Monday, 21 November 2011

Liturgy 7.2: readings in ecumenical statements

The Liturgical Movement has enabled insights to be shared across traditions within the wider Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 14:00 to 16:00, Mondays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 7.2, Seminar:
readings in ecumenical statements: ARCIC, WCC Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, and the Church of Ireland Methodist Covenant.

Irish Methodist missionaries commemorated in a window in a Methodist church in Orlando, Florida (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

ARCIC, WCC report, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, and the Church of Ireland Methodist Covenant.

For the ARCIC Final Report, see:

For the WCC report, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No 111 (The Lima Report) see:

For a study guide to the Lima Report, see:

For the Church of Ireland Methodist Covenant, see:

Ecumenical liturgical dialogue

The influence of the Roman shape of the liturgy has been considerable among most liturgical churches of the west, including all the member churches of the Anglican Communion, the Methodist Church in England, and less formally liturgical churches such as the United Methodist Church of the US.

On the other hand, there have been various criticisms, mostly from within the Roman Catholic Church, at the loss of mystery and the reduction in the sacrificial element of the Mass. And yet, apart from the influence of Rome on other churches, we should not neglect the fact that Dom Gregory Dix and other Anglicans influenced reform within Rome too.

ARCIC dialogue:

Venice ... one of the many venues for ARCIC (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the aftermath of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI invited a number of outside theologians to meetings of the Commission for the Implementation of the Liturgy Constitution (now the Congregation for Divine Worship), including two influential Anglicans, Ronald Jasper of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission, and Massey Shepherd, a major architect of the revised American Prayer Book.

Throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s, ecumenical dialogue was dominated by the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commissions (ARCIC 1 and 2), especially their discussions on Eucharistic doctrine.

Archbishop Henry McAdoo, Anglican co-chair of ARCIC ... detail from his portrait in the Chapter House of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The Eucharist was the first topic discussed by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which was co-chaired by Bishop Henry McAdoo of Ossory, later Archbishop of Dublin. In 1971, ARCIC-1 published its first report, the Agreed Statement, or the Windsor Report on Eucharistic Doctrine. The Commission said it had reached substantial agreement as to the nature of Eucharistic belief in the two Communions.

The second ARCIC statement on the priesthood was reached at Canterbury in 1973. ARCIC also produced a statement on Authority at Venice in 1976.

At Salisbury in 1979, ARCIC published elucidations of the first two Agreed Statements in the light of criticisms. An elucidation on the Venice report was published in 1981, and a second statement on Authority was produced at Windsor in 1981.

The level of convergence claimed for these agreements was much less than that alleged to have been achieved in the statements on the Eucharist and Ministry.

All the Agreed Statements, together with their ‘Elucidations,’ were collected together in a Final Report in September 1981, and submitted for approval by the Vatican, Roman Catholic hierarchies and Anglican provinces throughout the world.

In the agreement, there is no categorical assertion that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, neither has this been excluded. In fact, the whole thrust of the reasoning here is that the Eucharist makes present the once-for-all Sacrifice of Christ here and now.

The Vatican’s official response to these ARCIC reports has been wanting in many respects. Nevertheless, there are four areas in which there are mutual influences and even convergence between Roman Catholic reforms and recent Anglican revisions:

● The Sunday Eucharistic lectionary;
● The Eucharistic prayers;
● The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA);
● Liturgical language.

Meanwhile, Societas Liturgica, founded in 1967 by Anglicans and Roman Catholics, has grown to become the international and ecumenical academy of liturgists, and has been an important forum for co-operation and agreement between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

The initiative was taken by of Wiebe Vos, a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church who had founded Studia Liturgica in 1962 as “an international ecumenical quarterly for liturgical research and renewal.”

In 1965, he invited 25 liturgists from Europe and North America to meet at the Swiss Protestant community of Grandchamp, in Neuchâtel. They formed Societas Liturgica “for the promotion of ecumenical dialogue on worship, based on solid research, with the perspective of renewal and unity.”

Lismore Cathedral, Co Waterford ... Dean Gilbert Mayes was the first secretary of Societas Liturgica

The first meeting of Societas Liturgica took place at Driebergen in the Netherlands in 1967. That meeting studied the Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican II and recent work on worship by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. The Very Revd Gilbert Mayes, Dean of Lismore, was elected the first secretary.

The second congress was held in Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick, in 1969, and since then Societas Liturgica has met at two year intervals, meeting in Dublin in 1995. The next Congress of Societas Liturgica will be in Würzburg, Germany, on 5-10 August 2013.

Most of the papers delivered at meetings of the Societas have been published in English in Studia Liturgica. There are now more than 400 members of Societas Litugica. The international and ecumenical character of the society is illustrated by the list of its successive presidents and council members, including many Anglican liturgists such as Gray, Jasper and Bradshaw.

The International Anglican Liturgical Consultation began in 1983 and meets every two years, with the active participation and engagement of ecumenical partners.

The WCC, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Lima) and Taizé:

The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches published Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, the Lima Report, in 1982

As we have seen this afternoon, an ecumenical consensus on what is important in liturgy has evolved in the past century or so. In addition, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches has encouraged ecumenical conversation and convergence on the liturgy with the publication of the document Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Lima, 1982).

This liturgy was strongly influenced by the ecumenical community at Taizé, and particularly by the Sub-Prior of Taizé, Max Thurian, and his interest in a diverse range of liturgical traditions, from the French Reformed to the Eastern Orthodox.

It discusses the Eucharist under five headings:

1, The Eucharist as Thanksgiving to the Father;
2, The Eucharist as Anamnesis or Memorial of Christ;
3, The Eucharist as Invocation of the Spirit;
4, The Eucharist as Communion of the Faithful;
5, The Eucharist as Meal of the Kingdom.

Thoughts for theological discussion:

As a result of the Parish Communion Movement in the 1930s and the Parish and People Movement in the 1940s and the 1950s, a new emphasis was placed in the Church of England on “the Lord’s people at the Lord’s table on the Lord’s Day,” so that the Holy Communion has become less of a private devotion and more truly the place where we are most fully the Body of Christ.

The Baptismal font in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford ... do we show we accept children are full members of the Body of Christ through their baptism? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is natural then to ask questions such as:

● How far are children, who are fully baptised members of the Body of Christ, being excluded from the community meal?
● Is their baptism incomplete in some way because of their age?
● Are they full members of the Body of Christ and should they be participants of his grace offered to the Body in communion?

From the theological standpoint, there are two things involved in this shift:

● a renewal of the theology of the Church
● a renewal of the theology of the liturgy.

In the catechism it is said that in Baptism we are made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. We become members of the Church, the family of God, the Body of Christ, by Baptism [see A Catechism (Board of Education of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland), pp 1 and 3]. In some other Anglican catechisms, the Church is described as “the community of the New Covenant,” and as, “the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptised people are members” (c.f. Article 27).

These understandings have some important implications. If all those baptised are members of the Church and children are baptised, then children are members of the Church.

It makes a difference whether we speak of the Church as the “people of God,” as the catechism and the Bible do, or as, “a congregation of faithful men” as Article 19 of the 39 Articles does.

This is not to suggest that this latter definition is wrong, but only that it suggests a group of adults, while a “people” composed of all the baptised, suggests a family, which includes people of all ages.

If we think of the Church as a voluntary society, a membership organisation to which people belong because they support its principles and wish to participate in its activities, then we think of the Church as a group of adults, which may, quite properly, have suitable activities for the children of members.

If we think of the Church as a family, then the children are members, in just the same way that adults are.

In a family, not every member participates in every activity, but all take part in the important activities, like eating and celebrating. The children may ask to leave the table early, and they may be bored by some of the adult conversation, but they are there, they belong there, and they usually want to be there. We do not give children decision-making authority in most families, but we do consult them, and involve them in everything in which they have a stake.

With this new movement, the emphasis is on the Church as God’s family, and the nature of the Church involves people of all ages in its membership and its work. The liturgy becomes the central work of the Church, and the Sunday Eucharist becomes the Church’s central act of worship. The Church is now seen as the Eucharistic community. It is the Eucharist, the sacred meal shared by his Body week by week as the anamnesis of Christ the head, which constitutes us as the people of God.

The catechism defines membership in the Church in terms of baptism (see The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 766, Question No 2; A Catechism, pp 1, 3, Questions No 3 and 12). It can also be defined in terms of Eucharist, for they are the two necessary sacraments of participation in the paschal mystery of the dying and rising again of Jesus Christ.

The Body of Christ is the community which gathers to share in the meal which is also the Body of Christ

The Body of Christ is the community which gathers to share in the meal which is also the Body of Christ. We are what we eat.

Even at the human level it is participation in the common meal which makes us members of a community. We cannot refuse to eat the birthday cake if we are to be part of the celebration. We must at least put the champagne glass to our lips to toast the bride and groom or we are not members of the wedding. To be a member of a community means to share its food and meals. At the Jewish Passover, even the smallest child must drink the four cups of wine (even if their parents dilute them substantially with water). To take part in the Seder is to be a Jew; to fail to take part is to cut yourself off from your people, and from your God.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, as Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy so well expressed it, “The faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the real nature of the true Church.”

The vision in the Book of Revelation recorded is one of a congregation making Eucharist: the bishop seated in the centre with the elders, or presbyters, seated around in a semicircle; the deacons standing before the altar, and the congregation arrayed in their white baptismal robes, joining in the praise of God.

The Book of Common Prayer sets up a similar iconic representation of the Church. The bishop stands as chief celebrant at the Lord’s Table, the priests stand with the bishop and join in the celebration, deacons serve as waiters, lay persons read and sing and pray and offer, and all is done in a single harmonious whole.

What do we do to this icon of the Church if all of the participants are of one gender, or of one ethnic origin, or of one age? There are many occasions in which the situation will reduce the spectrum of participants in the Eucharist, but in principle all are there.

Children belong in the Eucharistic community. And the community needs the presence of the children. Families without children exist, but families with children do not usually exclude them from the family dinner table or relegate them to a parallel world of children. As baptised members of the Church, children have a share in the Eucharistic assembly. That means that we need to think of the assembly as one in which children can have a share, will want to have a share, and from which they do not feel excluded.

Baptism unites us with Christ in the paschal mystery. It makes us participants in his death and resurrection. In the water of baptism we are buried with Christ into his death, so that when we come up out of the water we are children newborn into the risen life. That life is nourished and renewed by our participation in the Eucharist, which in an on-going manner unites us to the same paschal mystery.

In the 5th century, Saint Augustine said that we are what we offer in the Eucharist. We are the bread lying on the paten, the drops of wine in the chalice, so that we become the Body of Christ. It is not a matter of our understanding, but a matter of God’s mighty acts.

Meaning and Mystery

One of the objections to children receiving Holy Communion is that small children cannot understand communion.

Does any one of us understand it adequately?

Do I understand it?

Do you?

Did Saint Thomas Aquinas?

Surely it, quite literally, surpasses human understanding. But that does not mean that you or I, or a little child, or Saint Thomas Aquinas cannot experience it. I am sure our explanations of what is going on will be very different, but that is because we are different people with different gifts. Possibly the little child understands it the best of any of us.

