcopal Church inspired Bishop George Selwyn (1809-1878) when he drafted the constitution of the newly autonomous Anglican Church in New Zealand between 1854 and 1859, providing for governance through a general synod made up of bishops, priests and representatives of the laity. When Selwyn returned to England in 1868 as Bishop of Lichfield, he called a diocesan synod, the first of its kind in the Church of England

Meanwhile, a year before disestablishment, William Sherlock, curate of Bray, Co Wicklow and later Archdeacon of Kildare, published a pamphlet – The Constitution of the Church in the United States of America, in Canada, and in New Zealand – sketching the constitutions of other non-established churches in the Anglican Communion, and making suggestions for future arrangements for the Church of Ireland. Sherlock’s pamphlet was heavily influenced at a personal level by Selwyn, who read the proofs in Lichfield and added his own comments.

Liturgical controversies

I also wanted to challenge the myth that Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic liturgical influences were confined to Saint Bartholomew’s and to Saint John the Evangelist in Sandymount. Bence-Jones told Archbishop Tait of Canterbury that there were only two ritualists in all of Ireland, but both before and after Disestablishment, there were liturgical controversies in three Dublin churches – Saint Bride’s, Saint Bartholomew’s, and All Saints’, Grangegorman.

In his 1866 charge, Trench condemned the disturbances at Saint Bride’s and praised the work being carried out at All Saints’. At Saint Bride’s, William Carroll had introduced a choral service. In regard to Saint Bartholomew’s, the complaints amounted to no more than objections to “coloured cloth” in front of the altar, flowers on the altar, and a ledge at the back which was described as “a super altar.” William Maturin, the Tractarian incumbent of All Saints’, was charged in the archbishop’s court in 1872 with saying public prayers with his back to the congregation, with intoning the liturgy, with bowing to the altar, and with having “an embroidered lace and striped cloth on the table.”

In addition, following the publication of a booklet of short prayers by the Revd G.R. Portal, and their use by one of Lee’s curates in Saint Stephen’s, Dublin, Lewen Burton Weldon, in 1870, a protest to Trench was signed by 82 clergy, and 78 regretted his refusal to condemn Portal’s book.

Key figures later

Apart from the High Church, Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic figures at home here in Ireland, Irish priests from this stream made an impact on Anglicanism in both England and Scotland. I think, in particular, of Father Robert Dolling, Bishop John Dowden, Bishop Henry Montgomery, and Archdeacon George Carleton; and we should not forget the Irish influences on and the primarily Irish identity of both Dean Richard Church and Bishop Charles Gore.

Robert William Radclyffe Dolling (1851–1902), of Saint Agatha’s, Landport, known to all as Father Dolling, is often described as English, perhaps because he was educated at Harrow and Cambridge. But he was born at Magheralin, Co Down, and for a time had links with All Saints’, Grangegorman.

He is known for the sanctions and prohibitions he incurred from Randall Davidson for his liturgies. But this Anglo-Catholic Irishman was the quintessential East End slum priest, heading up Saint Martin’s mission in Stepney, and working with the Winchester Mission in the slums of Portsmouth before moving to Saint Saviour’s in Poplar. Alexander was thwarted in his plans to invite Dolling to speak in Derry diocese in 1895.

John Dowden (1840-1910), the Church historian and Bishop of Edinburgh (1886-1910), was born in Cork, educated at TCD and ordained in the Church of Ireland, but is yet another Anglo-Catholic who found his career outside the Church of Ireland. He succeeded Weldon as curate at Saint Stephen’s (1873-1874), but moved to Scotland in 1874. He returned to Ireland regularly, as Donnellan Lecturer (1884) and Select Preacher in TCD (1886, 1894, 1895), but is best remembered for two major contributions to Scottish church history: Mediaeval church in Scotland: its constitution, organisation and law (1910) and Bishops of Scotland: being notes on the lives of all the bishops, under each of the sees, prior to the Reformation (1912), both published posthumously but laying the foundations for mediaeval Scottish church history.

Archdeacon George Carleton (1877-ca 1961), from Dublin, was educated at Benson’s school in Rathmines and at TCD, where he was auditor of the College Theological Society. An early tutor at Kelham Theological College (1902-1914), Carelton was involved in a dispute that almost split the Kelham community. As a missionary in South Africa (1915-1923), he was Warden of Modderpoort Theological College (1918-1923) and Archdeacon of Modderpoort (1922-1923). After leaving the Kelham Fathers, he played a key role in organising the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress and for a year worked as the Anglo-Catholic Congress Missioner (1923-1924), when he published The King’s Highway: a simple statement of Catholic belief and duty (1924, republished in 1973 by Canterbury press in the series of Classics of Anglo-Catholic Devotion), before working briefly for SPG (1925) and then going into parish ministry in the Diocese of London (1926-1948).

Richard Church (1815-1890), Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, historian of the Oxford Movement and an intimate friend of Newman, was the son of a Cork merchant, Christopher Church, and a nephew of the leading Irish Philhellene, Sir Richard Church, after whom he was named.

And Charles Gore (1853-1932), the leading intellectual light in the second generation of Anglo-Catholics, was proud to point out to visitors to Westminster Abbey a memorial to an ancestor, one of the Earls of Kerry, on which the highlighted words were “hang all the law and the prophets.” Gore is often overlooked as being another son of the Church of Ireland: his parents were both Irish-born, and his father was born in the Vice-Regal Lodge, which is now Arus an Uachtarain.

I hope come to Montgomery in a moment. But when it comes to naming key Irish figures within the Anglo-Catholic tradition in England, how could I avoid mentioning Dolling’s friend George Tyrrell (1861-1901), the modernist who was forced to leave the Jesuits, but who was a child of All Saints’, Grangegorman, where he had been nurtured in the Anglo-Catholic tradition? He converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of 18 through the influences of Newman.

