Monthly Archives: June 2017

Ritualism in New York (1903)

Sir: Ritualism was flourish­ing in full vigor when I invaded New York twenty-one years ago, and the same “advanced” churches were in vogue then as now, such as St. Mary’s, St. Ignatius’, Old Trinity and its chapels, the Transfiguration, St. Edward’s, and fifty others in town and round-about. The list of those trying hard to avoid “extremes” was, just as now, Grace, Christ, St. George’s, St. Bartholomew’s, the Holy Communion, Heavenly Rest, and so on. In those days “extremes” meant altar lights, incense, and the eucharistic vestments; and I learn from your correspondents that they are still so considered. Meantime the second list has glorified its sanctuaries with stone altars, crosses, and “brasses,” windows pictured with saints. Madonnas, and the Crucifixion, colored and embroidered silks for frontals and stoles, vested choirs, imitation candles, prie-dieus and litany desks, religious paintings, choral services, and numerous other “correct” appur­tenances. Early celebrations (low masses with a longer name) for fasting communicants, memorial celebrations for the de­parted (a circumlocution for requiem masses), and other ser­vices once styled “advanced” are common enough now to this second list. I t is a subtle intellect that can explain why altar lights are “extreme,” and why altar crosses are not; likewise the vital difference between the chasuble and the priestly stole, or between incense and flowers.

What a Rip Van Winkle that long-time worshipper at Old Trinity must be not to have awakened to the fact that the Real Presence is taught at the parish church and all its chapels both by word and by ceremonial. What can he imagine to be signified by the altar tapers, the eucharistic vestments, and the genu­flections? Has he never read the Trinity Catechism? What school of theologians does he fancy is represented by’Drs. Dix and Vibbert, and the Rev. Messrs. Brown, Hill, Sill, and the recent vicar of St. Agnes’?

What, too, of the most striking advance in a Catholic direction of St. Thomas’ Church and of St. Michael’s, evidenced by their present adornments? What of the crypt chapel at the rising Cathedral? What of the Beloved Disciple’s, All Angels’, Holy Cross? What of the distinctly Catholic embellishments and arrangements lately made in Grace, St. Bartholomew’s, and others? Is there any feature particularly “Low” or “Broad” about Calvary, Zion and St. Timothy’s, the Incarnation, and St. Andrew’s? What fine differentiation makes you speak editori­ally of the Transfiguration as “High” rather than “Ritualistic”?

All these churches are participating in the general move­ment of the Episcopal Church toward Catholic restoration in its adornment and ceremonies. Some move more slowly than others because the pressure is less intense. That their pulpit utterances may be contrariwise are of small moment and of temporary effect so long as their Catholic adornments and ceremonial features (giving permanent impressions) continue in their development. Ritualism in New York is not confined to two churches by a good deal. The fact is that the Book of Common Prayer was composed for a ritual accompaniment just as elaborate and magnificent, where possible, as that now maintained at St. Mary the Virgin’s. It was only gradually, for various causes, that the re­splendent ritual was relaxed in the course of centuries, and the degeneration of it was never officially authorized. Indeed, some traditions of its stately magnificence lasted in certain English and Scotch churches down to the Oxford Movement. Priests and congregations welcoming the restoration impulse have certainly as much right to revive the venerable and honored ritual rendering of the services of the Church as their predecessors had to let it lapse by unauthorized neglect. Churchmen not in sympathy with the idea are perfectly free to form congregations for a “bald” use to their liking, and the “Ritualistic” clergy would be glad to see them do so. The Episcopalian world is big enough for both kinds. As for other folks, clearly it is none of their business.—F. MARTIN TOWNSEND to the Editor of the New York Sun

The Living Church, August 15, 1903, p. 541.

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