Baptism has given us the ability to experience the Eucharist. Experiencing it, and being helped to grow in knowledge and understanding about that experience, is what spiritual formation is all about. And that is the job of the Church, assisting in the spiritual formation of its children.

The fathers of the 4th century, the great mystagogic teachers like Ambrose and Cyril, did not attempt to explain the Sacraments to people who had not received them.

They provided a good deal of instruction for their adult catechumens, but instruction in the Sacraments was not included. It was only after the catechumens passed with Christ through the grave and gate of death in the baptismal washing and began to receive the Eucharist that they thought it possible to teach about it. Modem educational theorists agree that you must first have an experience before you can reflect on it.

Ideally, all of the baptised members of the Church should take part in the Eucharist. Children should begin to take part in the worship of the Church as they begin to take part in everything else.

How can we make the parish Eucharist an experience which both children and adults can share without pain on either side?

What should we do about children and the ministry of the Word?

Is the special children’s liturgy really as bad as we think it is?

And if so, why?

These are some of the questions we face, but we need to know that children are members of the Church and need to be included in its worship, not just as an educational experience, but because they need to worship now. We need to have children in our assemblies, not to ensure future growth, but to ensure present life and worship.



End-of-semester visit

Next week:

Baptism and Eucharist (3) the contemporary life and mission of the Church; worship and inculturation.

8.2: Seminar: the ‘Word’ expressed in music and art.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a discussion in a seminar on 21 November 2011 as part of the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.

Liturgy 7.1: Baptism and Eucharist (2), liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 14:00 to 16:00, Mondays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 7.1: 21 November 2010

This week:

Baptism and Eucharist (2) liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century.

7.2: Seminar: readings in ecumenical statements: ARCIC, WCC Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, and the Church of Ireland Methodist Covenant.

1: Baptism and Eucharist (2) liturgical renewal among Catholics and Protestants in the 20th century.

This afternoon, we are going to briefly trace the developments in worship forms from the Reformation to the present, and then look at the Eucharist in the light of the Liturgical Movement and as an issue in inter-church relations.


(a) Introduction to the modern liturgical movement and recent liturgical revisions
(b) The impact of this movement on Anglican liturgical revisions
(c) Key figures in the liturgical movement

Tasks, learning outcomes, comments:

● To become familiar with the principal ideas and key figures in the modern liturgical movement;
● to understand the impact of the modern liturgical movement on recent liturgical revisions within the Anglican Communion;
● to discuss the theological implications of these changes;
● to become familiar with some of the key theologians involved.


Gregorian Chant setting of Magnificat from Solesmes (1949);
2, Troparion of the Veneration of the Cross from Chevetogne.

Both sung by Nóirín Ní Riain and the Monks of Glenstal Abbey (Vox de Nube).

What is the Liturgical Movement?

Many of us are familiar with the diversity in liturgy we can experience in different churches in the Anglican Communion. Yet there is a common feeling, quite often, that there is something distinctively Anglican in many liturgies – despite those diversities. And it is also becoming increasingly commonplace that liturgy, no matter where or by whom it is celebrated, has a feeling of familiarity no matter where we go – similar actions, similar architecture, similar robing, similar readings, similar rites, similar liturgical texts … prayers for the government, and always the Lord’s Prayer.

The Liturgical Movement is an informal movement without structures, but with overlapping committees, working groups, interest groups and societies. It is the single most influential part of the modern ecumenical movement. It has strongly influenced Anglicanism, but has also been strongly influenced by Anglicans.

The Liturgical Movement as a movement of scholarship and the reform of worship has been working over the last century and a half in the Roman Catholic tradition and in many Anglican, Protestant and Reformed Churches, including the Church of England and other member Churches of the Anglican Communion.

The mutual influences of different traditions on each other goes back long before Vatican II, and the Liturgical Movement has been one of the major influences on the processes of the Ecumenical Movement, playing important and significant roles in healing the divisions which we have inherited since the Reformations. As the Methodist liturgical scholar James White asked back in 1980: “Why teach ecumenism when you can teach worship?”

From its beginnings, the Liturgical Movement had a number of facets:

1, It was an attempt to recover and rediscover the liturgical texts and thinking of Patristic times and the worship of the Middle Ages.
2, It became a scholarly exercise in examining the history of worship.
3, It broadened into an examination of the nature of worship as a human activity.
4, It became an attempt to renew worship so it could be more expressive for worshippers and an instrument of teaching and mission.
5, It has been a movement of reconciliation between the Churches on both sides of the Reformation.

At the Reformations in the 16th century, all Churches revised and reformed the liturgy and public worship. The divisions were exacerbated because, with the development of written European languages, a Latin liturgy became something one would primarily see and secondarily hear, while in a vernacular service, one in the language of the worshipper, the worshippers were supposed to understand and were expected to take part.

But language was only one of the dividing issues. The revision of the Roman liturgy provided a single use for the whole Church. In opposition to the Reformers, the sacramental principle was restated alongside a doctrine expressing the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. But in subsequent centuries, the Liturgical Movement would bring changes that affected all the main Church traditions. In both the Catholic and Protestant traditions – but for different reasons – frequent communion was unusual and all traditions sought to remedy this.


The Council of Trent (1545-1563) adopted the Tridentine Mass as the standard liturgy for the Western rites of the Roman Catholic Church

With the Counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) adopted the Tridentine Mass as the standard liturgy. From then on, the Latin Mass remained substantially unchanged for almost 400 years.

Meanwhile, the liturgies of the churches of the Reformation traditions – including Anglicans, Lutherans and Calvinists – changed too. The Reformers wanted to return to the Biblical foundations of liturgy and to the authority of the early Church Fathers. However, the Reformation churches often became “Churches of the Word”: the language of the people was used, but in addition the focus generally shifted away from the sacraments and onto the word of Scripture and the word of preaching.

In the Church of England, the changes introduced in The Book of Common Prayer, as we have seen, were relatively conservative, and after the 16th century were not substantial. The notable exceptions were the Scottish and Nonjuring liturgies, through the influence and insights of Patristic studies. For the vast majority of Anglicans, though, the practice of Holy Communion became less frequent and was replaced in many churches by the services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

In many parts of the Lutheran tradition, not much more was retained in the liturgy apart from the so-called “Words of Institution” (“This is my Body ... this is my Blood”), and it became common practice to make the service of the day, the ante-communion, into a preaching service.

The first stirrings of interest in liturgical scholarship (and in liturgical change) begin with the collection and study of ancient and mediaeval liturgies in the 18th century. The ancient liturgies of the Eastern Church, especially the Jerusalem Liturgy of Saint James and the Syrian Liturgy of the Apostolic Constitutions (Book VIII), were important in the work of notable 18th century Anglican liturgical scholars such as Hamon L’Estrange (1674-1767), Edward Stephens, Thomas Rattray, Bishop of Brechin and subsequently Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (1739-1744), and the Nonjuror Thomas Brett, author of the Dissertation on the Ancient Liturgies (1720).

Rattray’s great work on the Liturgy of Saint James was published posthumously and served as the basis of a Communion Office that was used in the Scottish Episcopal Church from 1764 to 1911 and again when revised in 1912. This, in turn, shaped the liturgy of the American Episcopalians.

In the early 19th century, there was a renewed in interest in patristic and mediaeval studies among Anglican scholars, including EB Pusey, JH Newman and other members of the Oxford Movement in the 1830s and 1840s.

The Benedictine Abbey at Solesmes was re-founded in 1833 ... the liturgical movement among Roman Catholic scholars can be traced to the recovery of Benedictine monasticism and Gregorian Chant there

About the same time, the liturgical movement among Roman Catholic scholars can be traced to the recovery of Benedictine monasticism and Gregorian Chant at Solesmes in France. The Benedictine Abbey at Solesmes was re-founded in 1833 under Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875). For a long time after, Benedictines were the pioneers in restoring Roman liturgy to its original form.

At first, Guéranger and his contemporaries focussed on studying and recovering Gregorian Chant and the liturgical forms of the Middle Ages, seen as an ideal, and in revising the Christian Year. Other scholars investigated the origins and history of the liturgy, although the practical application of this learning was often lacking.

The 19th century also saw the discovery of new liturgical texts. Jacques Paul Migne published editions of various early theological texts in two massive compilations: Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca.

In addition, the Didache, one of the earliest manuals of Christian morals and practice, was found in 1875 in a library in Constantinople, and the Apostolic Tradition, often mistakenly attributed to Hippolytus (3rd century), was published in 1900. The Apostolic Tradition, a church order containing the full text of a Eucharist, proved to be highly influential. Other discoveries at this time included the 4th century travel diary of Egregia and a 5th century Armenian Lectionary for Jerusalem. These sources were important in developing an ecumenical consensus on liturgy.

Anglican scholarship also had a major impact on the recovery of patristic and mediaeval sources for liturgy, with contributors such as FE Brightman (Liturgies: Eastern and Western, 1896), WH Frere (The Use of Sarum, 1898-1901), Cuthbert Atchley (Ordo Romanus Primus, 1905), and J Wickham Legg (The Sarum Missal, 1916).

Pope Pius X ... provided real encouragement for liturgical reform

The first real encouragement to reform came from Pope Pius X, who took on board many of the insights from Solesmes in his liturgical reforms, which became the necessary spark for the liturgical movement. Shortly after his election in 1903, he issued a motu proprio on church music, inviting the laity to take part actively in the liturgy, which he saw as a source of the renewal of Christian spirituality, and calling for more frequent communion by the laity, particularly the young.


The Liturgical Movement had a number of elements:

● Liturgical Scholarship,
● Pastoral Theology,
● Liturgical Renewal.

Pastoral considerations played a major part in all of these developments, and lay behind the tone of the papacy of Pius X, who also appealed for the restoration of Gregorian Chant.

A conference in 1909, the Congrès National des Oeuvres Catholiques at Malines in Belgium, is the beginning of the Liturgical Movement proper. Liturgy was to be the means of instructing the people in Christian faith and life; thus the Mass would be translated into the vernacular to promote active participation by the faithful.

Dom Lambert Beauduin ... emphasised out that worship is the common action of the people of God and is not solely performed by the priest

One of the leading figures in the conference was Dom Lambert Beauduin (d. 1960), a Belgian priest who had become a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Mont César in Louvain three years earlier in 1906. In his book, La Pieté de l'Eglise, Beauduin he points out that worship is the common action of the people of God and is not solely performed by the priest.

He was the first Roman Catholic theologian to speak about the full, conscious and active participation of the worshipping assembly, which becomes the hallmark of the 20th century Liturgical Movement. He stressed the intimate relationship between liturgy and society – the liturgy presents the world the way God wishes it to look, and the “liturgical world” is a profound critique of a dehumanising culture.

The joint Roman Catholic/Byzantine monastery at Amay-sur-Meuse, near Chevetogne in Belgium, became a leading centre of liturgical reform

A major project for Beauduin was a popular monthly missal with a translation of the Mass and popular articles for ordinary members of the laity. He was also committed to ecumenism, and in 1925 founded a joint Roman Catholic/Byzantine monastery at Amay-sur-Meuse, near Chevetogne in Belgium.