The legacy of a movement

If we are to catalogue or identify the achievements of the Oxford Movement and the Anglo-Catholic Movement over the past 175 years, then we find their relevance and their legacy in what have bequeathed to Anglicanism in liturgy, hymnody, education, mission, the very formation of the Anglican Communion itself, and the reawakening of Anglican social conscience:

Reshaping the Liturgy

Perhaps the most visible and controversial contribution by Anglo-Catholicism over the years has been the reshaping of Anglican liturgy, and this reshaping of the liturgy brought with it a renewal in church decoration, spirituality and other aspects of Anglican life.

The Oxford Movement and the later Anglo-Catholics brought about a renewal in liturgy and worship in Anglicanism, with a renewal of the importance of the sacraments, and a renewed beauty and renewed sense of God’s mystery in worship. With that came renewal in church music, architecture and art, and in time this movement also taught the Anglicanism as a whole – including Evangelicals – to be more Eucharistic in worship.

One approach to this renewal came from Prayer-Book Catholicism, which tried cultivate an “Olde English” style of worship as it tried to demonstrate that Catholic worship was entirely compatible with loyal conformity to the Book of Common Prayer. “Prayer Book Catholics” tried to reconstruct late mediaeval English (or “Sarum”) ceremonial, vestments, and church decoration, strictly following the Book of Common Prayer, with congregational singing of English plainsong Mass settings, and the clergy wearing full-cut gothic vestments or long, flowing surplices.

The Missal Tradition emerged in the early 20th century, when many Catholic-minded Anglicans were tempted to “go over” to Rome, and many priests cited pastoral reasons for trying to demonstrate that that everything Rome had to offer could be found within Anglicanism. They replaced the neo-gothic with baroque and rococo altars and church furnishings, used the Anglican Missal instead of the Book of Common Prayer, and wore Roman-style vestments such as “fiddleback” chasubles, birettas, and short cottas richly trimmed with lace, as well as introducing popular devotions such as the Rosary and Benediction.

From the 1930s on, a third approach, “the Parish Communion Movement,” or “the Liturgical Movement,” gained influence. Reaching back beyond both the Book of Common Prayer and the Missal, this movement sought out the liturgical ethos and practices of early Christianity. They argued that earlier Anglo-Catholics had reduced the congregation to the role of passive spectators, and so they tried to increase lay participation in worship, celebrated facing the people, introduced congregational (as opposed to choral) singing of the Mass, simplified ceremonial, and revised liturgies to bring them more into line with ancient Christian patterns.

It is this third phase that has made Anglo-Catholicism’s greatest contribution to Anglican liturgy today. Many of the goals of the Liturgical Movement were achieved in the liturgical revisions of recent decades, including the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, the 1980 Alternative Service Book in the Church of England, and, in the Church of Ireland, the Alternative Prayer Book in 1984. Indeed, virtually everything the Liturgical Movement advocated can be found in the 2004 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland.

Nevertheless, there are some critics who would say the new ways have tended to focus the congregation’s attention on itself, making the liturgy more of a human-centred “celebration of community” than a God-directed offering of worship.

We should never forget that this contribution to the wider church came at a price. At an early stage, priests who were regarded as ritualists were suspended, dismissed, assaulted and even jailed for practices that are now the norm, including the use of lighted altar candles. Eventually even a bishop – Edward King of Lincoln – found himself in court defending his practice of the Catholic faith and his efforts to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.


O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!

From the Wesley brothers to Graham Kendrick, the impression is often given that hymn-writing and hymn-singing is the preserve of evangelicals. Yet the greatest treasury of Anglican hymnody must be the one stacked high with the works of the Tractarians and Anglo-Catholics, including John Henry Newman, John Keble, John Mason Neale and Percy Dearmer.

Just think of how many of our evangelical sisters and brothers are happy to sing: Praise to the holiest in the height (Newman, Irish Church Hymnal, 108), despite its suggestion that there is “a higher gift than grace”; Firmly I believe and truly (Newman, ICH, 320), as they repeat “I hold in veneration … holy Church as his creation, and her teaching as his own”; or Lead kindly light (Newman, ICH, 653), written just a month before Newman heard Keble preach his Assize Sermon 175 years ago, with its hope of seeing “those angel faces”? But then, of course, long before the Tractarians, Richard Baxter (1615-1691) had written Ye holy angels bright (ICH, 376), with its invocation of both the “holy angels bright” and “the blessed souls at rest.” And Baxter was a Puritan who eventually resigned his Anglican orders to become a Nonconformist minister!

We have four hymns by Keble in the hymnal: New every morning (ICH, 59), whose tune, Melcombe by Samuel Webbe, originally bore the heading, “At Exposition, Elevation or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament”; Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear (ICH, 72), Blessed are the pure in heart (ICH, 630), with its subtle Marian undertones; and Hail gladdening light (ICH, 699).

And we have 24 hymns by John Mason Neale – twice as many as the hymns by Graham Kendrick. Neale, who was a leading light in the Cambridge Camden Society, was suspended by his bishop for 14 years for his “ritualism” and used that time to make some of the finest hymns of the Orthodox Church and of Thomas Aquinas accessible to the English-speaking parts of the Church.

It will be impossible for any of us to organise a carol service during Advent or Christmastide without including hymns by Neale. And it might be difficult too to avoid some of the well-loved carols from a Church of Ireland hymn-writer in the Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic tradition, Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895).

Her religious work was strongly influenced by her contacts with the Oxford Movement. Those who were particularly influential included Dean Hook of Chichester, who later edited her Verses for Holy Seasons (1846), and John Keble, who edited one of her anthologies, Hymns for Little Children (1848). The Church of Ireland once carefully edited her Once in royal David’s city, changing her words “lowly maiden” to “lowly mother” for fear of implying Mary’s perpetual virginity. But have returned to the original phrasing in the current edition of Irish Church Hymnal (177).

