Why we need Choral Mattins
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.