Someone once said of us, rather critically, “What you’re doing is making a holiday out of religion”; but with that I entirely agree. I suppose a holiday out of religion might strike some people as a bit dishonest, or, at best, a contradiction in terms. But if ‘holiday’ means anything, and if there can be any legitimate joy in worshipping God with others, where is the contradiction?
Since 1956 some thirty people, boys and men, have been coming to Edington each year to sing daily choral services in Edington Priory Church for one week in August; and they come because they enjoy it: they wouldn’t go on coming if they didn’t. They enjoy coming to Wiltshire and to the village, they enjoy meeting the people they meet, and they enjoy singing services in the church.
Over the last nine years about 150 people have taken part in the Festival. But this year we are without one person who has been with the Festival since it began: Warren Green. It was he who directed the music during the first five years. It was he who, in 1961, left the glories of polyphonic music to start a plainsong choir, so that the Eucharist, which means so much to him, might be celebrated chorally each day. It is he who has now given up the reins because he feels that he has given the best he has to give. ‘O si sic omnes’. His unswerving faith, his utter sincerity of purpose, and his love of all men has made him the close friend of each of us. We shall be the poorer without him, but we hope that he will continue to come to Edington whenever he can.
Nine years have also seen a change in the pattern of the Festival. Slowly the emphasis has shifted from Evensong to the Eucharist, until this year we can honestly say that the Eucharist has become the spiritual and musical focal point of each day’s worship. It has now become the Festival Communion – the time when all taking part meet at the beginning of the day to make their communal sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.
This shift of emphasis has inevitably brought with it a slackening of the tempo at Evensong. This will, I think, come as no disappointment to those who know where the true power of that office lies. Choral Evensong, seen as a concert of sacred music, is a tedious and unrewarding affair; but seen as an occasion for reflection and quiet contemplation, as an occasion when the Christian truth is patiently and dramatically unfolded (and in rough historical sequence), and as an occasion when the music is allowed to grow, with the service, out of the bleakness of the psalms, into the simple beauty of the canticles, and finally into the blaze of colour at the anthem, it becomes something of tremendous spiritual vitality. The authors of the Book of Common Prayer had a shrewd sense of timing: they knew the moment for musical display. To allow that display to obtrude elsewhere is to destroy much of the power of the service.
Neither the choice of music nor the form of any ceremony follows precisely any cathedral, collegiate or parochial precedent; and we would not suggest that what we do should be done by others. We do not (I hope) tell other people what they, in different and far more complex circumstances, ought to be doing; and we hope that they who know little about us or our purpose will not tell us what we ought to be doing. We do not go to Edington to raise money (though, of course, we are as happy as anyone if the much-needed money for church restoration happens to come in). Nor do we go to Edington to amass large congregations (though, of course, it is a tremendous help to us to have large congregations to worship with us). We go to Edington, quite simply, for a holiday, and one in which we can worship God in the special way which he has given us the power to worship him; and we try to use this unique opportunity to worship him with all splendour, not compromising our ideals to achieve more popular, but lesser, ends.
The principal musical feature of this year’s Festival is the singing each day o a mass by one of the great polyphonic composers of the 16th century. Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria and Byrd together represent the very peak of the artistic achievement of the Renaissance in the field of liturgical composition. Orlande de Lassus (c1532-1594), Flemish by birth but cosmopolitan by career, achieved a vast and varied musical output, amounting to some 1,183 compositions in all. Of his 41 masses, ‘Missa Qual donna’ was written about 1578, and seems to have been founded on a madrigal by Cyprian de Rore. Tomás Luis de Victoria (c1540-1611), a Spaniard through and through, shared with Lassus the power of writing music charged with high emotional fervour; but there the similarity ends. Victoria was a priest who wrote exclusively for the Church, and whose compositions number no more than 180. His ‘Missa Trahe me post te’ was included in his second book of masses, published in Rome in 1592. William Byrd (1543-1623), an Englishman as much as Victoria was a Spaniard, was perhaps the brighest flower of them all. Born into an undivided Western Church, he maintained his allegiance throughout his life both to Rome and to Queen Elizabeth. His three masses were probably published in conjunction with his Gradualia (1605 and 1610), but he may have composed them much earlier.