She was a contemporary of John Monsell (1811-1875), best remembered as the author of O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (ICH 196), written in 1861, which might possibly be the contender for the anthem of Anglo-Catholicism. Monsell, who began his ministry as chaplain to Bishop Richard Mant, was a brother-in-law of brother of Mother Harriet Monsell (see below) and a first cousin of William Monsell (1812-1898), Lord Emly, one of the founders of Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham (see below).

I cannot understate the Anglo-Catholic contribution to Anglican hymnody, which owes so much to Percy Dearmer (1867-1936), who collaborated with Ralph Vaughan Williams in editing the English Hymnal (1906, 1933), as well as editing the Oxford Book of Carols (1928) and Songs of Praise (1925, 1931) – Songs of Praise, the very name of that book tells us of the lasting contribution of the Anglo-Catholic movement to hymn-singing throughout the English-speaking world.

But the Anglo-Catholic contribution to our hymnody and our choral heritage goes beyond the words of the hymns, for it also includes the music, with much loved tunes such as Cuddesdon (693), used for Glory in the highest (ICH, 693), but written for At the name of Jesus, and Wolvercote, written for O Jesus, I have promised (ICH, 593), both by W.H. Ferguson (1874-1950), who was an ordinand at Cuddesdon, and Coe Fen, written by Kenneth Naylor (1931-1991) for How shall I sing that majesty (ICH 468).


Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, was founded in 1843 by Lord Emly, Lord Adare (later Lord Dunraven) and the Revd Dr William Sewell with the intention of training Irish-speaking missionaries within the Tractarian tradition. When, through the influence of Newman, both Dunraven and Emly became Roman Catholics but Sewell remained an Anglican, he was dubbed “little pig” in Latin, a pun on his name, because “he refused to go the full hog.”

The Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic influence was, of course, particularly notable in Trinity College Dublin, which, according to Herring, counted nine Tractarian clergy among its graduates up to 1835, and at least 43 in the period 1836-1870. In addition, Trinity developed its own missionary society with Anglo-Catholic leanings with the formation of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission in 1890.

Canon John Charles Forrester from Cork was a missionary with the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur (1907-1920) before coming back to Ireland as Warden of the Divinity Hostel (1922-1927). His successor, Canon William Vandeleur (1875-1965), was an SPG missionary in Southern Africa (1902-1909), secretary of DUMCN (1915-1924) and a short-term DUMCN missionary (1916), before becoming warden of the Divinity Hostel (1928-1934).

Mission and the Anglo-Catholics

As Sykes and Gilley say, the Anglican Communion as we know it today exists primarily because of the missionary impulses that can be traced to the Oxford Movement. They trace this back to the understanding of the episcopate that was pioneered by the Oxford Movement in 1830s, and the massive reinforcement the Tractarian Movement gave to the existence of the episcopate beyond the boundaries of the Church of England.

In particular, they note the high impact the Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic movements had on Anglicanism in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada – places where Irish High Church, Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic missionaries were most active. The best-known of these was, undoubtedly, “Father Pat” or Henry Irwin (1859-1902), who worked in Canada

Father Pat, who has been described as a “Father Dolling of the West,” was educated at Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, and Keble College, Oxford, and was invited to the Canadian frontier by Bishop A.W. Sillitoe of New Westminster. His worked as an SPG missionary, and his life was notable for its hardship, the tragic death of wife and child, and his unwavering, selfless dedication. He died in Montreal as he was planning a return journey to Ireland. His brother, Father Edmund Alexander Irwin, who also went to Keble College, Oxford, was an SPG missionary in Southern Africa (1897-1908), and returned to Ireland briefly as curate of Saint John’s, Sandymount (1908-1909), before moving to England.

Bishop Harry Vere White (1853-1941) of Limerick may be better known to many here this evening as a former Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s (1905-1918), but before that he had been a key SPG missionary in building up the Church in New Zealand (1880-1895), before returning to Ireland to work with SPG (1894-1900). Coincidentally, while he was working for SPG, he lived at 3 Belgrave Road, Rathmines, and years later what I presume was his dining room served as my office when I was the Southern Regional Co-ordinator of CMS Ireland.

At the time Disestablishment, the Irish branch of SPG had fewer resources and a smaller staff than CMS, yet SPG had a longer history than CMS, had sent twice as many missionaries overseas from Ireland, and they had reached more colonies, more countries and more continents than their CMS counterparts. SPG in Ireland could also claim to have nurtured more colonial and missionary bishops and church dignitaries. So we should not neglect the influence of the Irish High Church, Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic tradition on the formation of the Anglican Communion through the work of Irish SPG missionaries.

CMS, in its evangelical tradition, stressed individual conversion, while SPG, with a more high church or “catholic” position, emphasised Church planting. T.E. Yates, in an essay, “Anglicans and Mission,” quotes with approval the common assertion that while CMS was the society for the propagation of the Gospel, SPG became the Church missionary society.

SPG’s Irish branch was founded in 1714 and by the time of Disestablishment SPG had sent up to 150 missionaries from Ireland – all men – to Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Crimea, Hawaii, India, Jamaica, Newfoundland, New Zealand, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, South Africa and the US. The high number of Irish missionaries who worked in Canada led Gavin White, in his essay “Collegiality and Conciliarity,” to assert that the Church of Ireland had a marked influence on the ecclesiology of Canadian Anglicans.

The Irish officials of SPG have included the Revd Robert Alexander, father of Archbishop William Alexander, who was the most ardent supporter of SPG among the Irish bishops. In principle, all the bishops of the Church of Ireland were associated with SPG. In 1851, Alexander and his wife contributed to a volume of missionary hymns marking the 150th anniversary of SPG. In 1891, he presided at the society’s 190th anniversary celebrations in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and as Archbishop of Armagh, he rejoiced when his cousin, Bishop Henry Montgomery, became the organising secretary of SPG in 1902.

