Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stratford Caldecott R.I.P. Some great words . . .



On July 17, Stratford Caldecott, the British Catholic theologian, author and editor died after a lengthy and painful struggle with cancer aged just 60. With his wife, LĂ©onie, he  was the founder of Second Spring, a journal of faith and culture, and also co-editor of Magnificat UK. A member of the editorial board of the International Theological Journal Communio, he was the author of a number of books, including: Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education, Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education and The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He was the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and received an honorary doctorate in Theology from the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. 

Read more about him HERE.

Back in 1996 he co-ordinated an international conference of the Centre for Faith and Culture held at Westminster College, Oxford, on the subject of renewing the Church’s liturgical prayer. The papers were subsequently published. The paragraphs below are part of his summing up. Rich in beauty, profound in their understanding of God’s way with us, as well as of the nature of our response, they  are “vintage” Stratford Caldecott. I share them with you in the hope that you will be inspired to read his books. May he rest in peace.


“Worship . . . must be a whole-body, a whole-person experience. This fuller participation can best be promoted not by the introduction of more physical activity (hymn-singing, liturgical dance, etc.) but by the greater use of the senses in liturgy, as well as a greater sensitivity to the richness of metaphor and controlled ambiguity in liturgical language. What we seem to be seeing, in general, is a growing awareness that beauty is a vital aspect of liturgical performance, conducive to ‘active participation’ in the deepest sense. The hope for a rapprochement with Eastern Orthodoxy, and the growing familiarity throughout the West with aspects of the rich Byzantine liturgical, theological and iconographic tradition (to a large extent already present within the Catholic Church through the Eastern rites), is another factor working in the same direction. The evident splendour and elaborate formality of the Oriental liturgies is not for all, but contact with it can still awaken an understanding of the original purpose of liturgy, and a longing for deep religious experience that may have been denied to those steeped in more action-oriented or secularised celebrations.

“The danger to be avoided, of course, is that of falling back into a kind of mystification. But with the vernacular safely established and the laity thoroughly aroused I personally doubt this is a serious problem. An even greater danger now comes from presenting the Mass and the prayer life of the Church as something stale and prosaic, and therefore unrelated to the work of self-transformation. When this happens, and when the purpose of the sacraments comes to be seen in ‘moralistic’ terms - as a way of inculcating good behaviour and loyalty to the Church of Rules - people vote with their feet, and flock to the New Age movement, where they will gladly fast, or spend days on their knees reciting mantras, or even learn Sanskrit, for a chance of experiencing a numinous reality beyond the ordinary. In such circumstances, the use of Latin or the reintroduction of traditional devotions to the Blessed Sacrament can help to revive the feeling that what is going on in the Mass is not a banal celebration of the community’s solidarity with itself, but the sacred enactment of a ritual with truly cosmic significance - even if the inner meaning of the words and actions does not reveal itself without the accompaniment of silent prayer:

‘What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. . . . But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a “first-born son” and a citizen of heaven’. (Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-23)

“The auguries are therefore good for a widespread revival of Catholic spirituality in the next century [i.e. this century] - perhaps reinvigorated by the expansion of the Church in the Third World, and the development of innumerable new movements and communities from TaizĂ© to Focolare, from Neocatechumenate to the charismatics. Religious consciousness in general is mystical poetic, sensitive to the many-layered meanings of symbolism, aware of the correspondences and analogies which bind the universe together. Catholicism and Orthodoxy provide a home for such a consciousness by being essentially sacramental. Even their ecclesial structures exist for the sake of the sacraments and the spiritual life these are designed to nourish. For this reason, any recovery of religious sensibility must in the long run work in favour of traditional sacramental and liturgical forms, even as it enriches and transforms them.

“For a ‘sacramental Christian’, the life of Christ is distributed through the Church and throughout the liturgical year. We relive the entire cycle of his self-giving life, death, resurrection and sending of the Spirit. Time and space, drained of meaning by sin and secularism, can he resanctified by Christ’s presence, flowing through the sacramental organism of his ‘Mystical Body’. By participating in the Mass and the Church’s daily prayer, baptised believers are caught up in Christ’s sacrifice, so that all we are and do in our daily lives is given to the Father for him to raise from the dead. That fact is what energises, heals and transforms us in the common life of the Christian community.”


Stratford Caldecott, ed. Beyond the Prosaic: Renewing the Liturgical Movement (1998), 
T&T Clark Ltd, Edinburgh, pages 153-154

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