“The Holy Eucharist is not one service among many, but the centre of all”: Father Hebert in ‘Liturgy and Society’ (1935, Faber, 1961). “The Eucharist is the climax and heart of Christian Worship”: Bishop Dunlop in ‘Anglican Public Worship’ (S.C.M. Press, 1953). “The Eucharist is the thing for which Christians must come together”: Bishop Robinson in ‘Liturgy coming to Life’ (Mowbray, 1960). These examples could be multiplied many times over. Why is it that the Eucharist is the ‘centre of all’?
Bishop Dunlop gives this answer (op. cit.) (and I summarise what I understand to be his views). “It is the essence of God’s creative act that his creation shall worship him. But because man is sinful, man cannot, unaided, offer God a worship which God can accept. Man can only do this through Christ. It is in the Eucharist that the death of Christ (which made man’s worship possible) is proclaimed; and it is in the Eucharist that there is a true and objective participation in, or communion with, the Body and Blood of Christ, by which we are enabled to worship adequately.”
Father Hebert (op. cit.) puts the matter this way. “The Church of God assembles to celebrate the one sacrifice upon which the whole life of salvation depends: pays to God the adoration which the whole creation owes to him as its Lord; gives thanks to him for all his mighty works from the foundation of the world to the second advent, and for all spiritual and bodily blessings which each member has received; offers up to God the offering of the whole creation symbolized in the oblation of bread and wine, which includes the will of each member who shares in it to offer up his own life to God: takes the bread and wine, and repeats with them the sacrificial rite which Christ instituted at the Last Supper, as the sacrificial memorial of his death and resurrection; and in the communion is herself offered up, through union with him, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice, and to live a sacrificial life in the world. For the individual this act is the summing-up of all that his Christian faith means: his reconciliation with God and his brethren, when with other members of the family he kneels at the table of the Lord: self-dedication: dependence on God, from whom he receives the sustenance of his life: justification by faith: forgiveness of sins; the divine peace”.
Sacrifice then is at the heart of the matter: “The Eucharist is fundamentally sacrificial worship”. But what meaning is to be given to the word ‘sacrifice’? Again, Bishop Dunlop (and I summarise what I understand to be his views) says this. “To the Jews the sacrifice of an animal without blemish was the means by which human life could be brought into contact with God. Death was not the end but merely an inevitable stage in an act of sacrifice. The blood, which represented life, was released from its prison by the lay worshipper. It was sprinkled on the altar by the priest. There it was consumed by fire, so that, transformed into the element of smoke, it became an offering to God. The animal was not offered instead of the worshipper, but as his representative; and the offering was made not on the priest’s behalf only, but on behalf of others too. The offerer completed the act of communion by eating a portion of the animal. In this way the Jews recognised that only that which was perfect was acceptable; that life must be transformed before contact with God was possible; and that fellowship with God was man’s true end.
“The value of the Jewish work lay in the steady preparation of God’s people for what was to come: one day the sacrificial lamb would be replaced by the Lamb of God. Our Lord saw his mission in terms of sacrifice. Perfect and without blemish himself, he was slain by man on Calvary, where, as both victim and priest, he took his human nature into heaven, and where, at the altar of God ‘he ever liveth to make intercession for them that draw near unto God through him’. So the ancient law of sacrifice was fulfilled in the exaltation of Christ as the offering of sacrifice for man.”
But how is his sacrifice our sacrifice? How is it that we can ‘offer and present ourselves to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice’? “By our baptism we have been made one with Christ; by faith we share in all that Christ is and does; and, at the Eucharist, we share in the offering of Christ’s eternal sacrifice, to join the offering of the sacrifice of the Lord with the offering of ourselves, he now being present in us and we in him.”