The great and influential SPG missionaries from Ireland included: George Berkeley, who went to Rhode Island with hopes of working with SPG in Bermuda; Charles Inglis from Co Donegal, Bishop of Nova Scotia (1787), who was the first Anglican bishop consecrated for work overseas; John Inglis, Bishop of Nova Scotia (1825); Davis George Croghan, who became Archdeacon of Bloemfontein and Dean of Grahamstown; Francis Balfour (1846-1924), from Townley Hall, near Drogheda, who was educated at Harrow, Trinity College Cambridge, with Father Dolling – at one time he was the only Anglican priest in Mashonaland (now Zimbabwe), and as bishop suffragan of Bloemfontein was the first bishop for Basutoland (now Lesotho); Nelson Fogarty (1871-1933), the son of poor Irish emigrants to England, who became the “pioneer Anglican bishop of Namibia” as first Bishop of Damaraland (1924-1933);

SPG supporters in Ireland also developed their own Irish university-based mission with the foundation of the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur in 1890.

Mission and the formation of the Anglican Communion

As I said, Sykes and Gilley have shown that the Anglican Communion as we know it today exists primarily because of the missionary impulses that can be traced to the Oxford Movement, the understanding of the episcopate that was pioneered by the Oxford Movement in 1830s, and the massive reinforcement the Tractarian Movement gave to the existence of the episcopate beyond the boundaries of the Church of England. As they summarise it in the title of their conference paper: “No Bishop, No Church!”

And it was proposals in 1865 from one Irish-born Tractarian bishop in Canada, John Travers Lewis (1825-1901) from Co Cork, who was Bishop and later Archbishop of Ontario, that led to the calling of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867.

Lewis faced a “patient struggle” when the Bishop of Huron challenged Trinity College, Toronto, on its leanings towards Rome, although, as Gilbert Parker says in his preface to Lewis’s biography: “No one ever went to the Church of Rome through the teaching of Trinity, Toronto.”

A key role in the later shaping of the Anglican Communion was played by another Irish High Church bishop, Henry Montgomery (1847-1932), from Moville, Co Donegal, who was at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, with Balfour and Dolling. After 12 years as Bishop of Tasmania (1889-1901), he became Secretary of SPG (1901-1918) in London. He inspired and directed Pan-Anglican Congress of 1908; and was secretary to the 1908 and 1920 Lambeth Conferences.

Religious communities

If the Catholic revival in Anglicanism reshaped Anglican missions and consequently gave shape to the Anglican Communion as we know it today, then the reshaping of Anglican mission through the Catholic revival is also directly connected with the revival of religious life within Anglicanism.

One of the first Irish women to work as an SPG missionary was Trench’s daughter, Edith Chenevix-Trench (1844-1942), who was an organising secretary for SPG in Ireland, worked in the Diocese of Bloemfontein, and later married Reginald Stephen Copleston (1845-1925), the missionary bishop of Colombo (1876-1902) and Calcutta (1902-1925). Missionary work in South Africa also played a role in bringing the small number of religious communities to Ireland. Mother Isabella Maffett, a Winchester deaconess who had been strongly influenced by Father Dolling, came to Dublin with the encouragement of Canon Richard Travers Smith of Saint Bartholomew’s, to found a women’s religious community to work in the Diocese of Bloemfontein. That community later became Saint Mary’s House, Pembroke Road, Dublin.

The reintroduction of religious life in Anglicanism can be traced to 1841, when Pusey heard the profession Mother Marian Hughes, the first profession of a nun in the Church of England for three centuries. In 1852, the widowed Harriet Monsell (1811-1883) was professed a religious by Canon T.T. Carter, the “Last of the Tractarians,” and became the first superior of the Community of Saint John the Baptist at Clewer, near Windsor. Mother Harriet was born in Dromoland Castle, Co Clare in 1811, a sister of both Lord Inchiquin and the Irish Patriot, William Smith O’Brien, and sister-in-law of the Irish Tractarian hymn-writer John Monsell.

Three years after her proferssion, the Society of the Holy Cross was founded by Charles Lowder in 1855, drawing inspiration not from pre-reformation mediaeval Catholicism but the work of Saint Vincent de Paul in 17th century France and from contemporary Catholicism. In founding the Society of the Holy Cross, Lowder attempted to give substance to Saint Vincent’s ideals in an Anglican context. The objects of the Society were “to defend and strengthen the spiritual life of the clergy, to defend the faith of the Church, and to carry on and aid Mission work both at home and abroad.”

Since then, the role of Anglican religious orders in mission has been immense. They include most notably the Society of Saint John the Evangelist or the Cowley Fathers, founded by Richard Benson in 1866, the Community of the Resurrection, or the Mirfield Fathers, founded in 1892 by Charles Gore, and the Society of the Sacred Mission, or the Kelham Fathers, founded a year later in 1893 by Father Herbert Kelly in 1893. Contemplative orders such as the Benedictines at Alton Abbey, Burford Priory, Edgware Priory, Elmore Abbey, Malling Abbey, and other places, have fostered holiness and scholarship, and through visitors and their networks of associates and oblates aided the spiritual lives of countless people.

It is one of my real regrets that the religious communities never really found firm roots in the Church of Ireland. But Anglican religious life, while it may be declining, remains a counter-cultural sign in our materialist and secular societies of discipleship and service.