The Abbey of Maria Laach ... a centre of liturgical studies and reform from 1914 on

At the same time in Germany, Abbot Ildefons Herwegen of the Benedictine Abbey of Maria Laach convened a liturgical conference in Holy Week 1914 for lay people. Maria Laach became the centre of great liturgical scholarly research and activity. Herwegen promoted research that resulted in a series of publications for clergy and lay people during and after World War I, and he founded the Institute of Monastic and Liturgical Studies in 1931.

One of the foremost scholars at Maria Laach was Dom Odo Casel. Casel began by studying the Middle Ages, and looked at the origins of Christian liturgy in pagan cultic acts, understanding liturgy as a profound universal human act as well as a religious one. In his Ecclesia Orans (The Praying Church) (1918), Casel studied and interpreted the pagan mysteries of ancient Greece and Rome, discussing similarities and differences between them and the Christian mysteries. His work, arguing that the mysteries of Christ’s life are made present in the liturgy as it is celebrated, had a profound influence on later theologians and especially on Vatican II’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosantum Concilium).

Meanwhile, Maurice de la Taille argued in an influential book, Mysterium Fidei (1921), that Christ’s sacrifice, beginning from his self-offering at the Last Supper, completed in the Passion and continued in the Mass, were all one act. There is only one immolation – that of Christ at Calvary, to which the Last Supper looks forward and to which the Mass looks back.

Although Taille was not a liturgist, his work created a huge controversy about the form and character of the Mass. In a major ecumenical advance, his arguments removed the Reformation objection that each Mass was a separate and new “immolation” of Christ, a repeated and thus efficacious act.

Through the influence of Herwegen and Casel, the Mass in Maria Laach was revised, and from 1921 on it included the praying in common of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. Casel’s influence spread. In Austria, Pius Parsch (d. 1954), an Augustinian monk at Klosterneuburg, applied Casel’s principles when he took over the little church of Saint Gertrude in 1919. There with laymen, Parsch worked out the relevance of the Bible to liturgy. He argued that the Eucharist is a sacrifice offered by the entire parish community and is a meal eaten in common by the entire parish community. Similar experiments later took place in Leipzig during World War II.

In France, practical experiments in the liturgy began through contact with the German and Austrian movements. But these mostly came after World War II. In 1943, the Centre National de Pastorale Liturgique was founded and the magazine La Maison-Dieu was first published. The centre was closely associated with the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie, an important centre for liturgical research.

Pope Pius XII ... warned against what he saw as false innovations, radical changes and “Protestantising” influences in the liturgical movement

The idea of liturgy as an inclusive activity was an exciting subversion of individualism. But it also raised anxieties in Rome. In 1947, Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical Mediator Dei et hominum warning of false innovations, radical changes and “Protestantising” influences in the liturgical movement. At the same time, he encouraged the “authentic” liturgical movement that promoted active participation of the congregation in chant and gestures. Pius XII also relaxed the rules of fasting before receiving Holy Communion, approved a new Latin Psalter based on the Hebrew Psalms (1945), allowed the use of the vernacular in certain rituals (though not in the Mass or at the Divine Office), and restored the rites of the Easter Vigil (1953) and Holy Week (1956).

The Second Vatican Council

Vatican II introduced major liturgical changes in 1963, including the use of the vernacular language and the emphasis in the liturgy on anamnesis

The Latin Tridentine Mass remained the standard Eucharistic liturgy in the Roman Catholic Church in the West until the Second Vatican Council. The exceptions to that were found in the changes made to the Holy Week ceremonies in 1953-1956 by Pope Pius XII, who allowed the Easter Vigil to take place in the evening.

Vatican II adopted the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy in 1963. For the first time, the vernacular liturgy was permitted. In addition, the emphasis in the liturgy was now on anamnesis, as Taille had advocated. The influence of Hippolytus was evident in the form of the Eucharistic Prayers. Accompanying this was the encouragement for liturgies to express local culture, subject to approval from the Vatican.

A number of features of the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy appeared to validate insights from the Reformations, including:

● The introduction of the vernacular (#36).
● The call for the treasures of the Bible be opened up to include a richer portion of the Scriptures (#24, #51).
● An insistence on the centrality of Sunday as the Lord’s Day (#106).
● A renewed emphasis on the importance of preaching.

This key Vatican document also vindicated those who understood the liturgy as the common action of the believers. It grounded participation in the Eucharist in the baptismal status of Christians:

“[The] Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (1 Peter 2: 9, 4-5) have a right and obligation by reason of their baptism.” [Constitution on Sacred Liturgy #14, see #30.]

Pope Leo the Great: “what was visible in the Redeemer has passed over into the sacraments”

The constitution also supported the controversial theological work of Odo Casel, reflecting Casel’s oft-cited quotation from an Ascension Day sermon by Pope Leo the Great, that “what was visible in the Redeemer has passed over into the sacraments.” Appreciation of this theology enabled ecumenical progress on difficult issues like Eucharistic memorial and sacrifice.

Anglican, Protestant and Reformed churches

The Revd Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) ... to the fore in the revival of patristic studies

Meanwhile, what about the churches of the Reformation traditions?

Modern Anglican interest in liturgy begins with the work of the Oxford Movement, which drew attention the church's history and continuity with the Catholic Church.

Pusey, Newman and other members of the Oxford Movement were to the fore in the revival of patristic studies. John Mason Neale, Benjamin Webb, and their associates in the Cambridge Movement were interested in a recovery of many aspects of mediaeval liturgy. The short-lived Camden Society (1839–1863), originally formed to study ecclesiastical art and architecture, generated an interest in liturgy and the use of liturgical space that led to the ceremonial revival of the later 19th century. Later in the 19th century, Brightman, Frere, Atchley, Legge and others were publishing important works on patristic and mediaeval studies in liturgy.

This revival brought Anglican scholars into conversation with their Roman Catholic colleagues, freer to take part in public life in England since the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829).

The Revd Robert Dolling (1851-1902) ... the “slum priests” understood that the corporate dimension of worship is intimately linked with a critique of a dehumanising society

At the same time, social and political changes were influencing those who were interested in liturgical recovery and development. There was a growing sense of disenchantment with the industrialised society that had developed in northern Europe in the later 19th century. Nowhere was this context clearer than among the Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England, especially Arthur Henry Stanton of Saint Alban’s, Holborn, and his Irish-born friend, Robert Dolling of Saint Saviour’s, Poplar.

These “slum priests” understood that the corporate dimension of worship is intimately linked with a critique of a dehumanising society. And so, it is no surprise that much of the impetus for the revival of the liturgy came from northern Europe – among Anglicans in England, among Roman Catholics in Belgium and northern Germany, and among Lutherans in Sweden.

The Henry Bradshaw Society, founded in 1890 to publish liturgical texts, was followed in 1897 by the Alciun Club, which had a significant impact both on later Anglican revisions of The Book of Common Prayer, for example through Cuthbert Atchley’s work on the epiclesis, and on Roman Catholic scholarship.

By the 20th century, the Anglican Churches saw quite radical changes in ceremony and ritual. The Tractarians and the Oxford Movement were interested in liturgy and, in particular, in the Holy Communion or Eucharist. Gradually, dress and ceremonial were borrowed from past, historical practices, including the use of stoles, chasubles and copes; candles multiplied; incense was burnt; priests genuflected and bowed.

Gradually, the Eucharist (or the Mass, as Anglo-Catholics called it) became more common as the main Sunday Service. The English Missal, first published in 1912, conflated Holy Communion in The Book of Common Prayer and the Latin rites in the Roman Missal, including rubrics indicating posture and manual acts. Long before its publication, these practices had been widespread for many years. But the changes caused controversy, opposition, hostility and legal action. For some, liturgical change was not a reform or revival but a retreat to mediaeval models and was seen by many bishops and clergy as “Popish.”

A new direction

Bishop Charles Gore ... an advocate of weekly communion in Anglican parish churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The classical shape of Sunday morning Anglican worship from the 16th century to the 1890s was Morning Prayer, Litany and Ante-Communion, with Holy Communion once a quarter. Then, from the 1890s to the 1970s, there were various models, although a typical one was Morning Prayer three Sundays a month and Holy Communion once a month.

The Roman Catholic Liturgical Movement influenced many leading Anglican thinkers, such as WH Frere, in the 1920s and 1930s. From the 1920s many Anglican voices were speaking of the need for weekly communion. These include WH Frere, Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932), author of The Body of Christ: an enquiry into the institution and doctrine of Holy Communion (1901), Bishop Henry de Candole (1895-1971), and AG Hebert (1886–1963). The other major influential Anglican figure in liturgical change was Dom Gregory Dix (1902-1952).

One of the most significant contributions to the reform and renewal of the liturgy within Anglicanism was the idea that the Eucharist is primarily an action and that it belongs at the centre of the Church’s life of worship. These ideas were first advanced within the Church of England by Bishop Henry de Candole, who had been influenced by Benedictine pioneers such as Beaudin, Herwegen and Casel. He first developed the Parish Communion while he was working at Saint John’s, Newcastle (1926-1931).

The Parish Communion Movement inspired major changes in England in the 1930s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Major change began in the 1930s in England with the Parish Communion Movement, led by Gabriel Hebert, an Old Testament scholar and a monk of Kelham (the Society of the Sacred Missions). Hebert was a notable English theologian and was instrumental in mediating the influence of the continental Liturgical Movement. His two most influential works were Liturgy and Society (1935), and a symposium he edited, The Parish Communion (1937).

Hebert was strongly influenced both by the continental Roman Catholic liturgical movement – especially the monks at Mont César and Maria Laach, whom he visited in 1932, and by the Scandinavian liturgical movement – especially by Archbishop Yngve Brilioth, and he translated Brilioth’s Eucharistic Faith and Practice: Catholic and Evangelical.

Hebert’s Liturgy and Society (1935) is one of the most significant books of 20th century Anglican liturgical reform. Its publication marks the beginning of the real debate within Anglicanism on the relationship between worship and the world. The themes in his book include:

● his protest against individualism;
● his understanding of liturgical formation;
● a theology of liturgical mystery;
● a theology of the whole people of God;
● a theology of offering in liturgy.

Hebert interpreted the liturgy on wider social principles, and in the process he pointed out that the idea of the Eucharistic fast was impractical.

His second book, The Parish Communion (1937), gave its name to the Parish Communion Movement and helped to make the Holy Communion or the Eucharist the principal Sunday service in many parishes throughout the Church of England. Unlike later Anglican contributors to the Liturgical Movement, Hebert sought to work with the Book of Common Prayer, rather than replacing it, and the ideas of the Parish Communion movement were in advance of English Roman Catholic scholars.

Apart from de Candole and Hebert, a key figure – and perhaps the most influential – was Dom Gregory Dix (1902-1952), author of The Shape of the Liturgy (1945). His theory of the four-shape action in the liturgy has had an immeasurable impact on Anglican liturgical thinking for more than 60 years.

“The Lord’s People at the Lord’s Table on the Lord’s Day” ... the emphasis of the Parish Communion movement

The Parish Communion movement wished for more frequent communion, not merely attendance at Mass. It sought to relate the Eucharist to the world of ordinary life. And through its influence the offertory was restored, though not without protracted controversy.

