Sunday, January 04, 2009

St. Clement's, Philadelphia

Clem’s 150 years on. absolutely unrivaled combination of liturgical traditionalism, excellent music and, shall we say, a certain panache.
– P.R. Cook

Tridentine Roman Catholic teaching and practice, antiques-shop good taste and a dose of British charm. That essentially was this place’s magic.

About 25 years ago somebody (not at all unorthodox – he “went over to Rome” a few years later and is a priest) warned me about this church (many relics, Latin, obscure old-fashioned practices) so naturally I went! Last week a brother in England, actually the first “Clementine” I ever met, reminded me that 150 years ago today it had its first Sunday service. Bittersweet now that the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Episcopal Church is finished. (No Catholic bishops mean no movement and more important no church.)

Long story short: A mid-19th-century Philadelphian builder decides to hike up the value of his new project by putting a church in the neighborhood, irreligiously picking a name from one of his relations. So a big brown sort-of Romanesque stone Protestant preaching barn goes up. (Providentially the Romanesqueness and the saint’s name will suit what it will become.) Ten years later an AC priest shows up and starts teaching that religion and nudging the services in that direction. By 1900 it’s a model of American ACism, retrofitted for that kind of worship, and is even run by an English religious order (no longer there and I understand on its last legs in England). Until the mid-early C20 it’s a real neighborhood parish of working-class folk back when there are such among the Episcopalians in big cities. (Families and thus a Sunday school, now gone, with fully habited nuns teaching it.) Two unrelated things happen about 75-80 years ago: the rector, an American, takes it up a notch so it’s like English Anglo-Papalism at the time (Tridentine RC ways: Missal not Prayer Book) and a big new boulevard wipes out the houses that made up the old parish. (There is also an engineering feat when 20th Street is widened: all of St Clement’s buildings are put on rails and pushed back, landing on new foundations!) With only a hiccup in between – going mainstreamish Episcopal from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s – it’s been a Tridentine AC “shrine,” a magnet for young fogeys and a few others, ever since.

Services are 1954 Roman Rite (as they were before the first big changes in 1955) with a few accommodations for Anglicans such as allowing Communion in the hand (few do it), the chalice for the laity (a minority receive under only one kind) and some use of King James-style English instead of Latin. (Also, after Communism fell, the Leonine prayers after Low Mass are no longer read.) Sunday Vespers and Benediction are in Latin. The full-time clergy are required to be celibate in anticipation of union with Rome.
Anglo-Catholic parishes have never really been about the Constitutions and Canons of the [Anglican] Church. We exist within the structure of those things, sometimes quite uncomfortably, but it is the faith and practice of the Catholic Church throughout the ages that concerns us.
– David O’Rourke

Been a happy non-communicant part-timer there for nearly six years. My native tradition revved up to square with the Catholic faith, with doses of high culture (classical music) and that AC sense of fun that Huw describes (as did Sir John Betjeman). (I’m barely old enough to have caught the tail end of old-time religion in Anglicanism and have identified as Catholic since I was about 13.)
“Extreme” colonial bishops leading us in song...
The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady’s image, in multiple-candled brightness,
The bells and banners – those were the waking days
When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.
– the late Sir John

These places are rarer than hen’s teeth now and I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the Episcopalians, committed to being a liberal Protestant denomination, shut it down at least as we know it. (Without “at least as we know it” it would have no reason to be.) I don’t think they’re plotting to but I do believe that their amused toleration won’t last much longer. Pope Benedict’s Catholic revival among younger RCs is poised to pick up where it leaves off but I fear something culturally will be lost. If resistance, as described perfectly by Thomas Day, can be overcome perhaps the Hymnal 1940 and English Hymnal can cross over along with, more important, public recitation of the office. (Yes, orthodox and singable hymns [though I prefer chant], the office in church and the cultural ephemera Huw describes are what Catholic ex-Anglicans miss.) We shall see.

Dirigátur, Dómine, orátio mea, sícut incénsum in conspéctu túo

The Tridentine Mass in English:
English Missal Requiem Low Mass.

The Canon used to be silent and they used to commemorate the Pope.

I don’t think Catholics have public Requiems
for non-Catholics and non-Christians.

  • Flickr gallery.
  • Parish blog. The plan is to have reprints from the archives and other historical publications which haven’t been in circulation for many years, and also original articles on liturgy, ceremonial, vestments, and music, written by parishioners and staff.
  • The way it was when I first went there. The final arbiter of doctrine is reckoned to be the Catechism of the Council of Trent. S. Clement’s rejects the errors of the Episcopal Church of the last thirty years; the so-called “ordination of women,” feminist theology, the new permissive marriage canons, the “revised liturgies,” and so on. More.
  • The way it is now: Canon Reid’s blog.
  • “S.” Clement’s? It’s used that form on and off. It looks like a catholicization, from the Latin abbreviation. In any event, it’s an 1800s variant (British?) you see Anglo-Catholics sometimes use.
  • 2010: I’m done. What I remember most: the Gregorian chant for singing the old BCP psalms as was done before switching to Latin.
  • Epilogue. It’s gay so it’s still Episcopal. But the folks who made it great are now in the church.

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