Book Review: William Palmer Ladd’s Prayer Book Interleaves

Significant movements and trends in both history in general and the church in particular tend to be long term. That’s one reason why Evangelicals have been skunked by their opponents: the Evangelicals are in a hurry for the Lord’s return and their opponents are playing, more or less, the long game.

Such it is with liturgy. The fights we have today over Novus Ordo vs. TLM and that dreadful 1979 BCP vs. the rest (and that’s an oversimplification given Anglicanism’s complex structure) have been brewing for a century or more. You can even see that in the much-vaunted 1928 BCP, and the ink wasn’t even dry on the first printing when the “hankering for more” started.

A great deal of that hankering is expressed in this book, Prayer Book Interleaves by Dean William Palmer Ladd, Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School. The book is a posthumous compilation of the Dean’s articles, mostly written in the late 1930’s.

Ladd died 1 July 1941, just after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union and five months before the U.S. would enter the war. The gathering storm, the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, and of course the spectre of Communism are a background for the work and give it a relevance for our time, since both of these movements–and many others–continue to challenge Christianity here and elsewhere.

So what is Ladd’s solution? Ladd himself was a part of what he and we call the Liturgical Movement, that movement that had its genesis in Roman Catholicism and which rumbled through the system until it burst into full view with Vatican II and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae in 1970. It’s tempting to see the Episcopal Church as a remora on this shark, but Ladd certainly didn’t think so. Although he is aware of the differences in the challenges of each, he is also aware of the commonalities of them as well, although even he admits that the Cranmerian liturgy was, in reality, a first step in addressing the problems of the Roman liturgy.

His central thesis is that the Holy Communion should return as the normal service on Sunday.  He expressed this belief as follows:

Each worshipper shared in the worship of the whole Catholic Church, earthly and heavenly. Brotherhood and loyalty, democracy and equality, were spiritual realities having a super-natural basis. The eucharistic fellowship excluded any distinction between aristocrats and slaves. It was not undermined by snobs and money-grubbers, our fifth column today. (p. 8)

I suggest that the essential on which we should concentrate today is the Holy Eucharist. (p.63)

The practice for the Eucharist to be the service on Sunday is of course normative in Roman Catholicism.  He repeats this sentiment elsewhere, but his idea ignores the following:

  1. The church in his day and ours lacks the vetting process the early church had for admitting people into the Communion.  They even dismissed the catechumens before that part of the service!  I doubt this would go over very well now.
  2. Christianity today lacks the unity of opinion about what the Eucharist basically is, something I pointed out in Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: It Depends on What “Is” Is.  Ladd tries his best to ignore or minimize this inconvenient truth, and that’s a typically Episcopal approach to a problem: paper over differences with either liturgical niceties or Anglican fudge.  My high school chaplain attempted to do that on this issue and I was totally unconvinced.  Subsequent history (to say nothing of this) has borne out the importance of this problem.
  3. His characterisation of the “snobs and money grubbers” as a “fifth column” denies the reality of the Episcopal Church’s elevated demographics: They’re not a fifth column, they’re front and centre!  This problem would only get worse with the aftermath of World War II, and is something the ACNA needs to watch with C4SO.
  4. He objects to the fact that the Holy Communion’s lectionary readings have none of the Old Testament. Of course, that’s what Morning and Evening Prayer are all about, right? It’s also interesting that, while he was decrying the lack of OT readings for the Holy Communion, the editors of the 1928 BCP’s lectionary were toning down those they thought were in bad taste! The subsequent changes in the lectionary for the RCC, TEC and ACNA speak for themselves.

Some other interesting quotes are as follows:

From thinking of the failure of the Roman Church to cultivate a living liturgical tradition, my mind wandered off to the many ways in which that great communion is a reactionary and obscurantist influence in our modern life. I recalled its hostility to the child-labor amendment, its sinister censorship of the American press and movies, its bloody hand in Spain, its self-seeking political intrigue all over the world. And then in a more Christian mood I recalled the fact that such a repudiation of the gospel is by no means a monopoly of the Roman branch of the Church and that as a matter of fact again and again the Romans have fought for the underdog. How about our own shortcomings-our alliance with a favored social and economic class, our self-indulgent living, our cut-and-dried worship, our snobbishness, our racial intolerance, our neglect of Christian unity, our ineffective missionary effort, our bankrupt Christian education, our indifference to theological learning? Such thoughts were depressing. But suddenly the Easter Alleluia rang out-‘Praise ye the Lord!’ and the Tract -‘The truth of the Lord remaineth forever!’ Then a deacon came down from the altar, knelt before the archiepiscopal throne, and held out a book for the archbishop to kiss. It was the gospel book. That was a reassuring ceremony. Miserable sinners are we all-but still Christians-and in some degree we do pay allegiance to the risen Lord and his gospel. (pp. 59-60)

His position on the Spanish Civil War is curious in view of the fact that his friends at the Maria Laach monastery–a centre of the Liturgical Movement and an inspiration to him–were playing footsies with the Nazis, an alliance that would bear bad fruit in places like Vichy France. I saw the Gospel procession in my “visit” to Bethesda last year, and it really hasn’t made a dent to that church’s formalism or its elevated demographics, with all of the unpleasant consequences he points out.

