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1906 report of the Royal Commission on Ecclesiastical Discipline,

November 25, 2015

ritualist 1.jpgComplaints were made about ritualist clergy using such things as mass vestments, altar cards, invocation of the saints and secret prayers (so priests aren’t allowed to pray at mass?!).

One priest defending himself thus: Without pledging myself to all the details, I have to say that the ceremonial used in my church is that ordered expressly or by implication by the ornaments rubric, to the provisions of which I consider myself bound to conform.

Several days are spent examining ‘expert witnesses’ on just what the ornaments rubric specified. More days are spent discussing the role of the bishop in discipline and a possible clash with the role of pastoral care.

The vicar of Roath (still a beautiful anglo-catholic church) wrote: In reply to your communication of 16th June, I beg to state that I have no desire to enter into any competition for veracity and truthfulness with the spies who are apparently furnishing so much evidence for your Commission.

With the greatest respect for the Members of the Commission, it would, in my opinion, be an utterly undignified proceeding to put my word against the word of a reporter whose very name even is not given to me.

My invariable rule is to treat anonymous charges with silent contempt. But my silence must not be regarded as an admission of the accuracy either of the observation or the imagination of the reporter, who asserts that he attended a service in the unconsecrated mission church of St Agnes in this parish.

If the evidence with regard to this church is published, I must request that in common fairness this letter be published also.

And a vicar defended himself by saying ‘It wasn’t me. It was someone else.’: Copy of printed notice affixed in three places to the main walls of All Saints’, Scarborough, about October, 1902, and continuously kept there, up to the present date, December, 1904. “THE STATION PICTURES. “The vicar of this church wishes to notify visitors that the pictures were placed here before his institution (1901) and (like screen, side altar, and lamps) without a faculty. Artistically painful, historically misleading—they contravene as ‘ Ornaments ‘ the Law and the Traditions of the Church of England. They could and would be removed by faculty, were it known what to do with them there- after.” (Signed) P. D. EYRE.

The wonderful S. Matthew’s Sheffield and Fr. Omaney gets a mention. The objection was to six candles, acolytes, birettas and genuflections. The prayer of consecration was almost inaudible and incense was used.

ritualist 2St. Cuthbert’s Philbeach Gardens also gets a mention as does the great Fr. Stanton at S. Alban’s Holborn. Both these churches cared greatly got the poor in a way that I doubt the judges of the court did.

All Saints Clifton and S. John’s Bathwick feature. At All Saints, it was claimed that it was hard to see what was going on be cause of the copious incense. That still happens.

Some clergy objected to the use of evidence from paid informants. One chided some such by saying that he should have been praying during the service, not taking notes. Another, at St. Andrew’s Willesden, pointed out that there would have been the legal number of communicants if the reporter had come forward to receive.

I was amused that there was a settlement whereby incense would not be used for any Prayer Book service. This led to its abandonment and the substitution of the Missal!

There is much mention of a festival entitled ‘The Espousal of the Virgin Mary.’ I have never heard of it before. Apparently it dates back to 1517

St. Saviour’s Leeds is reported. Page 412 has a very long list of well-known anglo-catholic churches.

Benediction is frequent.

Things we take for granted like the kiss of peace, a mixed chalice and the lavabo are criticised.

Hymns during the communion service are more ‘illegal’ than the insertion of the benedictus qui venit and agnus dei.

The best justification I have ever heard for omitting the ten commandments and collect for the king is that the curate stammers. Another one was to help thopse who had to prepare children for school.

Low churchmen come under fire, too, for evening communion services.

We are told that the chimere is ‘an extremely obscure vestment.’ If only that were so.

John Merbecke’s setting is accused of as being ‘a sort of Roman chant.’

At St. Simon’s Bristol, the reporter said that people stooped down at the words ‘he descended into hell.’ Those words don’t appear in the Nicene Creed.

There is talk of elevating the paten – this would be part of the manual acts enjoined by Cranmer. Do they mean the elevation of the host?

S. Peter’s Eaton Square is complained about because the celebrant wore surplice and stole. Two candles were frowned upon because they were not ‘for the purpose of giving light.’

I am surprised that incense wasn’t used at S. Benedict’s Ardwick. The reporter got his dates wrong.

Leeds Parish Church, very ‘low’ in comparison, is described as using something like ‘stout card’ instead of bread.

A lovely defence of incense was that if you don’t like the smell, that is because you don’t smell it as God smells it. (Dorchester).

Ritual is appealed to as advancing the missionary work of the church.

Stewart Headlam makes a welcome appearance. When told that the private prayers of the celebrant were inedible, he says that he couldn’t hear the prayers of the reporter/informant either. He points out that ‘clergyman’ isn’t a term found in the prayer book. He defends the Preparation by saying that scripture tells us to confess our sins to one another, not just to a priest. About silences, he suggests that if the informant was caught up in the spirit of worship, he would have found these too short and would have wanted more. On genuflecting during the gospel, he says that the most stupendous moment in history, the incarnation, should bring everyone to their knees. Kissing the Gospel book – well don’t you find the word of God inspiring? In short, he gives as good as he gets.

There’s a lot of exaggeration – a genuflection becomes ‘he prostrated himself all over the holy table.’ The Good Friday Liturgy becomes a ‘black mass.’ (Which is more scary: popery or Satanism?)

Not until the 29th day is there any acknowledgement of the tremendous work these clergy (at least at S. Mary Magdalene’s Paddington) are doing in raising money for missions. As regards work among the poor, the only question is ‘Do they find these services helpful?’

It might be difficult to understand the motives of those who complained but today I might be inclined to complain about those evangelicals who ignore the lectionary, wear no robes at all and pour left over consecrated elements down the sink.

The total comes to 1,800 pages covering 52 days of deliberation.

The report is available here

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