A time to rediscover Mattins

In yesterday's post I mentioned Bishop Stephen Conway's recent contribution to All Things Lawful and Honest, welcoming its support for a renewed recognition of the place of Canon Law in the Church's life.  Alongside this, however, there was a reference to non-eucharistic worship that requires some examination:

I recently preached at a service of the word led by lay ministers on Zoom. The design of the liturgy was exemplary, as was the choice of pre-recorded hymns. The intercessions were beautifully composed and illustrated by well-chosen photographs of people and landscapes. At their heart was the current crisis and tragedy of the pandemic. It was inspiring for me, having spent my fourteen years as a bishop in two largely rural dioceses. During this time, I have been promoting good quality non-eucharistic worship which lay people can lead and deliver ably to the glory of God. 

It is heartening to read a bishop expressing the desire to promote "good quality non-eucharistic worship". As Michael Ramsey indicated in his 1956 essay 'The Parish Communion', the loss of non-eucharistic worship - "whereby congregations were nurtured in the Scriptures" - as a regular public liturgy was one of the weaknesses of the Parish Communion movement.  

That said, there are two assumptions made by the bishop regarding such "good quality non-eucharistic worship" that should be challenged.  The first assumption is that non-eucharistic worship means liturgy "which lay people can deliver", presumably enabling priests to focus on the Eucharist.  This entirely overlooks how presbyters exercise key aspects of their ministry while leading non-eucharistic worship: absolving, leading public prayer, preaching, blessing.  To quote from the Common Worship rite for the ordination of priests:

They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to ... lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. They are to bless the people in God’s name.

To lead the people in the saying of the psalms, Te Deum, and the Creed is to declare the mighty acts of God.  To preach is to unfold the Scriptures.  To lead the General Thanksgiving is to join with the people in offering a spiritual sacrifice.  

Now, yes, of course lay people can lead such worship when a priest or deacon is not available.  This does not mean, however, that priests and deacons are not exercising their particular ministry when they lead such non-eucharistic worship.  The implicit assumption, then, that non-eucharistic worship is for those occasions when clergy are not available not only misrepresents the ministry of presbyters and deacons, but also suggests that non-eucharistic worship is somehow 'second best'.

Which brings us to the second assumption: that non-eucharistic worship will be 'designed' and 'composed' on the basis of the Service of the Word format.  What this ignores, of course, is that the basic Anglican 'service of the Word' does not need to be designed or composed: it is called Mattins.  It provides common prayer: text, structure, and content to shape us, and our prayer and praises, over years and in communion with others.  That which is 'designed' and 'composed' is not common: it does not allow texts, structure, and content to shape us because these are constantly changing.  It is an exercise in choice rather than inhabiting a received discipline of prayer and praise.

This is not to say that such a 'Service of the Word' cannot have a place in Anglican worship.  It might, for example, mark particular events or feasts.  But the routine, ordinary service of the Word is Mattins (or Evensong).  It can easily be led by laity and requires none of the 'design time' necessary for a Service of the Word.  It ensures that Scripture is central in a way not always the case with locally designed Service of the Word formats.  It roots praise, through psalm and canticle, in Scripture.  It ensures that the common baptismal faith is confessed in the Creed.  In other words, Mattins is the "good quality non-eucharistic worship which lay people can lead and deliver ably to the glory of God".

In his essay on the Parish Communion movement, Ramsey declared:

I believe also that there is still much to be learnt from the Matins and Sermon whereby congregations were nurtured in the Scriptures.  May never have a generation of worshippers unfamiliar with the Canticles and the Psalms! ... I am pleading that we should be careful about values which may be lost.

Ramsey's fears have come to come pass.  Contemporary Anglicanism - not in every place, to be sure, but in too many places - has forgotten the value of Mattins and Sermon as the basic, normal non-eucharistic act of public worship.  In a time when lay-led public worship is not unusual in many Anglican contexts (itself something of a return to past practices when lay clerks would lead Mattins in the absence of clergy), we have forgotten that a liturgy does not have to be devised for this.  

We have also forgotten that presbyters exercise their ministry by officiating at Mattins no less than at the Eucharist.  On Saturday past, Angela Tilby was one of the speakers at an excellent Prayer Book Society online seminar on the BCP's Advent collects.  Speaking on the famous collect of the Second Sunday of Advent, she particularly commented on that collect's use of the phrase "inwardly digest" regarding Scripture: "I receive it as I receive the Sacrament".  It is a reminder of the richness and depth of Mattins, of the place it can have in sustaining us in the Christian life.

Anglicans do not need to design "good quality non-eucharistic worship which lay people can lead and deliver ably to the glory of God".  We need to rediscover Mattins.

Comments

  1. Amen! About fifteen years ago, as a result of internal pressures and politics, I set up a 'modern mattins' service for my congregation, to cater for a group with modern evangelical tastes, but who had never been exposed (or were resistant to) more formal liturgy. I asked a colleague (John Pantry) to compose settings for the canticles that could be sung congregationally, which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJnmk3BwGy4&list=OLAK5uy_mMhkajYDNVFQc7sDobAsleeXsNCI9jjNM&index=2 It worked really well, grew like topsy, and one of the great moments in my ministry was experiencing a full church belting out a modern Benedictus. The congregation is still going - and I believe it is still using that liturgy, although that may not be the case, as I was constantly having to resist pressure to abandon it. So often parishioners confused what was done with how it was done. My aim was to preserve a high quality 'what' with a contemporary/ culturally congenial form of 'how'. Got the Bishop along at one point to say 'see?' Not sure I got the point across. Needed to give him your blogpost to read in advance!!

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    1. Sam, many thanks for your comment and the wonderful link! 'Modern Matins' is a great idea and highlights the need for contemporary language variants of MP.

      Quite how we have reached the point at which MP/Mattins appears somehow 'foreign' in an Anglican context is mind boggling!

      Brian.

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  2. I find myself inwardly cheering so much of this. And I had the same thoughts regarding the Service of the Word. If it ain't broke...

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    1. Chris, many thanks for your comment. I confess to being very sceptical indeed of the Service of Word provision not least because, in most cases, it ends with much less 'Word' than Morning Prayer.

      Brian.

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  3. Mattins together with Ante-Communion checks all the boxes though..doesn't it? Imagine that, our ancestors knew what they were doing!

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    1. Clint, many thanks for your comment. I couldn't agree more. Mattins and Ante-Communion provided a solid grounding that the liturgy of the Word in a Parish Communion seems unable to provide.

      Brian.

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  4. I wonder how much the neglect of the Daily Office in a parochial setting mirrors or corresponds to clergy neglecting to pray the Office in private as well. I imagine if a priest is praying the Office daily - as he should be - then parish Matins or Evensong at least on a Sunday or a great feast naturally follows. And if a priest supposedly can't pray the Office, then what is he doing? What could be more important than the regular prayer of the Church in which Our Lord has given us the means by which we should praise and petition Him, namely the Psalms?

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    1. James, many thanks for your comment. You raise an interesting point. Most clergy I know do pray the Office but not in the traditional 1662 etc format. In Ireland and England, most I know use Common Worship Daily Prayer, which is written to serve a purpose rather different from Sunday Mattins. In other words, clergy have in many places become unfamiliar with and unused to the texts, rhythms, and structure of Mattins because they pray the Office in a quite different form. This, I am sure, has been a contributing factor to clergy losing familiarity with Mattins.

      Brian.

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