Restrained Tractarian Cæremonial

Bp Peter Robinson remembers the Tractarian worship of his youth:

The ceremonial was pretty simple. Eucharistic vestments were used for the Holy Communion, but there was no elevation or ringing of bells at the consecration, and reverences [were] confined to bows. A couple of Readers assisted at the main Sunday Eucharist as Chalice Bearers, Epistoller, and server. Incense was reserved for the three great feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday. Mattins and Evensong saw the officiant in traditional Anglican choir dress – cassock, surplice, tippet and hood. Everything from ‘O Lord, open thou our lips’ to the end of the third Collect except for the lessons was sung or chanted with the sermon rounding off the service before the blessing. Sometimes these services would be left to the Readers, with the priest giving just the absolution and the blessing.

Except for the eucharistic vestments – for I do not even favour stoles – this is all quite close to what I think ideal. In fact, though I like to see and smell incense upon two more feasts, namely Ascension and Trinity Sunday (which is the octave of Whitsunday), perhaps keeping it to the three great feasts is better for an ordinary parish church. Such a relatively modest cæremonial is perhaps just what Confucius thought the soundest practice:「林放問禮之本。子曰。大哉問禮、與齊奢也、寧儉; 喪、與其易也、寧戚。」In English, ‘Lin Fang asked about the fundamentals of ritual. Confucius said, “What an excellent question! In ritual, it is better to be frugal than extravagant; in funerals deep sorrow is better than ease.” ’ The ritual and cæremonial, in other words, meant as it is to serve the real need of developing earnest human feeling, should be modest enough not to be distracting but not so easy that it demands nothing. It is right to subordinate the body to the good of the soul.

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