Slum priests and Anglo-Catholic socialism

These professed men and women quickly turned their attentions to the problems of the industrial working class in their slum parishes. Their liturgical and sacramental life gave them fresh insights into desperate pastoral needs. Priscilla Sellons’s Devonport Sisters of Mercy worked with the clergy of Saint Peter’s, Plymouth, in the cholera epidemics of the late 1840s. The parish priest, Father George Rundle Prynne, celebrated the Eucharist each morning to strengthen them for their work – and so began the first daily Mass in the Church of England since the Reformation.

In Leeds, the clergy of Saint Saviour’s laid what medicines they had on the altar at each morning’s Holy Communion, before carrying them out to dozens of parishioners who would die of cholera that very day.

One of the best known slum priests in the next generation was the Irish-born Father Robert Dolling (1851-1902), who fought against the evils of slum life while he was working at Saint Agatha’s, Landport.

In the East End of London, the “slum priests” were known for their audacity and their piety. In places such as the mission church of Saint George’s in the East, thuribles were swung, genuflecting was encouraged, the sign of the cross was made frequently, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was taken for granted, confessions were heard, and holy anointing was practised. But, as he lived out his Anglo-Catholic principles and ideals, Father Charles Lowder also knew the poor must be brought the ministry of Christ in the celebration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel. Beauty and holiness had to be brought into the midst of squalor and depression, as a witness to the Catholic faith in Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, present and active in his world. The sick and the dying were to receive this sacramental presence as far as was possible; deathbed confessions, the oil of unction, even occasionally Holy Communion from the reserved sacrament, became the priests’ weapons against the horrors of the cholera epidemic in East London in 1866.

The social conscience of Anglicanism

As the Anglo-Catholic slum priests brought the slum dwellers and the working class a taste of the beauty and the holiness of the kingdom of God in the midst of their squalor, and brought it out into the streets, liturgically and practically, they were posing a sacramental challenge to the ugliest expressions of industrialisation and capitalism. And in this, they restored a social conscience to Anglicanism.

Decorous restraint and academic discourse were equally out of place in the slums. Mystery and movement, colour and ceremonial were more powerful. The sacramental sign could speak more strongly than the written word.

But if these were the characteristics of worship influenced by the Oxford Movement, that worship impressed through the devotion and holiness of life and pastoral concern of the priests who led that worship. Geoffrey Rowell, in The Vision Glorious, writes:

“The legend of the Anglo-Catholic slum priest is not without foundation … they maintained that the richness of Eucharistic worship was not only the legitimate heritage of the Church of England, but that which embodied as nothing else could the sense of the reality of Divine grace in a way which could be grasped by the poor and unlettered.”

The slum priests were determined that sacramental worship should be the centre of the Church’s ministry in areas of urban deprivation. The foundation of churches such as Saint Saviour’s, Leeds, Saint Alban’s, Holborn, and Saint Peter’s, London Docks, and the work of priests like Alexander Heriot Mackonochie, Charles Lowder, George Rundle Prynne, and Robert Dolling provide outstanding examples of such heroic attempts.

Maurice Reckitt comments on the “ritualism” of the Anglo-Catholic slum churches of Dolling’s generation: “The ‘Ritualists’ were teaching not only through the ear but through the eye – even in ‘extreme’ cases through the nose – an illiterate race of social outcasts who could learn only with difficulty by more intellectual means amidst the hideous and odoriferous squalor of such places as London Docks and Miles Platting. The worship of God in which they joined was, by the violent contrast to all else in their lives, at once a vindication of the other-worldliness of their faith and an implicit condemnation of the filthy environment amid which the social sin of an acquisitive and complacent ruling class had condemned them to live. So regarded, the ritual, which mainly centred round the Presence of our Lord amid surroundings more hostile than those of his very Nativity itself, was not ‘empty’ but full of a profound significance; not ‘meaningless’ but clamouring for an interpretation even more far-reaching than most of those who practised it knew how to provide.”

His biographer, C.E. Osborne, has this to say about his social convictions: “His attitude … was the same as that of a well-known London priest of similar convictions, who, when accused of using his office as a spiritual teacher to interfere in merely secular matters, said: ‘I speak out and fight about the drains because I believe in the Incarnation’.”

Father Henry Stanton, of Saint Alban’s, Holborn, once told an audience: “As the only thing I care much for is Socialism, I am a very dangerous lecturer.” He strongly sympathised with the Paris Commune of 1871, referred to himself only half in jest as “Citizen Stanton,” and was inspired by the “clubs” of the Paris Commune to form his Brotherhood of Jesus of Nazareth for working-class men and boys.

Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott, one of the founders of the Christian Social Union, almost echoed Marx in 1890 when he wrote: “Wage labour, though it appears to be an inevitable step in the evolution of society, is as little fitted to represent finally or adequately the connection of man with man in the production of wealth as in earlier times slavery or serfdom.”

Around the same time, Stewart Headlam was speaking about “Sacramental Socialism,” and wrote: “In the worship of Jesus really present in the Sacrament of the Altar before you, all human hearts can join, and especially secularists, for when you worship him you are worshipping the Saviour, the social and political Emancipator, the greatest of all secular workers, the founder of the great socialistic society for the promotion of righteousness, the preacher of a revolution, the denouncer of kings, the gentle, tender sympathiser with the rough and the outcast who could utter scathing, burning words against the rich, the respectable, the religious.”

Bishop Charles Gore was a leading figure in the Christian Social Union too. He always said that his passion for social justice dated from a tour of the slums of Oxfordshire with the trade union leader Joseph Arch. His socialism was cautious – he indicated that he would probably prefer to stop somewhere this side of full-fledged socialism, but he always added that we have a very long way to go before we get there.

Members of the Community of the Resurrection, founded by Gore in 1892, consistently demonstrated a strong Christian social commitment. Some of its priests, like Father Paul Bull, played a major role in the Church Socialist League in the early 1900s and in supporting the Independent Labour Party.

