Liturgical Movement: Parish Communion: Parish and People

The Liturgical Movement began as a pastoral movement of renewal and rediscovery within the continental Roman Catholic Church.It emphasized the communal character of the church, and of Christians as the people of God, the New Testament Body of Christ, in the face of the individualism and disintegration of traditional societies in the industrial age.

There was a new interest in the life of the early church which was perceived to be more authentic, simpler and purer, than that of the Middle Ages and free from the controversies of the Reformation.

The Movement called for greater participation in worship and a reduction of ‘clericalism’. The mass was not a sacred performance to be observed but a communal celebration in which all had a role.

There was greater emphasis on reading and teaching from the scriptures within the liturgy and less on moral and dogmatic preaching. The idea was that mediating on the story of would he people of God found in the scriptures form and renew the life of the contemporary community.

Such changes inevitably led to a desire for the use of modern languages in worship rather than Latin, and to new thinking about the shape of the liturgy, the space and manner in which it was celebrated, and the respective roles of clergy and people. These all found expression in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of 1963. This was followed in the next two decades with new vernacular orders for the mass and other rites. Catholic churches were reordered and new ones bore little immediate resemblance to what had gone before. In the English context Catholic worship and architecture appeared ‘modern’ while their Anglican equivalents often seemed ‘conservative’ and ‘traditional’.

The Church of England had a liturgical Movement, influenced by the Catholic one, but with its own distinctive concerns.

The most important of these was the restoration of the Eucharist as the principal Sunday service in parish churches in place of the choir office of Morning Prayer (in ‘low’ churches) and the non-communicating High Mass (in ‘high’ ones). It has been argued that the ‘Parish Communion’ movement had its roots in Christian Socialism and was independent of developments on the continent. Its ideal was a mid-morning (about 9.30am rather than the then usual times of 8am and 11am) celebration of the eucharist followed by a social gathering (the ‘Parish Breakfast’) which would build up the community and provide opportunities for teaching and pastoral work. The start time was important because it was meant to allow time for the family midday meal to be prepared and for the keeping of a fast before receiving communion.

A leading figure on the Parish Communion movement was Henry de Candole who was a curate at St John’s, Newcastle from 1926 to 1931.

He contributed an essay to the collection The Parish Communion edited by A. G. Herbert (1937) on what he called ‘expression work’ or teaching by actual practice: “To be a Christian is to live in the Church. To learn Christianity the best means is to join in the Church’s life, where it is to be caught, and supremely in the Church’s [eucharistic] worship, which expresses the essence of the Church’s life”.

Another contributor was W. S. Baker, the vicar of St John’s, who described the introduction of the Parish Eucharist there in Advent 1927.

Progress was interrupted by the Second World War, but a meeting in 1947 between Henry de Candole, Patrick McLaughlin (Vicar of St Anne’s, Soho and St Thomas’s, Regent Street) and others led to the founding in 1949 of a new group (and journal) called Parish and People. The interest now spread from establishing the Parish Communion to a complete renewal of parish life. Liturgy was not confined to services, but was the framework defining and shaping the common life of the community, parish and people. An important expression of the movement was the ‘house church’ an ordinary space where the Christian community engaged in several relevant local activities with the eucharist celebrated in way that made use of or evoked local materials and occupations. Fr Bunker’s St Augustine’s in Halifax is an example.

St Augustine's 'House Church', Halifax