The Parish Communion movement in Anglicanism grew from the 1930s on. After World War II, de Candole was instrumental in founding the Parish and People movement, which shifted the emphasis to “the Lord’s People at the Lord’s Table on the Lord’s Day.” This led to Anglican churches of all shades of churchmanship making Holy Communion their central act of Sunday worship, with the majority of the congregation receiving communion. As a result, the service of Holy Communion has become the central act of worship in the average parish in the Church of England, with the Parish Communion, or Family Eucharist, on Sunday morning becoming a part of the lives of most Anglican parishes in England.

By the end of the 1960s, a mid-morning Sunday Eucharist was a fixture in most Anglican parishes throughout the English-speaking world. It included music and a sermon and was attended by adults and children who sat together as families. There were Church school classes, often for the whole family … and the obligatory coffee hour.

The appeal of weekly communion included:

● It helped overcome wars of churchmanship
● It sought to unite people liturgically
● It clarified the office of the clergy and the ministry of the laity
● It offered a highly integrated theology of Church, liturgy, and ministry

The criticisms of weekly communion included:

● It made communion a little too comfortable;
● the discipline of conscientious self-examination came to be lost;
● the daily offices were seldom used afterwards
● the danger of drifting towards Pelagianism

The Church of South India in its liturgy brought together in a creative way the needs for ecumenical convergence, the insights of the Liturgical Movement and the influence of Gregory Dix

Meanwhile, Anglican Churches outside these islands were increasingly aware of the need for liturgical reform and to move beyond the heritage of the Book of Common Prayer. The most dramatic changes came from the Church of South India, where the needs for ecumenical convergence, the insights of the Liturgical Movement and the influence of Gregory Dix all combined in a most creative way.

The Church of South India was formed in 1947 by Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians. A year later, in 1948, the CSI began work on a new liturgy; the end result had a monumental effect on Anglican and other liturgical revisions that followed. Those who worked on this new liturgy were influenced by:

● The Eastern Orthodox Liturgy of Saint James, which had been strongly influential on the Nonjurors and in Scotland, but was familiar in India through the Syrian/Indian Orthodox tradition.
● Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy (1945).

Although the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church of South India is Anglican in its basic structures, its central distinctive features – which many of us now take for granted – were innovative when they were first published in the 1950s. These were:

● The priest/presbyter should face the people.
● The Trisagion (Holy, Holy, Holy) is one of the alternatives for the Gloria at the beginning of the Eucharist.
● Three Scripture readings were provided (Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel).
● The intercessions could be extempore.
● A congregational peace – the first in post-Reformation liturgy, and in the position noted by Justin Martyr.
● The shape of the liturgy followed the shape described by Dix.
● For the first time, the Eucharistic prayer was called the Thanksgiving rather than the Consecration.
● A phrase was introduced from the Mozarabic liturgy: “Be present, be present, Lord Jesus, our great high priest, and make yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread” (c.f. The Book of Common Prayer (the Church of Ireland, 2004), p. 208).
● Two sets of congregational responses were introduced from the Syrian Orthodox liturgy: remembering Christ’s death and resurrection and looking for his kingdom – placed after the institution narrative; and giving thanks, praise and glory – placed after the anamnesis.

The impact of the Liturgy of the Church of South India on Anglican Churches has been enormous. Its wider impact began at an early stage when it was introduced to the ecumenical movement the WCC Assembly in Evanston in 1954.

Archbishop Leslie Brown at an ordination in Namirembe ... he facilitated Lambeth Conference debates on liturgical change

Leslie Brown, a key figure in this process, became Bishop of Uganda in 1953 (and later Archbishop), facilitated the Lambeth Conference debates on liturgical change in 1958, and was the principal person involved in drafting A Liturgy for Africa in 1964.

Archbishop Brown went so far as to say the Church of South India Liturgy influenced the changes introduced after Vatican II. Whether this is true or not, we should remember that the Church of South India liturgy came more than a decade before the liturgical changes ushered in by Vatican II.

The liturgical movement influenced Anglican revisions throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Within the Church of England, the Alternative Service Book (1980) showed the continuing influence of Gregory Dix’s work of the 1940s. This had a profound influence on the Church of Ireland though both the Alternative Prayer Book (1984) and The Book of Common Prayer (2004). The latest product of the process in the Church of England is Common Worship (2000).

Liturgical architecture

Saint Philip’s, Cosham (1938) ... the free-standing altar, designed by Ninian Comper, is the first in the Church of England

The liturgical movement also raised questions about “sacred space” – about the way we use our church buildings, and the way our use of them reflects our priorities in liturgy and worship.

From the 1930s on, other aspects of the continental liturgical movement also affected worship in the Church of England. Under the influence of works such as Der Christliche Altar by the Jesuit J. Braun, it became more usual for altars to become free-standing. The first that can be traced in the Church of England is that at Saint Philip’s in Cosham, Portsmouth (1938), which was designed by Sir Ninian Comper.

With the new emphasis on the “full, conscious and active participation” of the people in the liturgy, a new approach was needed if congregations were to move from being audiences or spectators to being participants in the liturgy.

By the 1950s and 1960s, new altars were designed for west-ward celebrations and many older churches adapted their furnishings to the change of approach.

Many Evangelicals adopted the westward position introduced in the CSI revisions, along with most of the other Anglican clergy, lessening the differences inherited from previous years.

Coventry Cathedral ... criticised by Peter Hammond for relying on 19th century concepts of liturgical space

A major landmark publication was Peter Hammond’s Liturgy and Architecture (1960), in which he argued that architecture should be shaped by what goes on in worship. He was dismissive of the new Coventry Cathedral, saying it still relied on 19th century concepts of liturgical space.

The chapel in the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

He might have said the same about most of the new churches being built in the Church of Ireland in the 20th century.

Saint Paul’s, Bow Common ... “a true domus ecclesiae, planned from the altar outwards”

On the other hand, Peter Hammond pointed to Saint Paul’s, Bow Common (1960), designed by Robert Maguire, as “a true domus ecclesiae, planned from the altar outwards.”

Churches have continued to be reordered, and a more recent seminal book on this topic has been Richard Giles’s Repitching the tent: Reordering the Church Building for Worship and Mission (1999).

Generally speaking, what has happened architecturally since the 1960s is that the altar has been moved out from the east wall, so that the presiding priest can stand behind it, facing the people, and – sometimes – with the whole congregation standing around it; the roles of the lectern, pulpit and font have been rethought; and the presiding priest’s chair has become another important item of furniture.

The Liturgical Movement and the Lutheran Church

Equally dramatic in some places has been the change in some of the Lutheran churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, for example, has been heavily influenced by the movement in its vesture and ritual. Black gowns have been replaced by coloured vestments, with their shape conforming to the modern pattern. This is less true in its ceremonial: the liturgical action, in which movement takes place during the liturgy to express its different parts, is largely lacking.

In Sweden, two key figures in introducing the liturgical movement to the Lutheran Church were Archbishop Yngve Brilioth (1889-1959) and Dr Gunnar Rosendal (1897-1988).

Archbishop Yngve Brilioth was one of the key figures in Sweden in introducing the liturgical movement to the Lutheran Church

Archbishop Brilioth’s Eucharistic Faith and Practice: Catholic and Evangelical was translated by Hebert. He was Bishop of Växjö (1938-1950), Archbishop of Uppsala (1950-1958), and the author of a history of the Oxford Movement, written to coincide with its centenary in 1933.

Father Gunnar Rosendal of Osby ... his liturgical theology and his example in Osby became a model for liturgical piety and practise for the Eucharist and the daily office in Sweden

Dr Rosendal – known popularly as Father Gunnar of Osby – was the parish priest of Osby. Through his books promoting liturgical Lutheran theology and spirituality, especially through Kyrklig förnyelse (1935), he became a leading liturgical figure in the Church of Sweden. His other influential books include Den apostoliska tron (2 vols, 1948, 1951), and Vårt katolska arv (Our Catholic Inheritance, 1956). He popularised his liturgical theology through his own example in Osby, which became a model for liturgical piety and practise for the Eucharist and the daily office.

Dr Rosendal had many contacts to the liturgical movement in the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Benedictine monasteries, and knew many of the theologians of the liturgical and ecumenical movement, including Pius Parsch and Paul Couturier. He also had plenty of contacts with the key Anglican liturgists of the time, especially Dom Gregory Dix.

Dr Rosendal was rooted also in the theology of 17th century Lutheran orthodoxy, which he knew well. He was one of the theologians who worked for the foundation of the International League for Apostolic Faith and Order (ILAFO), which later became the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. In Sweden, his influence can be seen in the foundation of the organisation arbetsgemenskapen Kyrklig Förnyelse (aKF), inspired by his book Kyrklig förnyelse.

In Germany, the excising of the Eucharistic Prayer by Martin Luther in his Kirchenordnungen, was one of a number of factors that contributed towards infrequent communion. This was reversed in the decade after World War II with new service books and subsequently by the challenge of Vatican II.

In the US, the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) draws considerably from Roman Catholic sources.

Five profiles: key influential figures

Dom Gregory Dix (1902-1952):

Dom Gregory Dix ... argued that it is not the words of the liturgy but its four-fold ‘shape’

Dom Gregory Dix was a monk of Nashdom Abbey, an Anglican Benedictine foundation. He was lecturer in modern history at Keble College, Oxford (1924-1926), was ordained priest in 1925, entered Nashdom the following year, took his final vows in 1940, and was elected Prior in 1948.

Dix’s work was primarily in the field of liturgy. He produced the first critical edition of the Apostolic Tradition (1935). But his most influential book is The Shape of the Liturgy (1945). In this book he argued that it was not so much the words of the liturgy but its ‘shape’ that matters. This was, he believed, even more fundamental than the inclusion of the Words of Institution (“This is my Body ...This is my Blood”), which he pointed out had not always been included.

Dix argued that the origins of the Eucharistic meal lay not in the Passover Seder but rather in the Jewish fellowship meal, the chaburah.

For Gregory Dix, the entire liturgy of the Eucharist constitutes anamnesis – a commemoration and re-presentation of the one sacrifice of Christ. His study of the historical development of the liturgy, as seen in the writings of Justin Martyr, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Syriac Liturgy of Addai and Mari, among others, led him to formulate the “Four-Action Shape of the Liturgy”: Offertory, Consecration, Fraction, Communion (Take, Bless, Break, Give). Dix believed this was even more fundamental to the rite than are the Words of Institution, which the Liturgy of Addai and Mari does not include, and which may not have been part of the earliest celebrations of the Eucharist.

Dix argued that this four-action shape had been rearranged in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and parts of it omitted in other revisions of liturgy, betraying the universal tradition of the Church.

Dix’s work heavily influenced liturgical revision both in the Church of England and in related rites of the Anglican Communion, along with that of the Church of South India.

Some recent scholars, however, have criticised Dix, claiming he lacks historical accuracy in places, although the Alternative Service Book and Common Worship in the Church of England and the Alternative Prayer Book and The Book of Common Prayer (2004) in the Church of Ireland show his continuing influence.

In particular, Dix’s claims for the shape of the liturgy, and his emphasis on the significance of the Offertory, are said to rest on weak evidence historically. He has also been criticised on the theological ground that the Offertory was in danger of Pelagianism: that is, it suggests a natural goodness in humanity that could give God anything.