What is meant by ‘Solemn Worship’? What is its justification? If it has one, what is its place in public worship? And what form should it take?
By solemn worship is meant public worship at which all the resources of the community are brought to bear, particularly in the fields of music and ceremonial.
How can it be justified? The idea of solemn worship would have seemed strange to the Early Church (which is usually enough to blacken it in the eyes of any avant-garde liturgiologist). But it is the fact (contrary to what is commonly implied) that we are living many centuries after the Early Church, and things have changed. And however great this disadvantage may be, we would put ourselves at a far greater disadvantage if we failed to live in our own age. We must, of course, keep early principles clearly in mind; but we must also recognise that the Church, so far from being outside the law, has now come to be established by law, that it has built for itself cathedrals and churches of great size and magnificence, and that it has committed itself to an ordered liturgy. Our medieval cathedrals and churches are with us today; Cranmer’s liturgy is still our liturgy; and music and ceremonial of great beauty, composed over the years, are there to adorn both. Why should we not use what is available to us in our own day if it can serve the needs of our own age?
If we look at our own society three things can be seen. First, it knows a good show when it sees one: the BBC has done much to educate us in these matters. Secondly, our society will snatch at any chance it has to take itself out of its own rather drab surroundings. Thirdly, our society, while not having much use for a hymn-singing Church, is not deaf to the message of the Gospel: ‘The New English Bible’ and ‘Honest to God’ were, after all, best sellers.
If this is so, there should be a place for solemn worship in our liturgy – not perhaps a very large place, but nevertheless a place. If artistic achievement can lift people out of this busy world, if only for a moment, and so enable them to worship God, there should be a place for such art in our liturgy. Solemn worship would no doubt seldom be a suitable vehicle for parochial worship; and equally solemn worship may not be suitable for all cathedrals or on all occasions. But I believe that there are times (principally at the Eucharist) and places (principally in cathedrals) when solemn worship can be a thing of immense spiritual value.
If, then, solemn worship has a place in public worship, what form should it take? It should, I think, be as solemn – as splendid, as uncompromising – as possible. This is not to say that it should be as complicated as possible. It must remain true worship; it must respect the authorised liturgy; and it must not distort or unbalance that liturgy.
The chief problem with solemn worship is congregational involvement. God deserves the best that we can give; but if the congregation does not take an active vocal part, how can you say that it is true worship? First, I do not take the view that we at Edington are entitled, any more than a college chapel or cathedral, to disregard the congregation – to pretend that they are not really there at all. Secondly, I accept that the congregation cannot take an active vocal part in solemn worship. (I do not say that the sound of several thousand people singing lustily in a cathedral does not have a solemnity, a splendour, of its own; but that is not the artistic splendour of which I am speaking). Artistic splendour, in any field, requires some natural talent and more hard work: congregations may have the first, but they do not have the opportunity for the second. But thirdly, I do not accept the notion that a congregation which takes no active vocal part takes no part at all. If I go to a concert I take part in that concert in a very real sense even if I make no noise: I do not have to turn every concert into a Family Carol Concert before I take part. Is it any different with solemn worship? If the sound envelopes my ears and the sight my eyes (not to say the incense my nose) I am no mere spectator: I am in every sense a partaker – and, perhaps, more so than if I were required to perform some ceremony which I only understood imperfectly or to sing some song which I did not know. If then I worship God in silent prayer and praise, I believe that my worship is nonetheless true.
Cathedrals in which resplendent worship is practised (and rightly so) are faced with this ‘congregational problem’. Their solution, in the main, has been to give the congregation some of the singing to do – usually a number of hymns, sometimes the creed: they recognise, no doubt rightly, that the cathedral is fulfilling parochial functions. But I sometimes wonder if they have not reached this compromise by a false premise, and that in making the compromise they may have destroyed much (if not all) of the splendour which they set out to create.