Politically, Dearmer too was an avowed socialist, serving as secretary of the Christian Social Union from 1891 to 1912. He underscored these values by including a “Litany of Labour” in his 1930 manual for communicants, The Sanctuary. After his appointment as a canon of Westminster Abbey in 1931 he ran a canteen for the unemployed from the abbey.

It was the combination of incarnational and sacramental theology and social concern which was the keynote of Bishop Frank Weston’s address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923 in words which have become justly quoted. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could. “The one thing England needs to learn is that Christ is in and amid matter, God in flesh, God in sacrament.” And so he concluded:

“But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.”

The relevance of Anglo-Catholicism today

The Oxford Movement tried to recapture a vision and identity of Anglicanism as Catholic – Catholic not just in a broad and general way, but as holding the faith of the universal Church, not that of a sect: the catholic scriptures, creeds and doctrines as defined by the Councils of the early undivided Church, the Catholic ministry and order of bishops, priests and deacons, the sacraments of the Catholic Church, and our continuity and communion with the early Fathers and the Catholic faith.

The authority for the theological basis for the Oxford Movement was historical, biblical and patristic. As Bishop Frank Weston said at the 1920 Lambeth Conference, “Why am I obliged to take my view of the Church’s teaching from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the Church is 1,920 years old?” Of course, it worries me, therefore, that some examples of contemporary Anglo-Catholicism seem stuck in a time warp, concerned with the trappings and ephemera of what is known in England as Anglo-Papalism, or with the gender or sexuality of those who may or may not be ordained.

As I come to a close, I might ask, what are we left with as the essentials of Anglo-Catholic spirituality? I would go a long way with John D. Alexander in identifying the following “high” views:

1, A High View of God: Anglo-Catholic worship at its best cultivates a sense of reverence, awe, and mystery in the presence of the Holy One.

2, A High View of Creation or a delight in the beauty of God’s creation: The Anglo-Catholic view of the world is highly sacramental, seeing signs of God’s presence and goodness everywhere in God’s creation. In worship, the best of creation – as reflected in art, craftsmanship, music, song, flowers, incense, etc – is gathered up and it is all offered back to God.

3, A High View of the Incarnation: Our salvation began when Christ took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God became human in order to transform human existence through participation in his divine life. The Collect of the First Sunday of Christmas expresses this Anglo-Catholic vision perfectly:

O God, who wonderfully created us in your own image, and yet more wonderfully restored us (here TEC says “the dignity of human nature”) through your Son Jesus Christ: Grant that, as came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever (Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 247).

4, A High View of the Atonement: Evangelical detractors often overlook the fact that authentic Anglo-Catholicism looks not only to Christ’s Incarnation but also to his Sacrifice. Anglo-Catholic spirituality entails a lifelong process of turning from sin and towards God. And so, many Anglo-Catholics find the Sacrament of Penance an indispensable aid in this process.

5, A High View of the Church: We come to share in the divine life of the risen and ascended Christ by being incorporated through Baptism into his Body, the Church. And so the universal Church is neither an institution of merely human origin, nor a voluntary association of individual believers, but is a wonderful mystery, a divine society, a supernatural organism, whose life flows to its members from its head, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

6, A High View of the Communion of Saints: The Church includes not only all Christians now alive on earth (the Church Militant), but also the Faithful Departed, who continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God (the Church Expectant), and the Saints in Heaven, who have reached their journey’s end (the Church Triumphant). And so, we have fellowship with all who live in Christ.

7, A High View of the Sacraments: Christ really and truly communicates his life, presence, and grace to us in the Sacraments, enabling us to give our lives to God and our neighbour in faith, hope, and love. Baptism establishes our identity once and for all as the children of God and the heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, even though we can freely repudiate this inheritance. In the Eucharist, Christ becomes objectively present in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

8, A High View of Holy Orders: Since the days of the Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholicism has borne witness to the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons in Apostolic Succession. The validity of our sacraments, and the fullness of our participation in the life of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, is intimately linked to the faithful stewardship of this gift.

9, A High View of Anglicanism: The Anglican Churches are truly part of Christ’s one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Anglo-Catholicism has borne a prophetic witness to the catholicity of Anglicanism. Since the days of the Oxford Movement, the standard has been the faith and practice of the ancient, undivided Church, holding ourselves, and our Anglican institutions, accountable to the higher authority of the universal Church.

To this list I would add three more:

10, A High View of Mission: others may argue which came first, mission or the Church. But Anglo-Catholicism brought both together, for the church could not be confined to the boundaries of the state, any more than it was a department of state, and so, as a consequence gave us the world-wide Anglican.

11, A High standard of hymnody: what ever you think of Songs-of-Praise type services, where would we be this Christmas without Fanny Alexander’s Once in David’s royal city or John Mason Neale’s Veni Emmanuel?

12, A Highly-tuned social conscience: if the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom of God, then those who are nourished by its sacramental life must seek incarnationally to provide sacramental signs of the kingdom today.

The rediscovered emphases on apostolic succession and the Catholicity of the church, on priesthood, on sacrament and sacrifice, on prayer, holiness and the beauty of worship, are the legacy left by the Tractarians and the Anglo-Catholic movement. They were the most important religious reawakening in these islands in the 19th century, giving rise to a renaissance in spirituality, theology, scholarship, liturgy, music, art, and architecture, and to the revival of religious orders and communities.

The legacy of the Oxford Movement is a living faith in the incarnate Lord expressed in sacramental worship and self-sacrificing love for others. This is the meaning of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith. May it find forms and expressions that will enable it to continue to bring God’s love to people in our own day.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. This lecture was given in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin, on Saturday 29 November 2008 as part of the celebrations marking the 175th anniversary of the Oxford Movement.