This objection originated in a comment by Archbishop Michael Ramsey about the dangers of a “shallow and romantic sort of Pelagianism,” but which was taken up by Evangelical liturgical scholars, not as a warning but as a prohibition of offertory processions of any sort.

On the other hand, Dix’s thesis was defended by members of the English Parish Communion movement, such as Gabriel Hebert and Donald Gray, who saw the offertory as representing the bringing of the world into the Eucharistic action. (This is also the traditional Eastern Orthodox perspective of the offertory. See Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 2:7). Dix’s thesis was also defended by scholars who noted ancient ideas of sacrifice particularly associated with the work of Saint Irenaeus.

Either way, Dix’s fourfold shape has influenced every subsequent reform of the liturgy within the Anglican Communion. This pattern is clear, for example, in the second order of Holy Communion in A Prayer Book for Australia (1995), and Order One in Common Worship (2000) of the Church of England. Some even argue that this shape can be observed in the post-Vatican II Mass of Pope Paul VI, which can be attributed to the consensus created by Dix.

Arthur Gabriel Hebert (1866-1963):

Gabriel Hebert (1866-1963) ... in The Parish Communion (1936), he set out the case for the centrality of the Eucharist in Sunday worship

Gabriel Hebert, a monk of Kelham (Society of the Sacred Mission) was an influential Anglican writer on liturgical and biblical theology. In Liturgy and Society (1935), he declared that liberalism was theologically bankrupt and, against propositional dogmatism, argued that Christian doctrine was enshrined in the worship forms of the Church, and that the corporate activity of worship was the touchstone of Christian life and prayer.

His collection of essays, The Parish Communion (1936), arguing for the centrality of the Eucharist in the Sunday worship on the basis of the educational model of the Church as the Body of Christ, was the most singular influence on the worshipping patterns of the Church of England in the second half of the 20th century.

Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983):

Father Alexander Schmemann ... acknowledges the influence of Gregory Dix, so that Anglican and Orthodox liturgical thinking have influenced each other

Father Alexander Schmemann was a prominent 20th century Orthodox Christian priest, teacher, and writer. Schmemann was born in Tallinn, Estonia, to Russian émigrés. His family moved to France, where he received his university education. He completed his theological studies at the Orthodox Theological Institute of Saint Sergius, Paris, where he studied with the great Russian theologian, Sergei Bulgakov, and was ordained priest in 1946.

Schmemann taught church history at Saint Sergius from 1946 to 1951. He was invited to join the faculty of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, then in New York City, where he taught from 1951 onwards. When the seminary moved to Crestwood, New York, in 1962, Schmemann became dean, a post he held until his death. He was an Orthodox observer at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965.

Much of his focus at Saint Vladimir’s was on liturgical theology. He published many books and articles. For the Life of the World, a popular volume on Christian faith as reflected in liturgy, has been translated into 11 languages. The Eucharist was finished just before his death. This and several collections of his writings were published posthumously. In many places, Schmemann acknowledges the influence of Dix, so that Anglican and Orthodox liturgical thinking have had surprising influences on each other.

Brother Max Thurian (1921-1996):

Taizé has given rise to a unique style of worship and music that reflects the meditative nature of the community

Brother Max Thurian from Geneva was the Sub-Prior of Taizé, the Ecumenical monastic community in France, from its inception in the 1940s. Taizé has given rise to a unique style of worship and music that reflects the meditative nature of the community. Taizé music emphasises simple phrases, usually lines from Psalms or other pieces of Scripture, repeated and sometimes also sung in canon. The repetition is intended to aid meditation and prayer.

In 1969, Max Thurian said he was satisfied with the reforms of Vatican II, believing that Protestants could receive Holy Communion along with Roman Catholics.

His influence as a liturgist was particularly seen in the Lima Liturgy, which reveals his intimate interests in both French Reformed and Orthodox liturgy.

In 1988, Max Thurian became a Roman Catholic and was ordained a priest. In a complete turn of events on 24 July 1996, he said in L’Osservatore Romano that he was actually dissatisfied with conciliar reformation, and that the Mass “has lost its character of mystery.”

Dean Richard Giles (b. 1940):

Richard Giles ... one of the leading innovative and controversial Anglican liturgists

Richard Giles is one of the leading innovative and controversial Anglican writers on liturgy, with numerous books on liturgy, worship, the use of liturgical space and the design of church buildings. His best-known books are Repitching the tent: Reordering the Church Building for Worship and Mission (1999/2004); and Creating Uncommon Worship: A handbook on bringing the Liturgy to Life (2004). His latest book, published this time last year, is At Heaven’s Gate: Reflections on leading worship (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2010).

He is both a qualified town planner and a theologian. He trained for ordination at Cuddesdon College, and served in a number of parishes before becoming Canon Theologian in Wakefield Cathedral (1998-1999), and was appointed Dean of Philadelphia in 1999. He recently retired and now lives in Tynemouth.

Re-pitching the Tent is, perhaps, the most influential and most controversial book by an Anglican theologian in recent decades on how we use, can re-evaluate and can adapt our worship spaces.

It is challenging if you are used to and attached to our traditional arrangement of sanctuary, chancel, choir and nave. He shows how we can make our spaces count, how we can arrange for worship in such a manner that we express a theology that highlights the participation of the people in the congregation while still showing we have very distinct president of the assembly to lead the Liturgy.

Not all traditionalists warms to his ideas at once, but he relies on patristic authorities, and has produced a practical, informative and inspirational guide to creating beautiful places of worship, to revitalising the way we regard church buildings, to enabling us to see them afresh as a vital component of our worship and mission.

Creating Uncommon Worship takes a new look at how worship is both conducted and experienced. Too often liturgy is all too often about words and is led from the front, but he introduces ideas on how to enrich the liturgy by creating a context of action, movement and symbolic expression involving the whole assembly.

In At Heaven’s Gate, published this time last year, Richard Giles tells us how worship too often is a duty rather than a joy, a gathering of the like-minded rather than an encounter with the living God. For those who lead worship, the liturgy can all too easily be reduced to a steady progression through a service book, instead of drawing forth the gifts and ministries from an expectant assembly engaged in an enterprise that joins earth to heaven.

Richard Giles is convinced that “the Sunday gathering of God’s people is the sacrament of their transformation,” and that they deserve nothing less than “worship that takes us to the threshold of heaven,” our own little “tradesmen’s entrance into the kingdom of God.” But, all too often, it falls short of that, and we need to award worship “first, second and third place in our agenda,” to get it right.

Giles wants liturgy to be as good and as creative as possible, “something beautiful for God,” something that will “inspire, engage and transform.” He has a lot to say about the necessity for strong leadership and Presidency, but recognises how easily that can be misunderstood: “Fruitful leadership emerges from the community, and is not set over against it.”

He asks: “What makes really good worship?” – and he then examines the chief components of worship and liturgy that engage, inspire and transform. He recalls us to the wonder of worship, and reminds us that when the people of God gather, we come to the very gate of heaven, touching the eternal mystery.

How does a visit to the local gate of heaven appear to most people today?

Is the welcome warm and genuine?

Is there a sense of expectancy?

Do the surroundings speak of transcendence or are they full of clutter?

Is every minute taken up with words and music?

Or are there spaces when we can listen for God?

Is the coffee afterwards worth staying for?

I hope we can look at these and other questions next week when we look at Baptism and Eucharist in the context of the contemporary life and mission of the Church, and in the context of worship and inculturation.

Supplementary bibliography:

The ARCIC reports.

R. Arguile, The Offering of the People (Jubilee 1989).
JF Baldovin, “The Liturgical Movement and Its Consequences,” pp 249-260 in Heflin and Shattuck (eds).
JF Baldovin, “An outsider’s view of Anglican Worship,” pp 152-169 in Spinks and Stevenson (eds).
Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, Faith and Order Paper No 11 (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1982).
LW Brown, Relevant Liturgy (London: SPCK, 1965).
C. Buchanan, ARCIC and Lima on Baptism and Eucharist (Grove Worship Series No 86, Bramcote: Grove Books, 1983).
C. Buchanan, The End of the Offertory (Bramcote: Grove Books, 1978).
C. Buchanan, “The legacy of the Church of South India,” pp 244-248 in Heflin and Shattuck (eds).
O. Chadwick, The Victorian Church (vol 2).
P. Bradshaw, The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (London; SCM Press, 2002).
G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Dacre Press, 1945).
I. Ellis, Vision and Reality: a survey of twentieth century Irish inter-church relations (Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, QUB, 1992).
A. Flannery (ed), Vatican Council II: the conciliar and post-conciliar documents (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 1981 ed).
TS Garret, Worship in the Church of South India (1958).
Richard Giles, Repitching the Tent: Reordering the Church Building for Worship and Mission (1999/2004).
Richard Giles, Creating Uncommon Worship: A handbook on bringing the Liturgy to Life (2004).
Richard Giles, At Heaven’s Gate: Reflections on leading worship (Norwich: Canterbury Press 2010).
Donald Gray, Earth and Altar (Norwich: Canterbury Press/Alcuin, 1986).
AG Hebert, Liturgy and Society (London: Faber 1935).
RCD Jasper, The development of the Anglican liturgy 1662-1980 (London: SPCK, 1989).
J. Jungmann, The Early Liturgy (London: DLT 1960)
T. Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy, trans. J Halliburton (1969)
EB Koenker, The Liturgical Renaissance in the Roman Catholic Church (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954).
A. Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology (1975).
A. Schmemann, The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom (1988).
A. Schmemann, The World as Sacrament (London, 1966).
JF White, “Prayer Book Architecture,” pp 106-115, in Heflin and Shattuck (eds).


Seminar: readings in ecumenical statements: ARCIC, WCC Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, and the Church of Ireland Methodist Covenant.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is an expanded version of a lecture on 21 November 2011 on Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.

Introducing Celtic Spirituality

Glendalough ... the monastic “Valley of the Two Lakes” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Patrick Comerford

Opening Reading:
Ephesians 1: 15-23.

Opening Hymn:

In the Church Calendar and in the lectionary, yesterday [Sunday 20 November 2011] marked the Kingship of Christ. So we open our reflections on Celtic Spirituality with a hymn that praises the High King of Heaven:

Be thou my vision (Church Hymnal, No 643).


About two years ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon in Glendalough, looking for what I thought would be the remains of a great Celtic monastery.

Imagine my surprise when I found that the most prominent Celtic High Cross I was taking photographs of – one that stands beneath the Great Round Tower – was a gravestone erected in the late 19th century.

A few more Celtic myths were shattered that afternoon: the Great Round Tower was capped in the late 19th century too, so as we see it today is not as it once stood; even Saint Kevin’s Church is an 18th century church, built according to plans derived from an earlier sketch by a French or Swiss artist.

Our images of Celtic spirituality are often shaped by Victorian romanticism. Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, as we know it, is based on a manuscript from the late 11th century now in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. But it was only published in 1897 by John Henry Bernard (1860-1927), later Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin (1915-1919) and Provost of Trinity College Dublin (1919-1927).

The hymn Be Thou My Vision (Church Hymnal 643) refers to Christ as “my high tower” ... the Round Tower at Glendalough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Sometimes, our images of Celtic Spirituality are intricately linked with the nation-state-building myths created by an Irish nationalism that was often narrow in its vision. Yet, Be thou my vision, Hymn 643 in the Church Hymnal, was versified by a member of the Church of Ireland, Dr Eleanor Henrietta Hull, using another translation of an earlier poem or prayer.

