Why we need Choral Mattins

The best apologia for the late modern person relative to the liturgy may be this contemplative, aesthetic dimension that was marginalized in the post-conciliar era.

Timothy O'Malley was addressing the consequences of the liturgical movement within the Roman Catholic tradition.  His comment also has relevance for contemporary Anglicanism.  It brings to mind a theme that consistently appears in commentary on the renewed popularity and resonance of Choral Evensong.  For example, consider Angela Tilby's recent article in the Church Times:

The music is important, of course, but so is what the rhythm of speech and music does for them: that slowing of the heart rate and breathing, the quietening of the mind, the sense of space and mystery and presence.

The Dean of Magdalen College, Oxford, made a similar point in the The Spectator earlier this year:

It is perhaps not a coincidence that attendance at traditional choral services started to surge as modern life began to seem most removed from their world of candles, canons and communal reflection: Evensong offers an antidote to the modern age of instant digital gratification. For a generation who struggle to sit in silence without taking out their phones, quiet reflection is hard to come by.

If this is true of Choral Evensong, however, should it not also lead us to question what Anglicanism has lost by abandoning (in most, albeit not all, places) the tradition of Choral Mattins?

What the post-conciliar era did to Roman Catholic liturgy, the Parish Communion Movement did to Anglican liturgy.  Choral Mattins embodied a "contemplative, aesthetic dimension" within the regular praying and worshipping life of most Anglican communities.  It is very difficult indeed to see how the conventional Parish Communion shares this dimension.

O'Malley also highlights how post-conciliar reforms within the Roman Catholic tradition "created a gap in the chain of memory that linked the Church to the past".  He makes particular mention of ad orientem:

It has theological validity. And it could be attractive precisely because it provides a missing link in a chain of memory.

Again, can this not also apply to the Anglican experience and Choral Mattins?  Choral Mattins is part of the Anglican "chain of memory".  The substantive confession and absolution; the Psalter; the communal hearing of Scripture (which - probably for a range of reasons - feels different at the Office than in the Eucharist); the Te Deum, rooting our praise in Trinity and Incarnation; the Apostles' Creed, the baptismal profession of Faith; our experience of prayer rooted in the Lord's Prayer and the ancient, memorable collects. Thus did Choral Mattins richly shape the Anglican experience and practice of prayer.

By contrast, Parish Communion seems to provide a quite different experience.  The texts for confession and absolution are often quite 'light'.  The three readings from Scripture are - oddly - at once too much and yet too often feel as if they are merely a precursor.  While the Nicene Creed has obviously profound theological significance, it does not have the same formational significance as the Apostles' Creed.  And the prayers of the faithful in Parish Communion - cut off from Lord's Prayer and collect - tend to lack the prayeful context which grounds intercession.

There are, then, not insignificant theological, liturgical, and pastoral reasons for seeking to renew the practice of Choral Mattins. And the question of cultural resonance - seen in Choral Evensong - remains.  Why wouldn't Anglicanism want to regularly celebrate a traditional liturgy with a proven ability to draw a secular age to experience the rhythms of prayer, praise and attentiveness to Scripture?  So, a Trad Expression™ suggestion - dioceses encouraging one parish in each built-up area to regularly celebrate Choral Mattins, as a means of renewing the faithful and touching the periphery through the contemplative, aesthetic experience of liturgy.

Comments

  1. I have been thinking along the same lines and had intended to post about it on reddit. However, I will put a part of my essay here in the comment.

    "we need to confront the problem with the parish communion movement and the idea of Mass as the main worship service. By this I do not mean to deny that mass is the summit of Christian worship, it clearly is. What I mean is that the idea, that because Mass is the summit of Christian worship it ought to be the main public worship service, is wrong. It leads to either a lack of evangelization in worship or the heresy of communion without baptism.
    It leads to a liturgical lack of evangelism, because the mass is inherently exclusionary, it is open only to the baptized who are in love and charity with their neighbors. Who wants to invite a friend to service where they will be excluded? No one. So by making the Lord’s Supper the principal service of Sunday, we discourage people from bringing their friends to church.
    Worse, for this very reason, lack of welcome, it promotes the heresy of communion without baptism. Some might say that calling CWOB a heresy is a bit harsh, but consider that: it violates the universal witness of the church, the exhortation in the prayer book teaches against it, and it turns the summit of Christian worship into its first step.
    With the problem in the Roman church, there are a lot of pious but disillusioned Catholics out there who maybe looking for an alternative, but who might have scruples about receiving communion as the first step in exploring a new church. Further we ought to have scruples about involving people unknowingly in sacramental cannibalism.
    The solution for this problem is in our tradition, Choral Matins as the principal PUBLIC service for Sunday Morning. By this I do not mean that we should not have Holy Communion on every Sunday and Feast, we should. I mean that the principal Sunday service, the one that starts sometime between nine and eleven in the morning and that has the greatest investment in musical accompaniment should be sung Matins.
    The advantages of this ought to be obvious, but I will briefly summarize them. First, it is welcoming, a person can fully participate in the worship service without being baptized. Second, it does not have to be demanding for a new worshiper, while the congregation ought to participate in as much of the chanting as possible, a person can just sit, kneel, and stand. Third, it puts the strongest part of our choral tradition, the chanting of the psalms and canticles on full display. Fourth, it allows the priest to preach a solid 25 to 30 minute sermon without the service lasting more than 65 minutes. "

