Tuesday, February 24, 2009

High Church, Low Church

These used to be terms used by Anglicans, first of all as a theological designation Hgh Church meaning having a "catholic theology" Low Church was equated with Protestantism. With the rise of the Oxford Movement the High Church faction started to adopt "Romish" liturgical practices, vestments, iconography, incense, veneration of the BVM and the saints, Bnediction of the Blessed Sacrament etc.
The distinction was unknown in the Catholic Church until recently, but increasingly, and worryingly, it is creeping in.
At one time, there was one Catholic "product" bishops and priests professed one faith, so theological there was no High or Low, there was simply "Catholic", there were dissenters, there always have been, but in the passed we called them heretics.
As far as the liturgy was concerned there was either High Mass (in parishes with fewer clergy a Missa Cantata) or Low Mass, one or the other. Low Mass was a said, which was a simplification of sung High Mass. Again wherever one went in the world there was one standard Catholic "product". Different settings of music might be used but always the same words. Vestments and other externals might be more or less sumptuous in different places but it was the same Rite, the same liturgy and the same faith.
Things haven't actually changed that much or at least shouldn't have. There is still one faith expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Every Catholic should be able to assent to it and to sign it, in their blood if necessary. Catholic Theology is always "High" Church.

As far as the liturgy is concerned, even in the Ordinary Form there should be one Catholic "product". Liuturgy is the always something given by the Church, not invented by individuals. There are various legitimate options, for example saying Mass contra populum against the people or cum populum with or facing the same direction as the people.
There is also the possibility of the use of the vernacular but the norm, though admittedly a rarity nopwadays, is Latin. Gregorian Chant and Polyphony is supposed to be standard, the norm. The use of hymns at Mass is only if the norms of Chant or Polyphony can't be managed. Mass is supposed to begin not with some bit of randomly chosen religious poetry set to music but with the Introit, the same with Communion, where it shouldn't be a hymn but the Proper Antiphon, similarly the Offerory should have its Proper Antiphon (but here my arguement collapses slightly because no one has bothered to put it in the Missal). The Church's norm for the reception of Holy Communion is still kneeling, is still on the tongue, we still talk about receiving Holy Communion not taking it. Briefly the norm is "High Church" or as some of us would like call it "Catholic", not Low Church or Protestant.

All the talk about Reform of the Reform is essentially about ensuring the Mass is the Mass of the Church and not the invention of an individual priest, it goes deeper than outward signs, it is saying that our theology too is not a particular priests interpretation but the presentation of what the whole Church believes and that is Catholic, "High Church" if you want to use the Anglican term. "Low Church" thinking it strikes me is an aberration, a modernism that has crept in.

Again, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has a talk published in Adoremus that takes up some of these issues.


Physiocrat said...

YES! The tin should contain what it says on the label.

Anonymous said...

"Gregorian Chant and Polyphony is supposed to be standard, the norm. The use of hymns at Mass is only if the norms of Chant or Polyphony can't be managed."

If you're talking about the OF here, in which document does it specifically say this?

becket said...

Very good analogy, but Rome needs to act instead of just words from high ranking clerics. We can all talk about the errors till were blue in the face, but what we need is action!. Without action, nothing will get reformed. Documents on the reform of the reform, sent by the Pope himself, need to be mandated to be read in every religious order and parish in every diocese in the world to make the reform of the reform known to all. I hear allot about the reform of the reform, as well as the TLM, on all these blogs, but when I walk into a parish church, no one knows anything. And priests go on about their business. Action must be taken soon!. Not just words on the blogs and prefaces in books. Ponder this thought what if this book get's published and no Catholic book store carries it. Or is never again mentioned after it is released. The enemies of Pope Benedic XVI will definitely not talk about it, or mention it to their parishioners.

Fr Ray Blake said...

George K:
I am trying reading: General Instruction of the Roman Missal, then Sacramentum Caritatis.

Anonymous said...

Father I'm 42 years old and I grew up in what one would call "low Church" at least liturgically speaking. It's had a devasting effect not only on me but my entire family. It wasn't until I was in my 20s that I found my Catholic liturgical heritage in a larger city a parish (St Agnes in Minnesota) where the "high church" liturgical tradition was intact. It was an oasis in the desert.

Peter said...

Thank you Father.
Another question please. If hymns are not best used in Mass because chant is used then when would the hymns be used? Some we know are rubbish but some are very good. Carinal Newman as hymn writer springs to mind.
I guess that they would be used at other services such as benediction, verpers etc. but we so rarely get these.

alban said...

Fr Blake: Concerning the continued use of Latin in the Liturgy, how would you understand this section from Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, No. 21?

“Both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify: the Christian people, so far as is possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.”