But often the vision of the nation myth-makers was of an Ireland in which anything they regarded as “Celtic” was wrapped up with a narrow, exclusive concept of being green, Gaelic, Catholic, nationalist and Irish.

Saint Patrick’s Window in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

The popular images of Saint Patrick at that time in stained-glass windows, road-side statues and popular postcards show him standing on a bed of shamrocks decked in the robes and mitre of a truly Tridentine bishop. Of course, I would point out that green is the wrong liturgical colour both for Lent and for a saint’s day. But why was he never seen in those popular portrayals in convocation robes or in a simple alb and stole? Because the message was clear: Celtic Christianity was for Roman Catholics only, and at that for a particular type of Catholicism.

And yet we did something similar in the Church of Ireland in the 19th century. Antiquarians posing as historians claimed Patrick, and every other Celtic saint they could find, for Protestant Christianity, as opposed to Roman Christianity … as if Christianity in Ireland before the 12th or 13th centuries was pure from heresy, undefiled by superstition and out of touch with the Continental European Church.

Nor was Celtic Christianity the only formative influence on the Church in Ireland as it moved from the mediaeval period towards the Reformations. The Preamble and Declaration of 1870 describe the Church of Ireland as “the Ancient Catholic and Apostolic Church of Ireland” – what a title. But that ancient and catholic church is not just Celtic; it was influenced and shaped too by other cultural forces, including the Vikings, Anglo-Normans, and many others. Hopefully this will continue in the future, with the Romanians, Nigerians, Chinese, or others.

It may be that the economic woes of the past year or two have made us despise the Celtic Tiger. But Celtic Spirituality is still a fashionable commodity when you look at the shops around Christ Church Cathedral or go shopping for small presents in Dublin Airport before a flight.

Much of what passes as “Celtic” and as “Celtic Spirituality” is tatty and second-rate. But there are compelling reasons to have a sound grasp of Celtic spirituality in the context of ministry in Ireland today.

The Cathedral ... The largest and most imposing of the buildings at Glendalough, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Firstly, many of the cathedrals and churches of the Church of Ireland stand on ancient Celtic monastic sites. If you have ever wondered why so many Church of Ireland cathedrals – Achonry, Ardagh, Clogher, Clonfert, Elphin, Emly, Ferns, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh, Kilmore, Leighlin, Raphoe, Rosscarbery – are in small villages or remote locations, or why it took so long to build cathedrals in Belfast, Enniskillen, or Sligo, or why still we have no cathedral in Galway, then you begin to realise the lasting influences of the Celtic monasteries.

You may be ordained in one of these cathedrals, or become a curate or rector in a church with the tongue-twisting name of an otherwise-forgotten Celtic saint. So we should know its place and part in the story of our church.

Secondly, Celtic Christianity is popular and marketable – it’s a lifestyle choice. [The Revd Patrick] Paddy [McGlinchey] told us some weeks ago of how many books on Buddhism are on sale even in ordinary bookshops. In fact, the three most popular categories of books on religion or on “Mind, Body and Spirit” shelves in Irish bookshops are on Buddhism, new age-type books on angels, and new age-style books on “Celtic Spirituality.”

It is important to know the minds of people, to know what engages them spiritually, what passes as religion for many if we are going to be incarnational in our ministry and mission.

But much of the writing about Celtic spirituality today is superficial, amateur, new age material, making spurious claims for the writers and against Christianity. For example: “Perhaps it is this mixture of pagan and Christian that makes Celtic Spirituality so interesting and so accessible today ... It is easier to find spiritual truth in a sacred grove than a dusty half empty church hall.”

Or what do you make of this claim: “Celtic Spirituality … is not a religion, it is a series of beliefs and practices to help you become aware of the spiritual world around you and your place in it. Whether you find it suitable to work with Jesus, his apostles and the Celtic Saints, or Brigid, Mannán Mac Lir and the Celtic gods, it matters little. What matters is that your life is enriched; you are at peace with your inner-being and that you become aware of the magic and incredible world that surrounds us all.”

Patrick Wormald describes this as “... ‘new-age’ paganism,” based on notions of some sort of “Celtic spirituality,” allegedly distinguished by a unique “closeness to nature.”

And thirdly, modern spirituality, in a dynamic way, has drawn on and has been enriched by many resources associated with Celtic spirituality, enriching the life of the Church of Ireland at every level.

There are at least 20 hymns from the Irish language in the Church Hymnal, and many more tunes with a Celtic air to them. We have all been enriched by the prayers of the Iona Community, the hymns of John Bell, Graham Maule and the Wild Goose Worship Group, the active and engaged spirituality of the Corrymeela community, or the resources of the Northumbria Community near Lindisfarne.

The global reception of the hymns of John Bell and Graham Maule show how there is a fresh and new interest in Celtic Spirituality that is not confined to Ireland.

At an academic level, this interest has been stimulated by scholars such as James Mackey, Ian Bradley in the Church of Scotland, the Jesuit Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire (1915-2001), the Carmelite Peter O’Dwyer and the Redemptorist John Ó Ríordáin, and writers such as the late John O’Donohue, poet and author of Anam Cara (1997) who died almost four years ago (4 January 2008).

The Celts: who were they?

‘As the deer pants for the water’ … the base of the ‘Market Cross’ in Kells, Co Meath, has two friezes, including a deer hunt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

If we are going to talk about Celtic spirituality, I should begin with caution: it is difficult to say if there was such a group of people as Celts. The name for Celts comes from terms used by the Greeks and Romans to describe the people who lived in Gaul (France). But scholars differ when they answer the question: Who were the Celts?

Did they originate in southern Europe, or in what is now southern Germany and Austria? Or did they come from the Pontic-Caspian region? Strabo suggests that the Celtic heartland was in southern France. Pliny the Elder says the Celts originated in southern Portugal and Spain. But how did they reach the remote Atlantic coasts and islands of Western Europe we now know as the “Celtic fringe”?

“Celt” is a modern English word. There are few written records of ancient Celtic languages and most of the evidence for personal names and place names is found in Greek and Roman authors. The names used by Greek (Κελτοί, Γαλᾶται) and Latin writers (Galli) refer to speakers of similar languages, but not to a people. The one group of Biblical Celts is the Galatians, and Saint Jerome (AD 342-419), in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, notes the language of the Anatolian Galatians at his time.

Romantic antiquarian interest popularised the term “Celt,” but only from the 17th century on. Because of the rise of nationalism and Celtic revivals from the 19th century on, the term “Celtic” is now used to identify the languages and cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany. But the term “Celtic” also applies to Continental European regions with a Celtic heritage but no Celtic language, such as northern Iberia, and to a lesser degree France.

“Celticity” refers to shared cultural indicators, such as language, myths, artefacts and social organisation. But does that shared culture and family of language imply a shared ethnicity?

There is little archaeological evidence in Ireland for large inward Celtic migration. European Celtic influences and language may have been absorbed gradually. But did the Celts arrive in Ireland by invasion? Or did their culture and language spread gradually to other peoples already here? As one writer in The Irish Times argued, just because we all eat pasta and pizza, drink Chianti, holiday in Tuscany and are decked out by Versace and Gucci, does not make us Italian, even culturally. Nor does it indicate there was ever an Italian invasion of Ireland. Were the Celtic languages and cultures adopted as some sort of early fashion statement?

Can we talk about a Celtic Christianity?

Saint Kevin’s Church ... named after the founder of the monastic settlement, has a steep roof supported internally by a semi-circular vault (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Can we talk about a “Celtic Christianity” with distinguishing, unique traditions, spirituality, liturgies and rituals that mark it out from other traditions in the Church in the neighbouring sub-Roman world?

“Celtic Christianity” broadly refers to early mediaeval Christian practices that developed around the Irish Sea in the 5th and 6th centuries, among many people on these islands. By extension, the term can refer to the monastic networks founded from Scotland and Ireland on Continental Europe, especially in Gaul (France).

The term “Celtic Christianity” is sometimes extended beyond the 7th century to describe later Christian practice in these areas. But the history of the churches on these islands diverges significantly after the 8th century, with great differences even between rival Irish traditions.

It is easy to exaggerate the cohesiveness of the Celtic Christian communities. The term “Celtic Church” is inappropriate to describe Christianity among Celtic-speaking peoples. Celtic-speaking areas were part of Latin or Western Christendom as a whole. But we can talk about certain traditions in Celtic-speaking lands, and the development and spread of these traditions, especially in the 6th and 7th centuries.

The flowering of Celtic Christianity

A late Celtic high cross at Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford … Saint Edan was once claimed as pre-Patrician bishop in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Britain was the most remote province in the Roman Empire. Christianity reached England in the first few centuries AD, and the first recorded martyr in England was Saint Alban, perhaps between 283 and 304, certainly long before Saint Patrick’s time in Ireland.

The Roman legions were withdrawn from England in 407, Rome was sacked in 410, the legions did not return to England, and Roman influence came to an end. In the aftermath, these islands developed distinctively from the rest of Western Europe, and the Irish Sea acted as a centre from which a new culture developed among the “Celtic” peoples.

Ireland was never part of the Roman Empire. But Christianity came here from the former Roman outposts, and a unique Church organisation emerged, focussed on the monasteries, rather than on episcopal sees, with their own traditions and practices. Key figures in this process included Saint Ninian, Palladius and Saint Patrick, the “Apostle of Ireland.” Ireland was converted through the work of missionaries from Britain such as Patrick and others.

Celtic missions

Early Celtic saints and founding figures of the Church included Saint Martin in France, Saint Ninian in Scotland, Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid in Ireland, and Saint Samson and Saint David in Wales and Brittany.

In the 6th and 7th centuries, monks from Ireland established monastic settlements in parts of Scotland. They included Saint Columba or Saint Colmcille, who settled on Iona. Ireland became “a land of saints and scholars” and missionaries from Ireland became a major source of missionary work in Scotland, Saxon parts of Britain and central Europe.

As the Anglo-Saxons colonised what is now England, Celtic missionaries from Scotland and Ireland worked among them. In the year 631, Saint Aidan was sent from Iona to evangelise them from the island of Lindisfarne, on England’s north-east coast. Celtic practice heavily influenced northern England, and the missionaries from Lindisfarne reached as far south as London.

Irish monks were also settling in Continental Europe, particularly in Gaul (France), including Saint Columbanus, and exerting a profound influence greater than that of many Continental centres with more ancient traditions.

Meanwhile, in 597, Pope Gregory sent a mission to the English, led by Saint Augustine. These renewed links with the greater Latin West brought the Celtic-speaking peoples into close contact with other expressions of Christianity.

Distinctive traditions

Some of the customs and traditions that had developed in Celtic Christianity were distinctive or gave rise to disputes with the rest of the Western Church. These included the monastic tradition, fixing the date of Easter, differences on the use of tonsure, and penitential rites.

1, The monastic tradition

The ‘Market Cross’ in front of Kells Heritage Centre once stood within the monastery grounds in Kells, Co Meath, associated with Saint Columba and the ‘Book of Kells’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The achievements of Christianity in the Celtic-speaking world are significant. Irish society had no pre-Christian history of literacy. Yet within a few generations of the arrival of Christianity, the monks and priests had become fully integrated with Latin culture. Apart from their Latin texts, these Irish monks also developed a written form of Old Irish.