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    1. Cuthbert, many thanks for your comment.

      I am in agreement with you here. There is a sense in which Choral Mattins has the potential to resonate with key cultural trends - in the generation after much of Anglicanism has abandoned Choral Mattins. And it is important to state, of course, that having Choral Mattins as a main Sunday service does not detract from the need for the Eucharist to be celebrated in the parish each Sunday.

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    2. As you note, the different aspects of Choral Mattins also ensure that the service can resonate in a variety of ways with different people. That is a key strength of this liturgy.

      Brian.

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  2. ...and yet, it is the Communion lectionary that sets the tone and the subject for the week. Those readings still need to get read and preached on, no matter if you prefer the old lectionary or the current one. So where does Communion go, if you're doing Choral Mattins? Perhaps both services are said on a Sunday morning, with alternate choral weeks, and both choral on Feasts? I don't know, but I can't imagine not receiving Communion on Sundays. And Choral Communions done according to the old Books should be every bit as contemplative and aesthetic as Mattins and Evensong.

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    1. Clinton, many thanks for your comment.

      It is a necessary question - what happens to the Eucharist? In view of the near complete success of the Parish Communion Movement and liturgical reform, I doubt that I will see in my lifetime a widespread restoration of Choral Mattins. The aim of the post was to urge consideration of the traditon not being totally lost. In terms of receiving the Eucharist on Sundays, I would strongly believe that where Choral Mattins is a main service, the Eucharist should also be celebrated, either before or after. As you note, alternate weeks - still seen in a few places, I have noticed, in The Episcopal Church - can be considered. This does, I think, have a lot to recommend it.

      In terms of Choral Communion, I am not entirely sure it can be seen to have the same contemplative and aesthetic dimension as Choral Mattins/Evensong. A different contemplative and aesthetic dimension, yes, because a different dynamic to Choral Mattins. Perhaps the point, however, is that the Church needs both - the attentiveness to Scripture experienced in Choral Mattins, and the mystery of the Sacrament.

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  3. There is no reason that the meditative choral aspects of Choral Mattins cannot be done in the context of the Liturgy of the Word in the Eucharist. The Psalm is already there, canticles can be used, the Apostle's Creed can be substituted for the Nicene. Prayers of the People may certainly be done as at Mattins rather than one of the hurried litany forms. Sermon might be shortened (generally a good thing, both for the hearers as well as for the quantity of work demanded of the preachers, and the quality of content that would result. The US BCP actually provides for Mattins to be used as the Liturgy of the Word for the Eucharist. Best of all possible worlds.

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    1. Mike, many thanks for your comment. I understand your point, but I am hesitant. Rather than the best of all possible worlds, does this not undermine the integrity of both Choral Mattins and the Eucharist? I do wonder if alternate weeks might be a better arrangement, allowing a congregation to regularly experience the quite different dynamic of both liturgies.

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  4. Despite my reservations, it is interesting to note how much more inclusive, and less scary to newcomers, is a Choral Mattins. From parishes that still do it as the principal Sunday service, it looks like they do a Said Communion both early and then almost immediately thereafter, and have Choral Communion as the principal service on Feasts, when it appears they drop the later Communion Service. See in particular St. John's Savannah, Georgia. As far as the sermon goes, the preacher can still use the Communion readings for preaching, if desired.

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    1. Clinton, yes, I do think your observation about Choral Mattins being more inclusive is significant. (And I will now have to visit the St John's Savannah website!)

      Brian.

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  5. Everyone welcome at Holy Trinity Prince Consort Road on 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month (occasionally replaced by Eucharist - check A Church Near You).

