Sunday, August 14, 2016

Laudism: Visual Reform

"There is a difference," wrote Russell Kirk, "between reform and change." Reform returns institutions and associations to their original purity in a fashion suitable to the needs of contemporary people, while change for its own sake tends towards instability and calamity. Any genuine reform movement that begins at the top, rather than the rising from grass roots, risks not becoming a full reforms, merely an intellectual fetish for a small clique. The neo-conservative and libertarian sectaries overran Kirk's own traditionalist conservative movement and relegated his own legacy to that of small seminars and annual awards dinners. The same happened to the Laudian "high church" movement in the Church of England and a similar fate might await the Reform of the Reform cause if some serious inroads are not made.

Reform movements must also swiftly recover whatever heritage they desire to preserve before it falls out of living memory and leaves those it wishes to assist to new formations. As a point of illustration and general historical interest, students in the Modern History track at Oxford have created three photographic demonstrations of liturgy in the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, showing the medieval Sarum Mass (in 18th century Roman vestments), Cramner's communion service, and the prayer book service with ritual inspiration from William Laud. Each phase is remarkably, even jarringly, different from what preceded it. First the medieval Mass sung in Latin with its mystery, then the stark spoken service with long didactic parts spoken by a cleric in quasi-academic dress, and lastly a ritualized version of the previous done in Roman vestments on an altar instead of a table and with greater singing. Each transition elicited violence of a spiritual and physical nature.

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