But what is unsatisfactory in this search for fundamentals is that when we find them they are not necessarily Christian. They underlie religion in general. And the very ideas mentioned above stand out, in fact, in that great revolution which is fundamentally religion and which is so much in all our minds today-Hitlerism. Fellowship? Yes, the fellowship of all Germans as against the world is both more evident and more effective than our Christian fellowship. Sacrifice? What sacrifices have not the German people made in the last ten years, and still are making for the sake of their Reich! Faith? Not the eucharistic faith in the risen Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit, yet a faith that removes mountains. Sanctification of the material world? That is the meaning of ‘blood and soil.’ What is lacking is the Christian way of life. Hate, revenge, lying, ruthless cruelty, have taken the place of justice, truth, long-suffering, mercy, pity, peace, and love. Belief in God, but rejection of Christ. An altar, but no Christian gospel upon it. (p. 74)

Comparing the enthusiasm of the Nazis to the lack he sees in Christianity is similar to the comparison I made with the Communists, and frankly I didn’t get much of a response. But that leads me to my next quote…

These thoughts have come to me recently as I have been watching the antics of one of those crucifers of the familiar type who parade up the church alley with gauntleted hands, cross pressed against chin and nose, eyes peering into space, body stiffly leaping forward in a sort of goosestep at each beat of the music. I am hopeless of trying to open the eyes of the clergy to the absurdity and vulgarity of this performance, and to the discredit which it must bring on the Church in the eyes of people of good taste and reverent feeling. What can be done? (p. 106)

Had the Third Reich–to say nothing of the Soviets–not given goosestepping such a bad name, that’s exactly what we (youth choir and acolytes alike) would have done, especially when our organist struck up the 1940’s Hymnal’s #385. It definitely had a “Dr. Strangelove” feel to it. OTOH, while he continually decries stepping in time with the music, I have no idea what a reasonable alternative would be.

Such an ideal of worship characterizes many parts of our eucharistic service, notably the dialogue beginning ‘Lift up your hearts,’ which, since the earliest times, has inaugurated the solemn oblation and communion. But other parts of the service have a definitely individualistic character. In the Middle Ages, that ‘period of unexampled liturgical decay,’ as Father Gregory Dix calls it, people began to go to mass to get something out of it for themselves, or for their relatives and friends in purgatory. Our Prayer Book inherited this individualism. Cranmer prided himself that with the new service it would be ‘every man for himself.’ The confession is of that character; it is of individual, not corporate, sins. And when at the climax of the service the worshipper kneels at the altar to receive communion, he is turned back upon himself with the words ‘given for thee,’ ‘preserve thy soul,’ ‘Christ died for thee.’

Today this ‘save your soul’ approach to religion is completely discredited. It should be eliminated from the Eucharist. There should be intercessions, as the rubric allows, on subjects about which the whole congregation is, or ought to be, concerned, such as the parish and the community, missions and social justice. And in the political sphere we should supplement the antiquated petition that God may ‘direct and dispose the hearts of all Christian rulers’; the ‘rulers’ today are mostly infidels, and, even if our Christian President made himself a ‘ruler’ with Almighty God to direct his heart, it would not solve the greatest of our political problems. To omit the confession, as has already been suggested, would be a gain. (p. 110)

The “communal” nature of the Eucharist of the Liturgical Movement aficionado is the greatest weakness of the whole enterprise. He, like so many others, ignores the real lesson of the Wesleyan revival and works under the assumption that, if we renew the liturgy, the people will be renewed. What he cannot understand is that it isn’t an “either/or” proposition but a “both/and” proposition: the renewal of the liturgy and the renewal of the people must go together even if they are not the same, otherwise we do two things: we force people to choose between their eternal destiny and liturgical correctness, or we end up with a people who simply go through a new set of motions. That style of mind has made the last half century or more a difficult road for many of us.

I’d also make another comment about his disparaging comments re our rulers: he says elsewhere that “Only a few Christian rulers like Chiang Kai-Shek and some South American despots are left.” (p. 65) Those are interesting choices for a social justice person like Ladd, to say the least.

He spends a lot of time in reviewing changes for the 1928 BCP that I’m sure those who put together the 1979 BCP took those into consideration. Had he and his contemporaries taken into consideration the realities of the Christian life and not been so obsessed with their own idea the whole Liturgical Movement would have borne better fruit for Anglican and Catholic alike. It’s good, however, to let a proponent of the movement like him speak for himself in Prayer Book Interleaves by Dean William Palmer Ladd; it’s easier to see the strong and weak points of something that has impacted many of us.

3 Replies to “Book Review: William Palmer Ladd’s Prayer Book Interleaves”

Leave a Reply