Some of the greatest achievements of the Celtic tradition were during this period, such as the Book of Kells, and intricately carved high crosses.

Episcopal structures were adapted to an environment wholly different from that in the sub-Roman world. Apart from parts of Wales, Devon, and Cornwall, the Celtic world was without developed cities, and so different ecclesiastical structures were needed, especially in Ireland. This ecclesiastical structure developed around monastic communities and their abbots.

2, Calculating the date of Easter

Celtic Christianity was often marked by its conservatism, even archaism. One example is the method used to calculate Easter, using a calculation similar to one approved by Saint Jerome.

Eventually, most groups, including the southern Irish, accepted the new methods for calculating Easter, but not the monastery of Iona and the houses linked to it.

At the Synod of Whitby in 664, the rules of the Roman mission were accepted by the Church in England, and were extended later throughout Britain and Ireland. But the decrees of Whitby did not immediately change the face of Christianity on these islands. There were pockets of resistance to the Roman mission, especially in Devon, Cornwall and Scotland, and the monks of Iona did not accept the decisions reached at Whitby until 716.

3, Monastic tonsure

Irish monks kept a distinct tonsure, or method of cutting their hair, to distinguish their identity as monks. The “Celtic” tonsure involved cutting away the hair above one’s forehead. This differed from the prevailing custom, which was to shave the top of the head, leaving a halo of hair – in imitation of Christ’s crown of thorns.

4, Penitentials

In Ireland, a distinctive form of penance developed, where confession was made privately to a priest, under the seal of secrecy, and penance was given privately and performed privately as well. Handbooks, called “penitentials,” were designed as a guide for confessors and to regularise the penance given for each particular sin.

In the past, penance had been a public ritual, but had fallen into disuse. But the Irish penitential practice spread throughout continental Europe, and Saint Columbanus is said to have introduced the “medicines of penance” to Gaul.

By 1215, the Celtic practice had become the European norm, with the Fourth Lateran Council issuing a canonical requirement for confession at least once per year.

Renewed interest in ‘Celtic Spirituality’

A replica high cross from the 19th century beneath the Round Tower of Glendalough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

In the 19th century, there was a revival of interest in Celtic spirituality in these islands, with renewed interest in the poetry, customs or household prayers of the western Celtic fringes. It coincided with a similar revival in political and artistic circles.

Hymns mentioning high towers were written in the same decades in the late 19th century as the Round Tower was restored and capped in Glendalough, a Round Tower was erected at the grave of Daniel O’Connell in Glasnevin Cemetery, and, as part of the Victorian Arts and Crafts Movement, my great-grandfather decorated the top storey of the Irish House, a pub that stood beneath Christ Church Cathedral, with a series of rising round towers.

The Gaelic Athletic Association was formed in 1884, the Gaelic League by Douglas Hyde, a rector’s son, in 1893. Our most popular English-language version of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, Frances Alexander’s I bind unto myself today (Irish Church Hymnal, 322) was first sung and published as late as 1889. The English-language version of Be thou my vision by Mary Byrne and Eleanor Hull (Irish Church Hymnal, No 643), which refers to God as “my high tower,” was only translated and versified in 1905, and was first published in a hymnal in 1915.

The pediment of the Irish House, on the corner of Wood Quay and Winetavern Street, was decorated by James Comerford in 1870 with a series of Celtic motifs, topped by a collection of rising round towers

In Scotland, many ‘Celtic’ poems and prayers were collected and edited by Alexander Carmichael in his Carmina Gadelica (1900) and in Ireland by Douglas Hyde in the Religious Songs of Connacht (1906).

In 1938, George MacLeod, a Church of Scotland minister, rebuilt Iona’s ancient Abbey, and founded the modern Iona Community.

Since the 1980s, Celtic-style books of prayers by the Revd David Adam, Vicar of Lindisfarne, have become widely popular, as has a wave of books about Celtic Christianity, study courses, and Celtic interest networks.

Themes in Celtic Spirituality

For centuries, the riches of Celtic spirituality were transmitted orally. These included prayers sung or chanted at the rising and setting of the sun, in the midst of daily work and routine, at a child’s birth, or at a loved one’s death. There were prayers of daily life celebrating God as Life within all life, with creation as his dwelling place.

1, Creation:

David Adam says: “Celtic Christians saw a universe ablaze with God’s glory, suffused with a presence that calls, nods and beckons – a creation personally united with its Creator in every atom and fibre.”

There’s no plant in the ground
But is full of his blessing.
There’s no thing in the sea
But is full of his life...
There is nought in the sky
But proclaims his goodness.
Jesu! O Jesu! it’s good to praise thee!
– (Carmina Gadelica)

Long before Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Patrick called Christ the “True Sun.” Ray Simpson writes in Celtic Blessings: “A good way to experience Jesus is to use what I call the Sun Bathing Exercise. Imagine Jesus as the smiling sunshine of God pouring rays of light upon you. Just soak these up, relax and feel better! Celtic Christians see Jesus as the divine light that permeates all creation. So by spending time in nature we can also be spending time with Jesus.”

2, Humanity

Christ enthroned ... the Book of Kells

O Son of God … dear child of Mary, you are the refined molten metal of our forge. – Tadhg Óg Ó Huiginn

Christ is the supreme example of a complete human life. By being united to him, we can learn how to be fully human by finding a body-mind-intuition balance, and by growing in wisdom and, above all, love.

3,Worship and community

Early Celtic Christians shared their food, money, work, play and worship in little communities which were always open to the people who lived around them. Wherever they lived they saw Christ in their neighbour and made community with them.

Celtic writers talked about worshipping God with the “five-stringed harp” ... the North Cross in Castledermot, Co Kildare, depicts King David with his harp – one of the few images on a Celtic high cross from this time of an Irish harp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Celtic writers talked about worshipping God with the “five-stringed harp” – meaning all five senses. The Celtic churches punctuated each day and night with periods of prayer.

4, The Trinity

Celtic Christians had a strong emphasis on the Holy Trinity. They followed the one God who embraces the world with his two arms of love: the right arm is Christ; the left arm is the Spirit:

I lie down this night with God
And God will lie down with me
I lie down this night with Christ
And Christ will lie down with me
I lie down this night with the Spirit
And the Spirit will lie down with me
. – (Carmina Gadelica)

5, Everyday prayers

The Celts prayed about anything and everything in a natural way. Prayers for frequent activities were learned by heart and handed down by word of mouth or later in writing.

Some of the Celtic prayers are blessings:

Bless to me, O God
Each thing my eye sees,
Each sound my ear hears,
Each person I meet.

Some Celtic prayers were “circling prayers”:

Circle me, Lord.
Keep peace within, keep harm without.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep love within, keep hate without.

6, Prayer and imagination

Celtic prayer is also marked by the use of imagination, for example, by imagining that Christ, his mother or friends were in the kitchen, in the house, in the workplace, or even in the bedroom. Here are some examples:

I will do my household chores as would Mary, mother of Jesus.
I will travel to my next place in the presence of the angels of protection.
Who is that near me when I am sad and alone?
It is Jesus, the King of the sun

7, Armour (“Breastplate”) prayers

The most famous of the armour or breastplate prayers for protection is known as Saint Patrick’s Breastplate. This invites God’s force-field to strengthen us for life’s struggles.

The armour consists of:

1. God – the three in one
2. Human valour as lived by Christ
3. Angels and great souls
4. Powers of creation
5. Spiritual gifts

The praying person then confronts negative forces one by one, invites Christ into each situation, and repeats the opening invocation.

In the prayer we call Saint Patrick’s Breastplate (see Hymns 322 and 611 in the Church Hymnal), the writer imagines that he is Saint Patrick, putting on the different items of God’s armour: God, good spirits, saints, powers of creation, spiritual gifts – just like a suit of armour. The eighth verse of this prayer (Hymn 322) says:

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

8, Blessing prayers

The Celtic way blessed everything in life (except evil), however earthy or every-day, all around the clock, including animals, food, gifts, jobs, lovemaking, meals, travel. Here are examples of an anniversary and a sleep blessing:

On this your anniversary
God give you the best of memories,
Christ give you pardon for failings,
Spirit give you the fruits of friendship.

Sleep in peace,
Sleep soundly,
Sleep in love.
Weaver of dreams
Weave well in you as you sleep
. – Ray Simpson, Celtic Blessings.

9, Miracles and Celtic saints

In Celtic Christianity, saints were regarded as holy spiritual overlords who were close to God, provided assistance in times of need, had special influence in the court of heaven, and were able to plead with God for favours.

Many miracles were associated with them, including visions, healings, favours granted, mystical appearances and more. Places where miracles had been performed became pilgrimage sites.

10, The Anamchara

Celtic Christians recognised the importance of shared spiritual journeys, and their Anamchara or Soul Friend, was their spiritual director. Anamchara were sought out as men and women of wisdom, great spirituality and insight, who were willing to share their understanding of the faith with others.

Saint Brigid said that “the person without an Anamchara is like a body without a head.”

Some Celtic saints:

Apart from Saint Patrick, we ought to be familiar with some other Celtic and Irish saints from this period and tradition.

1, Saint Brigid of Kildare

Saint Brigid ... one of the three patrons of Ireland

Saint Brigid (1 February), is second only to Saint Patrick (17 March) as the patron of Ireland. She is also known as Mary of the Gael. A passage in the Book of Lismore testifies to her importance: “It is she who helpeth everyone who is in danger; it is she that abateth the pestilences; it is she that quelleth the rage and the storm of the sea. She is the prophetess of Christ; she is the Queen of the South; she is the Mary of the Gael.”

Saint Brigid is said to offer protection to poets, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, dairymaids, midwives, new-born babies and fugitives. The numerous stories of miracles performed by her even in childhood convey the impression that she was really a person of compassion, charity and strength. Her practicality and resourcefulness were shown by fetching well water that tasted more like ale for a sick servant, or picking up rushes from the floor to twist into a cross to explain the message of salvation to a dying man. Her generosity frequently relied on prayer to make good the deficit.

Her father Dubtach was a pagan nobleman in Leinster, and her mother his Christian bondwoman, Brotseach, whom he sold to a Druid who lived at Faughart near Dundalk. There the child was born in the mid-5th century (ca 451 or 453) and baptised Brid or Brigid. It is said that as a child she was taken to hear Saint Patrick preaching, and as she listened to him she fell into an ecstasy.

At about the age of 14, instead of accepting marriage, she opted for the religious life. She left home with seven other young girls and travelled to Co Meath where Saint Macaille was bishop.

The chancel of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Brigid founded the first convent in Ireland. She went to Ardagh to make her final vows before Saint Mel, a nephew of Saint Patrick, and he is said to have mistakenly ordained here.

Later, a unique community of monks and nuns developed at Kildare, with Brigid as Abbess of the nuns and Conleth, the first Bishop of Kildare, as Abbot of the monks. Kildare became a centre for spirituality and learning, healing, faith-sharing and evangelism.