I particularly draw attention to the point about "understanding with ease", and would be grateful for your thoughts on those who attend without much (or any) knowledge of Latin. The matter of taking part "fully" and "actively" is a whole other issue which, I am sure, would cause some heated disagreement on this blog.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Peter in the Office, at devotions but rarely at Mass, except for the occassional sequence. They are not scripture therefore they were never comsidered worthy enough for Mass.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Alban, I think we have to read the documents with the intentions of the Council Fathers firmly in mind and in a spirit of continuity, not rupture.
I would be guided by the HF's interpretation of this document. Never did the Council Frs see the wholesale abandonment of what had been passed on and certainly not the Latin language.

Physiocrat said...


Surely understanding the liturgy is part of catechesis which should be ongoing and indeed the individual's own understanding should develop with time. So it does not really matter if it is not in the vernacular. From that particular point of view, it is irrelevant which language the liturgy is. For someone coming to the liturgy for the first time, the fact that it is in the vernacular can be an obstacle, as one then fails to get a sense of the overall action. I doubt if I would have come back to the Catholic church if my first experience of it had been in English - I would have come away disappointed in my expectations and I would have found the words and obstacle. Fortunately it was in Latin and Italian so I could not grasp the meaning of the words - that came later.

In any case, in these days of travel and migration, congregations tend to be composed of people who are not necessarily familiar with the local vernacular so it ends up being divisive. The same applies when priests say mass badly in a local vernacular with which they are not familiar.

English has particular problems because of the wide variety of usages and accents, and its connection with social class. It is probably best avoided altogether for this reason alone. The present translation is crass in style and inaccurate. The new one will be perceived as old-fashioned and contrived. You can't win. On top of this is the problem of musical settings. Almost nobody seems to be able to write suitable music for the English liturgy, but that might partly be because of the crass style of the English. But English does not work well with Gregorian chant, which is why Anglican chant came into existence. Anglican settings might have been acceptable but we were never allowed to use the texts so we missed that opportunity.

Here in Sweden things are a bit better because the Lutheran church long ago translated the Latin properly and set the translations to the old chant, so the Catholic Church just used those.

Peter said...

Thank you father. I see that my Gregorian Missal (Solesmes 1990) there are only 4 hymns listed in the index of chants.
But it would be a shame never to hear Praise to the holiest in the height, Soul of my Saviour or many others.
I am sure that Henry is right about the need for education so that the congregation are able to appreciate the liturgy.
Let us hope that more read Fit for Mission and that the modernists and traditionalists do not split the Church. Remember what the Pope said in Lourdes to the French bishops.

Anonymous said...

I first realised that there was a thriving parallel magisterium when I studied for a Cathechists Diploma some years ago in Australia.

I agree with becket when he said:
Very good analogy, but Rome needs to act instead of just words from high ranking clerics. We can all talk about the errors till were blue in the face, but what we need is action

As a parent I know that just telling the children "you should put your school bag in your bedroom, not thrown on the family room floor" over and over again will not produce any result. It is when a consequence is attached to the non compliance that the bag is put in the bedroom.

Anonymous said...

Henry - Have you encountered "The Manual of Plainsong" where English is set to the traditional Gregorian music? There is a whole corpus of Anglican psalmody etc available. Why invent the wheel? As you say you use Lutheran translations in Sweden ,and German Catholics sing Lutheran hymns. I have heard them do so in Corpus Christi processions! On visits to Downside I find the music very familiar from Anglican experience.

Physiocrat said...

Anglican psalm chant is excellent but where does it fit in the mass? In any case they are set to the Anglican psalter, not the official Jerusalem Bible translation which is crass and soon to be dropped anyway.

There are the Marbeck settings of the Creed and Our Father but we are not allowed to use those texts. And the Ordinaries don't work in English because the entire weight and rhythm of the syllables is different. It results in some very awkward angles. Gregorian Chant seems to work in Swedish but the spoken language has a particular rhthm which goes better, though there are the down-the-throat composite vowels Ö, Ä and Å in the Scandinavian languages and other specific sounds too like sk.

Now the new translations are coming we would have to start all over again and they are going to be resistance to them because the effect of an accurate translation is English that sounds Shakespearean and hence somewhat contrived.

With Latin there are none of the problems one gets with the Germanic languages so can we stick to that please.

berenike said...

English can perfectly well use the sort of chants that the Greek Catholics use and that the Poles have in some cases adopted - simply repeating harmonised tones. The Edinburgh Uni Catholic chaplaincy uses something of this sort for the Gloria or the Creed, and it is very effective, simple, and conducive to prayer.

Hymns and spiritual canticles were used at Low Mass (that's why there is, for example, a simple setting of the Sanctus in German by Schubert) - Mass is offered and you join in by praying along, singing along, or whatever. This doesn't really work with the NO.

Hgh Supplements said...

In this blog the distinction was unknown in the Catholic Church until recently, but increasingly, and worryingly, it is creeping in. This also defines the High Church, Low Church with veneration of the BVM.

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