Navigate / search

Why use five words when you can use five hundred?

Bishop of London portrait

There’s some interesting liturgical development afoot for the Roman Catholic church. The publication of the new Roman Missal takes me back about ten years to my days at Church House Publishing and the publication of Common Worship. No doubt, around the country right now, there are Catholic priests and congregations either trying to weigh up whether to buy new books, manage their own booklets or see how long they can get away with doing nothing; just as Anglican Vicars did ten years ago.

Anyway, I’ve been struck by sheer verbosity this weekend as I’ve followed this news.

The thing that really got my attention was the Bishop of London’s pastoral letter to his clergy in which he takes 2,500 words to say the following:

  • Dear Clergy, when you were ordained and again when you were licensed to your current post, you promised to use ‘only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by Canon’;
  • The Roman Missal is not an authorised text in the Church of England (neither the old one or the new one);
  • So, my more Catholic friends, don’t be thinking this new book gives you a license to play games with the liturgy.

Not difficult really. Why he needs 2,500 words to say that I’m not sure and what concerns me is that the message he is trying to communicate gets lost in all those long words. We’re simple creatures us clergy, after all.

I’m taking the mick a bit I know, but in all honesty I’m glad the Bishop has said what he’s said. Before I was ordained, I was sent to spend four weeks at a very high ‘more catholic than the catholics’ Anglican church nearby so as to understand other strains of Anglican church life. I enjoyed the experience. But in a context where I knew my low, evangelical Vicar was getting grief from the Bishop for using minimal liturgy each week (Confession/Absolution, Eucharistic Prayer and that was about it) albeit within a common ‘authorised’ Anglican structure, I was astounded to find this high church apparently using the Roman Missal with impunity.

Maybe I am being naive. Okay, I know I am probably being naive. But when I promised I would only use forms of service ‘authorised by Canon’ I really meant it and I would expect all clergy to mean the same. The fact is that Common Worship gives tremendous flexibility and so there ought to be no reason to feel the need to go off-piste at the low end of the liturgical spectrum. And at the high end, if you want to use the Roman Missal, well then you know where you can go and find it. Blunt, but true.

Getting back to the Missal to finish, perhaps +Londin was giving an indication of his opinions of the Missal in being so verbose. I don’t *get* the new Roman Missal. It’s essentially an attempt to move back towards the Latin Mass but while still in the vernacular English. Why would you want to do that? Surely, the whole point of being in the vernacular is that it has its own rhythms, idioms, phraseology that are absolutely fundamental to the comprehension of the language. It’s like trying to speak German with English grammar and syntax. It doesn’t work. All you end up with is verbosity and, most probably, incomprehension.

But maybe, like Yoda, something missing am I…


Simon Sarmiento

Bishop R used some of those “excess” words to make a quite different point, to a quite different audience. I quoted the section in question on TA. I would be very interested in your comments on this aspect of his letter.


I think the argument goes that the missal is authorised by canon, just not the canons of the Church of England. This might be a purely tongue in cheek response I get from anglo catholic clergy I know, and I realise that it is legally indefensible (the canons make quite clear which forms of service are authorised by canon and which are not!) liturgically and ecclesiologically it does carry slightly more weight than a church that uses it’s own liturgy or has no structure at all.

Given a choice between presiding at a Eucharist with a missal or a baptist liturgy, I would go for the former, not because I agree with it more, but because I acknowledge it has more authority.

I find it amusing that at [something in this diocese] we almost exclusively use anything but CW or the Missal. The Eucharist is usually CW but this last time it was an Anglican rite from Zaire.


Thanks for commenting. Yeah, I’m with +Londin on that. Again, it’s part of the canonical responsibility clergy signed up for. We know the rules – Communion each week. Clearly, in multi-parish benefices as I now am, that needs balancing with the trickiness of being in two places at once, but I’m not one of those who start doing away with eucharistic services for the sake of it.

I can’t see that using RC authorised text is better than using its own liturgy or no structure at all (and btw, we both know there’s always a structure and a liturgy, even if unwritten). Given a choice between presiding at a Eucharist with either Missal or Baptist liturgy, I wouldn’t preside. Not because either are wrong or because I’ll certainly come out in sores if I do… simply because I have no authority to do either.


I think you misunderstand my use of the word “choice”. Given a choice between one thing and another thing you can’t choose a third thing. That’s cheating!

Obviously I would never do such an evil thing. I did once preside in a church without a fraction prayer. I prayed one silently, which slightly defeats the point. I did suffer a mild onset of boils.

My OP was that I can understand why there is a distinction in the mind of the Missal using Anglican. I like the rules, I feel they give us a level playing field, and it does annoy me when people pick and choose and then take umbridge at how someone else has picked and chosen. But at the end of the day, I do believe that there are certain elements that are required for true Eucharistic worship – and they are contained within the Missal, but not in the Eucharistic rites of many other denominations. (Interestingly having an episcopally ordained priest presiding isn’t one of them, but I’m willing to be proved wrong on that).

Two of our weekly offices use the Roman office book, which I agree is naughty – but it is offputting when you are using a different book from everyone else, especially when leading. It won’t happen on my watch!

Leave a comment


email* (not published)