Book Review: Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s The Divine Liturgy, or Why Reformed Anglicans Go Postal

He was the Dean of the Lichfield Cathedral; his son was a schoolmate of Winston Churchill’s, and he wrote many books from his Anglo-Catholic perspective.  In The Divine Liturgy, Herbert Mortimer Luckock does a complete analysis of the Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and his journey has been, for me personally, a delight that has both brought back memories and at the same time brought another perspective to issues that have been significant in the Anglican/Episcopal world for many years.  (As an additional history note, the copy I read was owned by the Rev. Frederic S. Fleming, late Rector of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church.)

The book is divided, as is Luckock’s way of saying, into fifty portions, covering not only the liturgy itself point by point, but some of the background, such as the priesthood, leavened or unleavened bread, and the “Black Rubric.”  His chapters tend to be short, which make them easy to absorb, especially in this age of limited attention span.

In his preface he states the following:

The subject, which is here treated of, is one which, since the Catholic Revival of the last generation, has been attracting an ever-increasing attention, till it has now an absorbing interest in almost every part of the English Church.

The idea of a “Catholic Revival” is almost an oxymoron for Evangelicals, but I’ve come to realise that minimising the impact of what is more conventionally called the “Oxford Movement” is a mistake.  Traditionally, having been in the RCC, I tend to be dismissive of Anglo-Catholicism in any form, but Luckock’s treatment of the subject has made me take another look at the subject, although i recognise that the way many Anglo-Catholics look at their own faith today is at variance with Luckock’s.

Probably the best way to look at this book is to highlight some of its more notable features.

The first is Luckock’s breadth of knowledge of a broad cross-section of liturgies, including Anglican, Roman and Eastern.  In that respect the work is similar to Cipriano Vagaggini’s The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform; a series of the anaphorae from that were run on this blog several years ago, and in fact both draw from many of the same sources.  That background gives Luckock’s analysis of the 1662 BCP Holy Communion, like Vagaggini’s of the Roman Canon, a greater sense of depth that one sometimes encounters.  It was Luckock’s hope that the Church of England would take some of these suggestions, a hope that went down in flames with the rejection by Parliament of the 1928 effort.  (Luckock’s lack of enthusiasm for the established state of the Church of England comes through more than once.)  Vagaggini had a better result: one can see the fruits of his labour in the Novus Ordo Missae, although I’m sure that there are many Vagaggini dartboards in #straightouttairondale bars all around the world.

One liturgy of special interest is what Luckock calls the “Scotch” liturgy, which drifted in a High Church direction from the very start.  That’s important because the Scotch liturgy was the source of the “Whiskeypalian” one, as is illustrated by Luckock’s description of the Scotch inclusion of the invocation of the Holy Ghost during the consecration:

Now there can be no question that our present Office, which successive revisers in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and both Charles I. and II., endeavoured, and often successfully, to recover from the baleful influence of Bucer and Calvin, is in the matter of the Invocation distinctly inferior to the first Prayer-book. It has even been objected that the absence of a direct prayer for the operation of the Holy Ghost goes far to invalidate the Consecration. The first American Bishop, Seabury, expressed such a strong disapproval of it that, when asked to celebrate with the English Office, he said : “To confess the truth, I hardly consider the form to be used as strictly amounting to a consecration” ; and it would seem that the objection is still felt in the American Church, for Seabury’s successor, the present Bishop of Connecticut, has declared that in giving the primitive form of Consecration, “Scotland gave us a greater boon than when she gave us the Episcopate.”

It’s also noteworthy that the lack of this invocation was a criticism of the Roman Canon (now RCC Rite I) by both Luckock and Vagaggini.

Another aspect is Luckock’s uneven handing of some of the more controversial aspects of Anglo-Catholic thought.  A good example of this concerns the concept of the “Sacrifice of the Mass,” one that has been dealt with on this blog.  Luckock’s treatment of this in his fifth chapter is one of the best i have seen, especially since the idea of a sacrifice independent of time (which is the state of anything with God) is too abstract for most people.  Unfortunately some of his description of the sacrifice, along with the priesthood, drifts towards Rome too far in the later parts of the book.

Another problematic topic is praying for the dead.  Luckock attempts to find a way to pray for the dead while rejecting the concept of Purgatory, but his attempt is unconvincing.  He is on stronger ground with his smackdown of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, but again he doesn’t have a good alternative to transubstantiation.  The same objection to his handing of the sacrifice can be made with the priesthood; he starts out admirably but fades away as the book progresses.

Luckock’s treatment of the altar in Anglican churches is an interesting one.  The first attack on the altar-against-the-wall, ad orientem facing of the priest came not from the Roman Catholics but from the Puritans.  At one point in the process the priest faced the altar from the side.  Luckock’s preference for ad orientem may be muted by the formal status of the practice in his day, which was to prohibit it.

Luckock is given to some interesting turns of phrase, as in this one concerning a proposed revision of the Collects:

No new Collects have been admitted to the Liturgy since 1662, but the Church narrowly escaped most extensive innovations at the hands of the commissioners appointed to revise the Prayer-book in the reign of William iii. Scarcely a Collect was left untouched; all of them were enlarged “by the introduction of phrases from the Epistles and Gospels, such as abound in the devotional writings of the Nonconformists” ; the whole beauty and the nervous simplicity which have called forth the admiration of all who are most capable of appreciating the purity of the English language, were sacrificed to a miserable attempt to make them more Scriptural.

Although Luckock is the first to affirm the primacy of God’s Word, anyone who has listened to an Evangelical pile on Bible verses to make a point when a more direct approach would make his case better can sympathise with Luckock’s discouragement.

So why the mention of Reformed Anglicans going postal?  Luckock’s treatment of the Prayer Book revisions before the 1662 BCP reveals the multidirectional tugging of Puritans, Reformers and traditionalists which resulted in a dizzying variety of liturgies and arrangements.  Reformed types, eschewing such a chequered narrative, prefer to see the whole process as a seamless march to the 1662 BCP and a Reformed church.  To challenge this can bring a frightful response.

But it just isn’t that simple.  Luckock’s approach has its faults, but it is more strongly grounded in the realities of history and of the root nature of the Anglican experiment itself than many of his opponents and some of his fellow Anglo-Catholics.

The Reformed/Anglo-Catholic divide, even with the recent complications of WO and the pansexual agenda, remains one of the enduring hindrances of Anglican unity.  Luckock’s book is a reasoned view of many of the issues surrounding the Holy Communion–the central place of most of these differences–and deserves proper consideration by those of all perspectives.

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