Bibliography, reading and sources:

E. Alexander, Primate Alexander, Archbishop of Armagh (London, 1913).
(Revd) John D. Alexander, What is Anglo-Catholicism? A Response in Six Parts, printed in his parish newsletter at the Church of the Ascension, Staten Island, 1999; see:
Peter F. Anson, Building up the Waste Places: the Revival of Monastic Life on Medieval Lines in the Post-Reformation Church of England (Leighton Buzzard, 1973).
T.G. Barnard and W.G. Neely (eds), The Clergy of the Church of Ireland, 1000-2000 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2006).
George D. Carleton, The King’s Highway: A simple statement of Catholic Belief and Duty (London, 1924, reprinted 1956).
Owen Chadwick, The Spirit of the Oxford Movement, Tractarian Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
Michael Chandler, An Introduction to the Oxford Movement (London: SPCK, 2003).
John R. Griffin, The Oxford Movement 1833-1983, A Revision (Edinburgh: Pentland Press, 1984).
George Herring, What was the Oxford Movement? (London: Continuum 2002).
(Dom) Anselm Hughes, The Rivers of the Flood (London, 1961).
(Bishop) Kenneth Kennedy, Fifty Years in Chota Nagpur (Dublin, 1939).
Ruth Kenyon, ‘The Social Aspect of the Catholic Revival,’ in Northern Catholicism; Centenary studies in the Oxford and parallel movements (ed. NP Williams and Charles Harris, London: SPCK, 1933).
S. Peter Kerr, “Tolerant bishops in an intolerant church: the Puseyite Tradition in Ulster,” in Studies in Church History, pp 343-355.
R.B. McDowell, The Church of Ireland 1869-1969 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975).
(Mrs) Jerome Mercier, Father Pat: A Hero of the Far West (Edinburgh, 1909).
(Revd) C.E. Osborne, The Life of Father Dolling (London, 1903).
Peter Nockles, The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship 1760-1857 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Peter Nockles, ‘Church or Protestant sect? The Church of Ireland, High Churchmanship, and the Oxford Movement, 1822–1869,’ The Historical Journal, 41/2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, June 1998), pp. 457-493
S.L. Ollard, A short history of the Oxford Movement (Oxford: Mowbray, 1983, revised to mark the 150th anniversary).
H. Patton, Fifty Years of Disestablishment (Dublin: APCK, 1922).
WSF Pickering, Anglo-Catholicism: a study in religious ambiguity (London: SPCK, 1989).
John Shelton Reed, Glorious Battle: The cultural politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism (London: Tufton Books, 1998).
Report of the First Anglo-Catholic Congress, London, 1920: with a Preface by the Rev’d Darwell Stone DD (London, 1920).
Geoffrey Rowell, The Vision Glorious: Themes and Personalities of the Catholic Revival in Anglicanism (Oxford, 1993)
Geoffrey Rowell (ed), Tradition Renewed: the Oxford Movement Conference Papers (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1986).
S.W. Sykes and S.W. Gilley, ‘No Bishop, No Church!’ The Tractarian impact on Anglicanism, pp 120-39 in Rowell (ed), 1986.
Nigel Yates, Anglican Ritualism in Victorian Britain 1830-1910 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Kingship of Christ and the Judgment of the Nations

Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican

Patrick Comerford

Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Dublin: Sunday 23 November 2008:

The Sunday before Advent, the Kingship of Christ
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-46.

May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I think it’s a sign of getting older that every year I think Christmas is coming earlier and earlier.

Despite the economic gloom and doom that we are all surrounded with at the moment, Dublin City Centre is alive all day and well into the night, with shops and streets decorated and an effort by the city council and the traders to breath a festive air into our lives.

And it’s happening everywhere … I’ve stopped counting the number of snowmen I’ve received on Facebook … they started arriving weeks ago.

We all look forward to Christmas … it’s holiday time, it’s family time, it’s a time for gifts and presents, for meeting and greeting, for family meals.

In every Church, we’ll see more people coming through the doors than at any other time of the year. People love the Carols, the tradition, the good will and the good feelings we get from even just thinking about Santa Claus and the elves, the tree and the lights, the crib and the Baby Jesus.

Even the most secular of revellers will admit, without much compulsion, that Christ is at the heart of Christmas, and that waiting for Christ, anticipating Christ, should be at the heart of the Advent season, which begins next Sunday.

But we forget that so easily. I hear on all the radio chat shows people already talking about this being the Christmas Season … before Advent has even started.

Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, and in the weeks beforehand we even prepare for Advent itself, with Bible readings in Church telling us about the Coming of Christ.

We have made Christmas a far-too comfortable story. It was never meant to be, but we have made it comfortable with our Christmas card images of the sweet little baby Jesus, being visited by kings and surrounded by adoring, cute little animals.

The reality, of course, is that Christmas was never meant to be a comfortable story like that.

Christmas is a story about poverty and people who are homeless and rejected and who can find no place to stay. It’s a messy story about a child born surrounded by the filth of animals and the dirt of squalor. It’s a story of shepherds who are involved in dangerous work, staying up all night, out in the winter cold, watching out for wolves and sheep stealers. It is a story of trickery, deceit and the corruption of political power that eventually leads to a cruel dictator stooping to murder, even the murder of innocent children, to secure his own grip on power.

But those sorts of images don’t sell many Christmas Cards or help to get the boss drunk under the mistletoe at the office party.

That’s why in the weeks before Advent we have had a series of readings reminding us about what the coming of Christ into the world means, what the Kingdom of God is like, and how we should prepare for the coming of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

This morning’s Gospel reading is a stark and challenging parable that forces us to ask what the coming of Christ, the second coming, will be like, and what Christ has to say to us about the way we live and the way we should be living in world today.

The division of people into sheep and goats is well known. We all constantly love to divide people into two groups, the insiders and the outsiders, us and them, friends and foes, Manchester United supporters and ABU fans. We do it all the time, and sheep and goats are a good short-hand term for what we do.

