Liturgy Institute London

For a detailed and peaceful study of Liturgy

Liturgy studies in England


Prepared for the Study Day, 

Lincoln 24 September 2010

A History of Liturgical Studies in England:

Common historical core, diversified traditions

James G. Leachman


On this study day we bear in mind the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions of learning and prayer in Lincolnshire. They find deep roots existing since Christians arrived in Lindum Colonia of the Roman province of Britannia and since Paulinus, monk disciple of Augustinus, established a church in the Saxon kingdom of Lindsey.

A study of Christian communities and of their history in England reveals that cycles of social change are subsequently worked out in theological and liturgical discourse which is thereafter taught and studied in new ways. In each cycle, the teaching and study of liturgy passes from a period of “integral” gestation to a period of “objective” codification and then to a period of “contextual” integration. The chapter in the forthcoming book will trace these cycles throughout English history, especially focusing on the church in Lincolnshire. Here Iwish to pick up the story in its latest cycle.

The industrial revolution was the social context in which new theological and liturgical ideas developed. Keble’s Oxford sermon on national apostasy in 1833, the founding of the Abbey of Solesmes in 1833 and of the Tübingen School of Theology in 1835 encouraged a new integration in teaching and studying liturgy which was romantic in outlook, nostalgic for a medieval past. The medieval ideal came to full splendour in the Victorian age, liturgical practice reflecting this exuberance.

As educational institutions matured, nostalgia fuelled the search for liturgical sources. Church of England Societies such as the Henry Bradshaw Society founded in 1890, the Alcuin Club in 1897 and their publications were used also to prepare students for pastoral service.

In Lincoln, Edward White Benson, after becoming Chancellor in 1872, revived and developed the medieval Schola Cancellarii. He implemented the statutes of the diocese that promoted studying theology, training others in that study and overseeing the educational work of the diocese, and he founded Lincoln Theological College (1874-1985).

The Catholic Relief Act in 1829 and the establishment of the diocese of Nottingham in 1850 brought new hope to the few Catholics, and many religious communities established parishes and houses. The influx of Irish immigrants strengthened the number of the faithful. Candidates for ordination attended seminaries outside the diocese.

Links between the two dioceses of Lincoln and Nottingham prospered. Indeed I have heard that the fourth bishop of Nottingham, Rt Reverend Robert Brindle, DSO(1837-1916) donated the altar stone now in Lincoln Cathedral’s high altar.

In the same period there occurred three revolutions of thought. The historical-biological revolution is marked by Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, the social-economic revolution by Marx’ Das Kapital from 1867-95, and the beginning of psychoanalysis with Breuer and Freud’s On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena in 1893, but the fruit of these revolutions were not to be integrated into theological and liturgical thought until after the first World War.

The two world wars showed the profound inadequacy of the romanticism of the previous century. The insights distilled from the three intellectual revolutions now began to inform theological and liturgical thought. These in turn first bore fruit in the classical liturgical movement in the work of Dom Lambert Beauduin, who championed the laity’s fuller participation in the liturgy. More recently, this matured into the scientific research of the liturgy at the research Institutum Liturgicum at Sant’Anselmo in Rome in 1951, and later at the Pontificium Institutum Liturgicum (PIL) in 1961, also at Sant’Anselmo. The Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council may be considered the greatest encouragement in all churches to the renewal of the liturgy and to its scientific study, along with the Council’s documents on ecumenism and catholic education.

We take the opportunity here of announcing the establishment of a small research Institutum Liturgicum, dedicated particularly to the scientific study of the liturgy following the method developed at the PIL. Located at Ealing Abbey, we intend to offer this method of research and study in an English-speaking context for ecumenical benefit, ever respectful of our diversified practices.

As the industrial era drew to a close, new challenges faced the churches in England. The Church of England closed many denominational, residential theological colleges, and in their place after 1960 began ecumenical, non-residential theological education. More recently, the newly established School of Theology and Ministry Studies (STMS) founded in Lincoln in 2009, promises to develop this ecumenical (shared) tradition of teaching and learning liturgy, promoting consensus in liturgical research among the churches.

Could the growing consensus in research accompanied by growing mutual respect for our differentiated ecclesial and liturgical identities, achieved through ongoing ecumenical dialogue, lead to what we call “Consensus in Method: Differentiation in Liturgical Renewal” and help us to study together, while respecting different traditions?

Because the Roman Catholic Church has not had any provisions for higher education in Lincolnshire since the reformation, I wish to record a plea that the Lincoln STMS invite full Roman Catholic participation by opening to the entire student body a pathway in Theology and Ministry Studies taught by and meeting the needs of Roman Catholics until our developing consensus in method may achieve one day our union in the Lord around one table.