Sunday, August 22, 2010

Andrew Burnham, Heaven and Earth in Little Space: The Re-enchantment of Liturgy, 2010.

The state of the liturgy isn’t what it should be, argues Bishop Andrew Burnham in this new book. I came to read this book after reading Dr. Martin Davie’s review, posted on Bishop David Hamid’s blog in April. In what is a collection of six essays looking at different expressions of the same theme, Burnham tries to describe what has been lost and what renewal might look like from a committed Anglo-Catholic perspective. Variable in quality, the book is often highly technical and of interest principally to liturgical scholars rather than the general reader; moreover, the examples of contemporary Anglican liturgy are necessarily limited to the Church of England. While fascinating and erudite, I have trouble accepting one of Burnham’s underlying premises, that the decline in church attendance over the past few decades is attributable to either simplification of liturgy or attenuation of Catholic principles. Correlation is not the same thing as causation.

The first essay shows that the rites of the Church of England are essentially reformed in character, and not catholic. Burnham traces the development and evolution of both the Eucharist and the offices (the former in much greater detail), and makes a convincing argument. One of the points in this piece recurs in various forms throughout the other essays. He argues that while recent reforms have made the surface view of the rites look more catholic, the wide variability and choice permitted in their enactment force the worshipper to have what is a reformed experience. This argument is suspect, to my mind: here, as throughout the book, Burnham returns to asserting that the only possible identification of something as Catholic is a continuity with long-standing uses so deep as to prevent the possibility of any meaningful inculturation or development. I have trouble differentiating his view from a celebration of stasis, or at least of change so minimal and glacial as to be unidentifiable as renewal. (It’s hard to see how Burnham and George Guiver might ever agree on these points, and I find Guiver far more persuasive: see Guiver's Vision Upon Vision: Processes of Change and Renewal in Christian Worship.) Catholicism is not stasis; if our faith is alive, its expression in worship will change over time. Certainly it will always value and celebrate tradition, but to quote the old saw, tradition lies in handing over the flame, not praying over the ashes.

The second essay is an interesting assessment of the state of the two rites of the Eucharist currently in widespread use in the Roman Catholic church.

In his third essay, “Fast or Feast,” Burnham advocates strongly for the renewal of the rhythms of the church’s year. Here he varies between a tedious lament of the waning influence of Christianity on the lives of the general public—and their eating and drinking habits—and a forceful argument that reminds the reader of the distinction between chronos and kairos, an argument that the church would do well to remember.

The fourth essay engages the role of music in the liturgy, and makes a number of conservative assertions and arguments. While not wrong about why contemporary music so often fails to work well at creating or supporting certain moods important to solemn celebrations, the lament reads as cranky and overly conservative, rather than constructive.

In discussing the divine office in the fifth essay, “Town and Country,” Burnham is at his most effective. While I don’t agree with a number of his suggestions, nor his deep concern to restrict options, his argument that modern office forms need to balance and support both corporate and individual efforts to pray the office is compelling. (I have less sympathy for what he misses from the pre-conciliar breviary and the 1911 cursus, and more for a richer use of psalmody.)

I am still unsure what to make of the final essay on Mary. I agree whole-heartedly with his argument, following the Council of Ephesus of 431, that “there is no adequate Christology without an adequate Mariology” (196). Yet he reaches this point by tracing developments and expressions of the hyperdulia owed Mary, and I struggle with the assertion that “If lay folk paused at morning, noon, and night for the Angelus, if the Rosary became part of the daily rhythm of prayer, and if the Marian antiphon at the end of the day were to become once more a nocturnal habit, Christian daily life would again be Christocentric...” (196). The devotions to which he refers, while valuable and appropriate for some, are an expression of faith; they’re not essential. To quote another adage, all may, none must, and some should. I’m not sure they’re indicative of a Christocentric life, so much as merely a certain devotional strand; given Burnham’s concern in this sentence for laity, I’d be willing to agree if the rest of their lives manifested devotion for Christ translated into action and ministry. Despite this quibble, I learned some intriguing things both about Anglican devotion to Mary, and was able to make better sense of my own Mariology.

Despite my issues and disagreements with Burnham, I was glad to have read the book; I look forward to sharing it with a number of other people who might be intrigued by his points.

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