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  6. In the working class/lower middle class Sydney parish of which I was Rector for 22 years, we had BCP Choral Communion on the 2nd and 4th Sundays, BCP Choral Matins and Holy Communion on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th (and sung Evensong at night). Churchgoers voted the latter as their favourite service. This was a simple service using Parish Psalter chants for the psalms and canticles. After Matins we began the Communion with the Offertory, the 1st Comfortable Word, and Lift up your hearts, singing the Sanctus and Gloria to Merbecke. This arrangement (more or less) is provided for in the US Episcopal Church but also in the Church of Australia (as an "authorised variation"). I retired in 2001 though I remain an active hon.hospital and ex-services chaplain (at 82). My parish church these days is Canberra's historic St John the Baptist's where there is BCP Holy Communion every Sunday at 7 am, BCP Choral Communion (Merbecke) at 11.15 on the 2nd and 4th Sundays, and a similar simple BCP Choral Matins on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sundays (plus a mid-week BCP HC and a monthly Evensong). I travel 170 miles by train or bus to get there. So there are two of the ways in which Matins can be used but I have set out a number of ways in which Matins can be restored in my booklet, Morning Prayer Matters, and more recently in (a revised, 2nd edition) Morning Prayer Dayspring - with plenty of reference to scholarly contributions to this subject, and particularly in relation to the majority of those identifying at C.of E./Anglican but not confirmed, and the great number of people on the fringe or agnostic, etc. Morning Prayer Dayspring is available - bunyanj@tpg.com.au if my computer is working (or john.bunyan@health.NSW.gov.au) or PO Box N109, Campbelltown North, NSW 2560, Australia. THANKS very much for bringing us this very RELEVANT subject ! For some reason I cannot print off this article nor can I found how I can get in touch with the author. Any help in either regard would be very welcome ! (See my email address.)

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    1. Many thanks for the reference to your booklet - I will definitely be in touch for a copy!

      As I noted in a comment above, I am somewhat hestitant about 'mixing' Mattins and Holy Communion (we used to refer to 'mangled Mattins' in Ireland), but the pattern in the Canberra parish sounds excellent. I am not suggesting that all Anglican parishes should move to this pattern, but that it should be more widely available.

      Brian.

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  7. I see a good parallel between some Anglo-Catholic and some Roman-Catholic parishes one century ago. The first would have a low Mass at 8 AM, where only the "Eucharist lovers" would come, then at 11 AM the choral mattins for the whole parish. The RC would have a low Mass at 8 AM, where only the "Eucharist lovers" would come, then the high Mass for the whole parish, where no lay people would communicate. In both cases, the communicants would have the time to go home for breakfast. I don't advocate for those systems. But something can be learned from some Eastern Churches. There, generally the mattins are sung at 9 AM, with only a handful of people attenting, then at 10:30 the Mass, with greater attendance; at 6 PM they would have the second vespers, attended by a smaller amount of people, comparable to mattins. In the Eastern and traditional Western Churches, vespers may substitute de ante-communion, but mattins may not. Mattins are always FOLLOWED by ante-communion and the rest of the Mass. Here is my suggestion. Case I: always have mattins before Mass. In this case, make the mattins precede Mass, with eventually a little interlude in-between. In the evening, choral evensong, followed by silent offertory and the rest of the Mass (or followed by communion from the "leftovers" of the morning, for those who have not been present in the morning). Case II: only have mattins every other Sunday, or once a month. In this case, let mattins be sung fully. After the litany in the end of the mattins, have straightaway a low Mass, eventually without singing, beginning at the collect. Case III: always have the Eucharist in the evening (either Saturday night, or Sunday night); but every Sunday morning, have the choral mattins. This third possibility would be excellent in a small congregation, which used to have its own vicar, but which was merged with a bigger parish. The vicar would be able to have the Mass here in the evening (because in the morning s/he is with the other congregation), but would leave to the congregation the task of singing mattins at a "traditional" hour to which the people are used.

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    1. Many thanks for your comment. You do make an important point that weekly reception of the Eucharist has not been required for most Christians - even in catholic and sacramental traditions - for most of the Church's life. I am increasingly convinced that the Parish Communion movement has failed and that we need to think again about the pastoral wisdom of assuming the Eucharist *must* be the main Sunday service. My preference would be for something like your Case II, although my instinct would be have an early Eucharist with Mattins as the main service on alternate Sundays.

      Brian.

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