Roman Imitations, by Charles Chapman Grafton (1911)

To the Editor of The Living Church:[1]

I feel very strongly the importance of Catholics avoiding even an apparent imitation of Roman ceremonial. There is, or was (for I hope it has passed away with the late secessions), an idea, that if our ritual could be made like that of Rome, it would help on a reconciliation. But the present attitude of Rome shows this to be an impossibility. Reunion with Rome as an end of our movement should be dismissed from every Catholic-minded Churchman. For Rome does not ask for our agreement with her in Faith, but for submission to papal authority. There is a vast difference between the Catholic religion and the papal monarchical system. The latter is, we believe, a perversion of the Gospel, a destroyer of unity, a promoter of schism, a claim unsupported by Scripture or tradition, and a form of anti-Christ. Even if reunion were within the scope of possibility, an agreement with her in details of ritual would not aid the result. What we must do is to make it clear to our fellow-Churchmen that our Catholic movement has neither in thought or wish a return to papal submission. If we are to gain the good will of our Evangelical and High and Broad conservative brethren, we must make this obvious by our teaching and practice. It is only so that we can succeed.

Now the omission of the Nicene Creed in our weekly Eucharist gives the impression to our brethren that it is a Romish imitation. Are we not here, as in other cases, to consider our weaker brethren, and to avoid any appearance of evil? Ought we not to make any personal sacrifice in order to demonstrate our loyalty to our Book of Common Prayer? Does the allowed omission of the Nicene Creed in the first Prayer Book of King Edward VI. give us any authority to do so, who have promised our obedience to the present book? The omission is not so obviously a return to an English precedent, if such a return were allowed, as it is to an apparently Romish imitation. Allowing the good intentions of all our Catholic friends, we would, however, kindly ask them: Is the omission wise? Also, may we not say the same as to the shortened Mass?

Again, may we urge all our Catholic friends strictly to conform to the rubric which bids the consumption of the Sacred Elements left over from the Communion of the people to be made after the Benediction? It perhaps will surprise some churchmen to learn that there are any priests who consume the Sacred Elements after their own or the people’s Communion. Why do they do this? The only reason I know is that they do it in imitation of the Roman rite. Now our prayer Book, with seemingly great wisdom and devotion, reserves the Blessed Sacrament to the end of the service. The people standing, sing the Gloria in Excelsis in Its presence, as an act of devotion. We regard it as one of the most glorious heritages of our American Liturgy. But our friends set the rubric aside, and consume the Elements before the Benediction. No wonder the Church loses confidence in any party or cause that allows such a custom! Now wonder that these men look Romewards.

Another apparent imitation is the covering of the Sacred Elements, after the recitation of the canon, with a silk veil, instead of a “fair linen cloth,” a direction which we put in by the reformers for the purpose of protecting the Blessed Sacrament from pollution by flies or other insects. Symbolically, it has a beautiful reference to our Lord’s Body when taken down from the Cross, being wrapped in fair linen. It also bears witness to our Lord’s Blessed Body and Blood being present, though under sacramental veils. In the Roman rite, the Mass being over, when the priest has communicated, the Sacred Elements are covered with a silk veil, like that which is used by many of our clergy when bringing in the empty Chalice and Paten at the beginning of the service. A covering by the silk veil thus teaches the Roman doctrine that the Mass is over, and is a sign to our people that the Sacrament is no longer there. Be this as it may, it is a Roman and not an Anglican practice.

Again, we fear that some are still governed in their ritual by the book Father McGarvey put forth before his secession to Rome. He was, as his secession proved, a Romanist at heart. His apparent desire was so to interpret our rubrics as to make them conform with Roman practice. He sought in many ways to undermine the loyalty of our people. It seems a small thing, but why should a priest go to the epistle end of the altar to say the concluding prayers? The Roman priest does this, for having consumed the Blessed Sacrament which he had consecrated, he naturally returns for the concluding prayers to the epistle side, where he began the service. But with us the Blessed Sacrament is still unconsumed. Why then should not the priest stand before it, as he had previously done? Why go away, and leave It, and go to the Epistle side? It is, we grant, very immaterial.

There are a good many other smaller points like these which we would respectfully bring before our good Catholic friends, as one who has had the great cause so long and so deeply at heart. The first and great work to be done in the Church is to unite the Evangelicals, the Conservative-broads, the old-fashioned High Churchmen, and ourselves together in loving Christian fellowship, in mutual trust, and toleration, and cooperation in the building up of our communion.

C. C. Fond du Lac.


[1] The Living Church, July 1, 1911, pp. 303-304.

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Filed under Anglo-Catholicism, Bibliography, Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church history, Liturgy

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