Brigid died on 1 February ca 521-528. She is depicted in art as an abbess holding a lamp or candle, often with a cow in the background, and sometimes wearing a mitre. This poem is ascribed to her:

I long for a great lake of ale
I long for the meats of belief and pure piety
I long for the flails of penance at my house
I long for them to have barrels full of peace
I long to give away jars full of love
I long for them to have cellars full of mercy
I long for cheerfulness to be in their drinking
I long for Jesus too to be there among them

2, Saint Columba

The Round Tower in Kells, Co Meath ... a monastic site dating from the ninth, or even the sixth century, is associated with Saint Columba and his followers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Saint Columba (9 June) is intimately associated with Iona, off the west coast of Scotland – and is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland. But he is also linked to a number of Irish monastic foundations, including Kells, Co Meath, and Derry.

He was born in Co Donegal in 520 into a wealthy royal family and was given the name Colum (“the dove”). He became a priest at a monastery founded by Saint Finian and spent many years in his home region establishing hundreds of churches and monasteries.

It is said that during a visit to Saint Finian, Columba secretly copied a beautiful Psalter that Finian brought back from Rome. In doing this, he devalued the original book. Columba refused to return his the copy and Finian challenged him in court. The king ruled in favour of Finian, saying famously: “To every cow belongs her calf; to every book belongs its copy.”

When Columba still refused to give back his copy, a clan war broke out between the king’s followers and Columba’s supporters. Many people were killed in the fighting, and a shamed Columba accepted “white martyrdom” – exiling himself from his homeland as a penance. In 563, at the age of 42, Columba and 12 companion monks sailed in a currach to Iona, where they settled and founded a monastery.

Iona became the largest Christian centre in northern Britain, attracting thousands of monks, and later became a centre for missionary outreach to the highlands of Scotland.

In 597, at the age of 76, a week before he died, Columba climbed the hill overlooking the monastery in Iona, blessed the monks, and said: “In Iona of my heart, Iona of my love, Instead of monks’ voices shall be lowing of cattle, But ere the world come to an end Iona shall be as it was.” During his last days he dictated a prayer to his monks:

See that you are at peace among yourselves,
my children, and love one another.
Take the example of the good men of ancient
times and God will comfort and aid you,
both in this world and in the world to come.

Iona Abbey, and the Iona Community founded in the 1930s by George MacLeod, continue to inspire Christians today throughout the world.

Saint Cuthbert (636-687)

Pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels are projected onto Durham Cathederal in Durham. Artist Ross Ashton collaborated with Robert Ziegler and John del Nero to create a 12-minute Son et Lumiere, projecting pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels across the Durham Cathedral, as part of Durham Lumiere from Thursday last until yesterday

Saint Cuthbert was born in the Scottish border country near Melrose. One night, he had a vision of a great light, stretching from earth to heaven. He learned later that on that same night, 31 August 651, Saint Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, had died. To the young shepherd, the vision seemed to be a challenge and a call to serve God. He entered the Monastery of Old Melrose and there he spent 13 years as a monk.

Eata, Abbot of Melrose, took Cuthbert with him to Ripon where they entered the monastery together. Cuthbert later returned to Melrose as Prior in 661. As prior, he took part in the Synod of Whitby in 664, when he accepted the synod decisions on the date of Easter and the tonsure.

Cuthbert returned to Lindisfarne as Prior but then travelled throughout Northumbria. In search of a solitary life, he built a round cell and chapel south of Lindisfarne, and he lived there for eight years, devoting his time to prayer. In York on Easter Day, 26 March 685, he was consecrated Bishop of Lindisfarne, following in Aidan’s footsteps. He died in 687.

During the Viking raids in Northumbria in 698, Cuthbert’s followers moved his body and carried it from place to place for safety. In 883, he was buried in Chester-le-Street and in 996 he was reburied in Durham Cathedral, where his shrine remains to this day.

Some key centres for Celtic spirituality:


Glencolubkille and Garton, Co Donegal: Garton is the birthplace of Saint Columba, and he described Glencolumbkille as “Glen of the psalms and the prayers, glen of Heaven.”

Glendalough, Co Wicklow: Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, 25 miles from Dublin, is the best preserved “monastic city” in Ireland, with its round tower, seven churches and visitor centre, which tells the story of Saint Kevin.

The monastery of Holmpatrick stood on the mound in the graveyard behind the present parish church in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Skerries: a monastery associated with Saint Patrick was first located on the islands off the shore, before moving to the site of the present Church of Ireland Parish Church, Holmpatrick, where the ruined tower behind the church stands on the height of the monastic site.


Iona: Saint Columba established his monastery on Iona in the 6th century. The modern Iona Community was founded in 1938 as an ecumenical community committed to seeking new ways of living the Christian faith in today’s world.

Whithorn: Saint Ninian founded the first large Christian community here in the 5th century.


Saint David’s and Saint Non’s: Saint David’s Cathedral is near the site of the great monastic community founded by the patron saint of Wales. At nearby Saint Non’s, a well and retreat house mark the traditional site where Saint David’s mother, Saint Non, gave birth, and is the start of a coastal pilgrim trail.


Lindisfarne, Northumberland: Lindisfarne has sometimes been described as the “cradle of English Christianity.” Alcuin, adviser to the Emperor Charlemagne, described Lindisfarne as “the holiest place in England.” From Lindisfarne, Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert spread the Christian faith north and south.

Whitby, Yorkshire: The ruins of Saint Hilda’s Abbey and the Caedmon Cross in the churchyard opposite stand out on the cliff top site. This was once the largest English monastic community for men and women. Today, the Order of The Holy Paraclete offers retreat accommodation at Saint Hilda’s Priory.

Durham: The shrine of Saint Cuthbert is at Durham Cathedral.

The Book of Chad or Lichfield Gospels show clearly the combination of Celtic and Saxon culture in the eighth century ... Saint Chad was trained in an Irish monastery

The detail and beauty of Anglo-Saxon metalwork in the exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral earlier this year are evidence of the intimate cultural links between the ‘Celtic’ Ireland and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ England

Lichfield: Saint Chad, who was educated at an Irish monastery ca 651-664, established the church in Mercia, the pre-Norman Kingdom of the English Midlands, and died in 672. The Book of Chad, now one of the great treasures of Lichfield Cathedral, predates the Book of Kells by about 80 years.

Last August, I visited an exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral of recent finds in a large Anglo-Saxon horde near Lichfield. This discovery points to an interesting interaction between the Saxons of Mercia and the Celtic church in Northumbria and perhaps even Ireland before the arrival of Saint Chad.

Bradwell, Essex: The 9th century chapel in Bradwell was founded by Saint Cedd of Lindisfarne.

For contemplation:

In the time we have for meditation and contemplation, I suggest you take the Church Hymnal and meditate on the words of Hymn 611 (Christ be beside me) or Hymn 322 (I bind unto myself), both adapted from The Breastplate of Saint Patrick.

Concluding prayer:

The hymn Christ be beside me (611) speaks of Christ as King of my heart, while Be thou my vision (643) refers twice to the High King of heaven.

Yesterday, the Sunday before Advent, was also the Sunday on marking the Kingship of Christ. And so we conclude with the Collect of the Day and the Lord’s Prayer:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Our Father ...

Resources and links:

Web resources:

The Centre for the Study of Religion in Celtic Societies at the University of Wales has an e-library: click here
The Iona Community:
The Island of Lindisfarne:
Saint Hilda’s Priory, the Order of the Holy Paraclete, Whitby:
Wild Goose Resource Group:


David Adam, Border Lands (Sheed & Ward) … the best of David Adam’s Celtic vision. This is a compilation of four of his most popular books and includes prayers, meditations and Celtic art.

David Adam, The Eye of the Eagle (Triangle) … the reader is taken through the hymn, Be Thou My Vision, in a search for the spiritual riches that are hidden in all our lives.

Ian Bradley, The Celtic Way (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1993) ... Ian Bradley, a Presbyterian minister in the Church of Scotland, has lectured in the Department of Theology in the University of Aberdeen. This is a good, sound introduction to Celtic spirituality.

Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community (London: Harper Collins, 2000) … an introduction to daily prayer drawing on resources from the “Celtic Church” throughout these islands, with good notes and introductions to further resources.

Elizabeth Culling, What is Celtic Christianity? (Nottingham: Grove Books, Grove Series No 45).

The Iona Community Worship Book (Glasgow: Wild Goose, 1994 ed).

Lemuel J. Hopkins-James, The Celtic Gospels, their story and their text (Oxford: OUP, 1934/2001) … Hopkins-James transcribed the Book of Chad in 1934.

Mary Keaney, Celtic Heritage Saints (Dublin: Veritas, 1998) … introduces us to scholars, adventurous sailors, saints who get their heads chopped off, friends and enemies of kings. Good for using in schools, Sunday schools, and with confirmation classes.

Diana Leatham, They Built on Rock (London: Hodder & Stoughton). This book tells the stories of the Celtic saints who maintained their faith during the Dark Ages. The people profiled include Saint Cuthbert, Saint Ninian, Saint David and Saint Columba.

James P. Mackey, An introduction to Celtic Christianity (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995 ed) … a collection of essays by 14 of the best experts on Celtic Christianity, including mission, liturgy, prayers, hymns and the arts.

Caitlín Matthews, Celtic Devotional: daily prayers and blessings (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1996/2004).

Patrick Murray, The Deer’s Cry (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1986) … a useful anthology of poetry and verse.

Peter O’Dwyer, Céilí Dé: Spiritual reform in Ireland 750-900 (Dublin: Editions Tailliura, 1981) … the story of the movement within Celtic monasticism that gave us Saint Maelruain’s Monastery in Tallaght and the Derrynaflann Chalice.

Pat Robson, The Celtic Heart (London: Fount, 1998) … a collection of Celtic writings celebrating the seasons of life by an Anglican priest living in Cornwall. It includes short biographies of saints and influential figures.

Michael Rodgers and Marcus Losack, Glendalough: A Celtic Pilgrimage (Dublin: Columba Press, 1996) … a useful guidebook to our nearest Celtic monastic foundation.

George Otto Simms, Commemorating Saints & Others of the Irish Church (Dublin: Columba Press, 1999) … biographical notes and suggestions for intercessions

Ray Simpson, Celtic Blessings (Loyola Press) … how many of us have whispered an impromptu prayer to our computer, begging it not to crash? Celtic Blessings reveals such actions are part of an ancient and sacred ritual.

Ray Simpson, The Celtic Prayer Book (Kevin Mayhew) … The Celtic Prayer Book is published in four volumes: 1, Prayer Rhythms: fourfold patterns for each day; 2, Saints of the Isles: a year of feasts; 3, Healing the Land: natural seasons, sacraments and special service; 4, Greater Celtic Christians: alternative worship.

Ray Simpson, Exploring Celtic Spirituality (Hodder & Stoughton) … the chapters of this book feature different aspects of Celtic spirituality, including cherishing the earth, contemplative prayer and the healing of society. There are prayers and responses at the end of each chapter.

Martin Wallace, The Celtic Resource Book (London: Church House Publishing) … the whole breadth of Celtic Christianity is spanned here – from liturgies and prayers and the stories of Celtic saints, through to Celtic art. The book includes liturgies for different times of the day, for use at home or in larger groups.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on Monday 21 November 2011 was part of the Spirituality model in Pastoral Formation with M.Th. students .