Ascension in the Anglican Breviary (iii)


As we have seen in my previous post the change Fr. Joseph introduced in the third antiphon of the first nocturn is quite significant. In fact the only continuity between the original antiphon of the Roman Breviary lies in the idea of movement. Yet the changes made in the AB version do not come out of the blue so to speak. Again Fr. Joseph has looked at the Psalm the antiphon is connected to.

Consider the following verses from Psalm 19:

5) In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun; which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course.

6) It goeth forth from the uttermost part of the heaven, and runneth about unto the end of it again; and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

It seems clear that Fr. Joseph is interpreting the original Roman antiphon by filtering it through the above verses of Psalm 19. In the Roman original someone is moving from one end of the heavens to another. The use of this antiphon for Ascension should make it clear that the movement across the heavens is to be understood as the movement of Jesus Christ from earth to heaven (down to up). In Fr. Joseph’s rendition the movement is not simply from earth to heaven rather the movement is from “the uttermost part of the heaven (which surely indicates the closest vicinity to God the Father )into the darkness under the earth” (which seems to be a clear reference to the descent into hell) and runneth about unto the end of it again, to the fullness of the glory above (which is certainly a reference to the Ascension itself, the return to the “uttermost part of the heaven” which is the closest vicinity to God the Father).” The movements made should make it abundantly obvious that it is Jesus Christ who is doing the moving.

The Roman original very vaguely hints at this with “his” whereas Father Joseph provides another identifier: “Sun of Righteousness.” This identification is not taken from Psalm 19. The Psalm merely mentions the sun and qualifies sun with the word giant. But that is all. So where did Fr. Joseph’s inspiration come from? From the Prophet Malachi. Consider the following from Malachi chapter 4:

But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.

It should still be obvious – perhaps even more so – that the one being identified as doing the moving is Jesus Christ and that He is in fact the Sun of Psalm 19. But He is also the Sun of Righteousness of Malachi 4, 2 and He has “healing in His wings.” Here Fr. Joseph has quite brilliantly put together the “rising Sun” (which serves to situate this antiphon in Eastertide (resurrection) and more specifically Ascension (taken up into heaven). The word “rise” serves very well for Eastertide and Ascension. The rising Sun of Righteousness is said to have wings (again an image of movement) which are charged as it were with healing. One way to interpret the wings is by looking at St. Gregory the Great’s sermon for the Octave Day of Ascension (nocturn iii, lesson 9):

From heaven he leapt into the womb of the Virgin; from that womb into the manger; from the manger on to the cross; from the cross into the grave; and from the grave into heaven.

The wings are the means the Sun (our Lord Jesus Christ) uses to “leap” to begin and complete the salvific movement as explicated in the antiphon in Fr. Joseph’s rendition. The “healing” in the wings would seem to be the “economy of salvation” which Fr. Joseph has beautifully woven into the antiphon and thereby has added to how the Psalm (19) is read (prayed). It seems to me that Father Joseph’s rewritten antiphon, though undoubtedly radical, is not at all detrimental to the liturgy of the Divine Office. It seems entirely in “the spirit” of the Office and stems from a mind deeply immersed in liturgy and Scripture.

A different, but not unconnected, question is whether or not Fr. Joseph’s change should be accepted. Here I am going to take my stand in what is often called “organic development” of the Liturgy. Fr. Joseph’s changes, such as we have been considering the past few posts, are not generally radical. Often they are subtle and grounded in the liturgy itself as well as quite scriptural. There can be little (if any) theological objection to what has been done (so far). But liturgy is not simply justified by theology. There is also the essential structure of the essential components of the liturgy. The collection of Antiphons, Collects, the Psalter, are very much the essence of the Divine Office – as they are traditioned to us from our fathers and mothers in the faith of previous ages. These essentials have a sacrosanct core to them and should not be messed with (though Cranmer, Pius X & Paul VI have ignored this to the detriment of the Divine Office and have messed with them anyway).

Does Fr. Joseph mess with the essential elements of the Office? I suppose the question might be answered differently by different people. For me I want to suggest that the Roman Breviary as received by Fr. Joseph in the edition approved by Pius X and the tradition of the Prayer Book(s) as it stood in his time are integrated with dignity, care and respect to both. The integration of Prayer Book and Breviary is a major step forward in the liturgical evolution of Catholic Anglicanism and argument could be made that the “essence” of the Prayer Book is preserved at the cost of the Pius X Breviary (especially in the Collects). As far as the antiphons and Fr. Joseph’s changes to them is concerned I would say that time will tell. If the changes are approved by our highest liturgical authority (that no mere man, be he Abp. of Canterbury or Pope in Rome, can outrank) approves by keeping it alive and used in the life of the Church I would say that the changes are good ones. Even “inspired” ones. If Fr. Joseph’s reforms are forgotten and become extinct – well perhaps they were not worth keeping.

In conclusion

I have not looked at all the changes Fr. Joseph has introduced, I have merely touched upon a few items which are relevant to the season. Many more reforms and twists could be (perhaps should be) mentioned (I am thinking of the Office of the Dead among other things). Perhaps a topic for another series of posts. Another issue could (perhaps should) be the collects. In the AB Fr. Joseph slavishly adopts the BCP collects (unlike Canon Douglas in his edition of the Monastic Office) wherever they differ from their Roman originals. Sometimes to the detriment of the Office (especially of Advent and of some Saints). That is not to say that Cranmer’s gift in writing beautiful collects is denied but that their liturgical appropriateness and orthodoxy are often (at the very least) doubtful. That too is something which deserves looking into.

Be all that as it may, I have found Fr. Joseph’s work on the Office for the Ascension as we have been considering fascinating and illuminating. For my part I would like to see Fr. Joseph’s work prosper. To my mind what we have in the AB is mostly an organic evolution of the liturgy and it seems worth while to see where it will go. Though by nature I tend toward liturgical conservatism – almost to the point of being a liturgical archaeologist – reason and a sense of pragmatism bend me towards considering Fr. Joseph’s work as good, appropriate, and thoughtfully liturgical and most importantly very prayable.

Gregory Wassen +

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About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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2 Responses to Ascension in the Anglican Breviary (iii)

  1. Christopher Green, MD, PhD, FAAFS says:

    This series of essays and the invitation to comment allows me to repeat something. Father Gregory’s Ministry to explain in these electronic pages approaches toward understanding the vagaries and the victories of the Anglican Breviaries’ intersections with our lives is both subtle and incredibly sophisticated. Those who read them are immediately enriched, and slowly touched by Grace. They are Sensible and understandable. Were I to live anywhere near Marietta, Georgia…I surely would beg to join Our Redeemer Anglican Catholic Church.

    • Father Gregory says:

      Dear Christopher,

      Thank you for your kind remarks. If I were still in Marietta I would welcome you as a Parishioner 😉 However I have moved back to the Netherlands on April 20-ieth this year.

      I am glad you liked the series. I may do several more of them.

      Gregory +

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