Sunday, March 8, 2009

Some More on St Mary's. Diptychs: A Missed Opportunity

My series on St Mary's seems to have generated a bit of interest, presumably because of the apparent novelty of a gay man like me who leans towards the "left" of the Church critiquing a congregation that not only situate themselves on the "progressive" side but aim at being inclusive of LGBT people. How shocking!

But because of this interest I keep getting bits of feedback and commentary both electronically and in daily life. So I've heard that, yes, all the publicity caused by the affair has definitely led to people, who would not normally do so, turning up at St Mary's on the assumption that it might be a church for them. I was told that a number of lesbian families have started attending there now. I don't know whether these women were Catholic or not before the affair erupted into the news. I have also heard some strange stories as to why the priests there wont do a lot of things in terms of vesting, the communion cup, Peter Kennedy's bottled water business that he operates through the church and so forth. The one common pattern in all these stories is the way so many decisions about practice seem to be based on the personal likes and dislikes of the priests, Peter and Terry, and not anything substantive even stemming from some form of 'progressive' theological position.

One story concerns why Terry won't wear the alb or anything else too clerical. The story is a little garbled both from my memory and the recounting. But it appears that Terry got some negative feedback at one time from some kids in the church saying how he reminded them of a rather bossy priest who was always telling them what to do. Terry stopped wearing the alb at all on that basis.

A more serious story I've been told concerns why the anaphora or eucharistic prayer was so seriously denatured in St Mary's. According to my informant, who's been attending St Mary's for some time on an occasional basis, the reason for altering, changing and then writing their own eucharistic prayers was the wish not to pray for the Pope at every Mass. This prayer in question comes after the consecration and thanksgiving/offering and, generally, in the Roman rite within the Roman communion, prays for the local bishop/archbishop, Pope, all the clergy and people. If what I have been told is true then it would appear that Archbishop Bathersby's concerns raised in his letter last August that St Mary's had withdrawn itself from communion with the Roman church have some basis to an extent that even the Archbishop himself didn't appreciate.

This prayer that the two priests wanted to elide is a form of what's known in the eastern churches as the diptychs. This prayer highlights the connectedness of the local congregation with the broader church. It's found in pretty much all the rites of Catholic Christianity east and west and always forms part of the greater eucharistic prayer. In the days before the great schisms of east and west in the first millenium, the days of the Catholic Ecumenical church of the five patriarchs (Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria) it was the norm for the five patriarchs to pray for each other in the diptychs. For any of the patriarchs to omit mention of the others in the diptychs at the eucharist was a serious matter - it signified a rupture of communion. In the struggles between Alexandria and Constantinople for primacy, omitting one's rival/fellow primate in the diptychs was one tactic deployed on both sides to signify rupture and likewise in the latter first millennium in the struggles between Rome and Constantinople. Much more than formal excommunication, omission from the diptychs was the way one patriarchal see signalled a break with another.

I don't know how familiar the priests at St Mary's are with church and liturgical history (a lot of the time I think not much) but if it is true that they wanted to omit mention of the Pope in the eucharist then they have effectively severed communion with the Roman church and, indeed the Brisbane church of the Roman communion too (especially as they also omitted their Archbishop to boot). I don't think most Catholics (Roman or otherwise) really appeciate or understand the purpose of the diptychs in the eucharist. Consequently I don't think most of the St Mary's congregation appreciate just what has been done by these changes that along with so much else, seem to have been instigated by the priests.

This is possibly one of the saddest instances of St Mary's reformulated liturgy because there was a for more expansive and, indeed, most Catholic possiblity that St Mary's could have embraced instead. Instead of dropping the prayer altogether, it would have been better to expand it by remembering at least the other four Patriarchies of the older Ecumenical church. i.e Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria and possibly some other primatial sees as well e.g Moscow, Echmiadzin, Utrecht, Canterbury, Uppsala, and, for some more gendered nuance, the presiding bishop of the US Episcopalian church, and, for a local touch, the Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia. In this way St Mary's could be a pioneer on the road to full intercommunion across all the jurisdictions of the broader Catholic Church.

Such intercommunion won't occur until people get into the habit of praying for each other in the diptychs. It's likely the rupture between east and west was easier once both sides had omittted each other from their diptychs. Inclusion in the diptychs rather than dropping them altogether could have signalled catholicity and commitment to restoring the connections that have lapsed. In so doing it would be fulfilling one purpose of the eucharist, which is to create connection, community, communion. But instead, dumping the diptychs not only effectively severed St Mary's from a broader connection even with the Roman communion but also led to St Mary's effectively dumping the eucharist itself.

As I said I've been hearing all sorts of stories about St Mary's and the background to some of the odd things that it does. If you have a story to tell, let me know.

I still plan to write on the media and St Marys when time allows. There's been more in the papers today. But if you went a giggle check out this piece in the Spectator by the Dreadnought, John Heard. I'm not quite certain what his point is but it seems to be that the clampdown on St Mary's by Archbishop Bathesby represents some sort of resurgence of the Tridentine rite against 'liberal' liturgies. But I'm open to other suggestions. Heard is an oddly tragic figure but one who is so immured within his own contradictions and clearly without any self analysis and reflection that he can't see his own tragedy but sails on blithely regardless.

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