In the Palestine of Christ’s time, and even to this very day, throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, sheep and goats are often difficult to tell apart until they have been separated. And when it came to insiders and outsiders, the goats were definitely the insiders and the sheep the outsiders.

Goats are lively animals and very curious. They are happy living either in herds with other goats or by themselves, while sheep are more docile, easily led, and always stay in groups.

Sheep are greedier than goats – they are more likely to overeat than goats if they have access to more food than they need. Sheep are destructive grazers, while goats are browsers. This means sheep eat grass and other plants all the way down to the ground, while goats, on the other hand, despite popular misconceptions, simply nibble here and there, sampling a variety of bushes and leaves, chewing on a lot of things without actually eating them.

Goats are among the best climbers in the world: they almost never fall or slip, while sheep, on the other hand, are much less sure-footed and can easily fall and get stuck upside down. We all know the parable of the lost sheep, but the parable of the lost goat just wouldn’t have had the same resonance, would it? Sheep can and will stay out all night, and are more resilient in bad weather, which is why the shepherds on that first Christmas were out on the hillsides looking after their flocks. Goats on the other hand need warmth at night, so might even have been in the stable alongside the ox and the ass.

So: sheep are outsiders, goats are insiders. And what happens to the insiders and the outsiders in our parable this morning would have been a shocking end to the story for those who heard it told for the first time in the Eastern Mediterranean in the first or second century.

It’s a parable or story that is stark and so challenging that it has inspired many of the great works of art.

The first-known portrayal of the Last Judgment in Christian art is a beautiful sixth century mosaic in the Cathedral of Saint Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (above). It shows a seated Christ flanked by two large Byzantine-style angels. To Christ’s right are three perky-looking sheep and balanced on his left are three more-sober goats.

Fra Angelico’s Last Judgment (ca 1425) is now in the Museum of San Marco in Florence. Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, in the Sistine Chapel in the heart of the Vatican (1534-1541), caused controversy because of its famous muscular, beardless Christ. And there were countless Doom walls throughout English mediaeval churches, on the inside, Western or back wall. It is a traditional image that is still popular in some Greek churches.

But, because of Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, and other great artists, we often see this story of the Last Judgment as a story about individual judgment and individual condemnation, when that is not how it was first told.

The story opens with Christ coming again in glory, sitting on his throne, and the nations gathered before him. It’s not atomised, isolated individuals who are gathered before the throne of Christ: it’s the nations, all the nations that are assembled and asked these very searching questions.

These are questions that are directly related to the conditions that surrounded that first Christmas; questions that directly challenge us as to whether we have taken on board the values of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 3-11; Luke 6: 20-31); questions that ask whether we really accept the values Christ proclaimed at the very start of his ministry when he spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 13-29).

These are questions posed to us not just as individuals and as Christians, but they are also questions that are put to the nations, to all of the nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη), each and every one of them. The word ethnos is used in the Bible to refer to a tribe, nation, people, group, especially foreign nations that were not Jewish.

And that is where Christ comes into the world, both at Christmas and at the second coming, with the Kingdom of God. At his birth, the old man in the Temple, Simeon, welcomes him as the light for revelation to the nations (φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν), a light to the nations (Luke 2: 32).

Which nations on earth, at this very moment, would like to be judged by how enlightened they are, to be compared with the Kingdom of God when it comes to how each nation treats and looks after those the enthroned Christ identifies with himself: those who are hungry; those who are thirsty; those who are strangers and find no welcome on our shores; those who are naked, bare of anything to call their own in this world, or whose naked bodies are exploited for profit and pleasure; those who are sick, and left waiting on hospital trolleys or on endless lists for health care because they cannot afford it; those who are imprisoned because they spoke out, or because they are from the wrong political or ethnic group, or they didn’t have the right papers when they arrived at Dublin Airport as refugees seeking asylum?

When did we ever see Christ in pain on a trolley in Tallaght hospital or being mistreated at passport control in Dublin airport? But as long it was done in the name of our nation, we did it to Christ himself.

This college, Saint Columba’s College, was founded by some of the key figures in the Oxford Movement, including the Revd William Sewell (1804-1874), a friend of Pusey and Newman. The very architecture of this chapel reflects the aesthetic values of that movement, also seen in the chapel of Keble College, Oxford.

This afternoon, today’s Feast of Christ the King is being marked in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, with a special celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Oxford Movement. On a few recent occasions in the cathedral, the Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, has reminded us that the Oxford Movement was about worshipping God in the beauty of holiness, and bringing that beauty into those parts of the world where there was no beauty, to bring light and beauty into places of darkness and squalor in the world.

The people who continued in the traditions of the Oxford Movement, worshipping God in the beauty of holiness, people like the slum priests in the East End of London, and some of the finest missionaries to be sent out from the Church of Ireland, were less concerned with ritual than with giving those who were on the margins of society, in squalor and in the slums, hope that the Kingdom of God was for them too, that it was especially for them. Their hard-pressed flocks were, in the liturgy and in reality, being invited to sit on the right-hand side of the throne of God.

This college was founded in the hope that some of the pupils and students here would be fired by some of those values and priorities.

As we prepare for Christmas, yes we should be preparing to enjoy time with our families and friends, time for a good winter’s holiday. But let us also remember the reason we have Christmas, the reason Christ came into the world, and the reason he is coming again.

Yes, let’s look forward to seeing the Christ child in the crib and to singing about him in carols. But let us also look forward to seeing him in glory, and let us be prepared to see him in the hungry, the thirsty, the unwelcome stranger, those who are naked and vulnerable, those who have no provisions for health care, those who are prisoners, and those who have no visitors and are lonely and marginalised.

And now, may all we think, say and do be to the glory of God, Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This sermon was preached in Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, on Sunday 23 November 2008.