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‘How can we get the Anglican service restored?’

29 November 2019

Write if you have any any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or to add to the answers given below


Soon after arriving, our incumbent started using the Roman Rite. When challenged, he said it was lawful, that the reply (Answers, 27 September) was wrong, and that he had the incumbent’s jus liturgicum. The Archdeacon says that he can intervene only if there is a formal disciplinary complaint. No one will raise the matter on the PCC, and we are told that it is not proper business for an APCM. How can we get the Anglican service restored?

Your answer: I would suggest the incumbent’s action is unlawful, irrespective of one’s views on the doctrinal issues, and that his attempt justification does not stand up to scrutiny.

First, if an incumbent wishes to introduce significant changes to the liturgy in a parish, he or she should first seek the agreement of the PCC; but the PCC’s agreement could not render unlawful changes lawful.

Second, all C of E clergy take an oath that “in public prayer and administration of the sacraments I will use only the forms of service which are authorised or allowed by Canon.” The Roman Rite is not an authorised form of service; and, if its use is lawful, that must be as a result of some other lawful authority. I think you will search in vain to find this, although I have read imaginative arguments to justify the use of the Roman Rite or parts of it.

If this incumbent appealed to the jus liturgicum, he was at best under a misapprehension. Under medieval canon law, the jus liturgicum permitted a bishop in some circumstances to authorise what would otherwise be unlawful. In so far as the jus liturgicum survived the Reformation in England — and whether and to what extent it did is debated — the right resided in bishops, not in parish priests.

Canon B5 does, however, give clergy a limited right to vary authorised liturgies in that: (1) an officiating minister may introduce “variations which are not of substantial importance” into an official service; and (2) an incumbent (not just any officiating minister) may use or permit “forms of service considered suitable by him”, but only “on occasions for which no provision is made in [the authorised services]”.

We can debate what “substantial importance” means in this context, but neither of these provisions would permit, I suggest, the wholesale substitution of the rites authorised by the C of E by those of another Church; nor omitting whole sections of the authorised eucharistic liturgy for whatever reason.

The Canon does not provide for a liturgical free-for-all whereby each incumbent can choose what to do dependent on his or her own theological views. Moreover, in so far as the jus liturgicum has survived, it could not be used by a bishop to authorise such a practice, because the bishops also must operate within the law. The power can, however, be used to authorise practices for which neither the Prayer Book nor other authorised forms of liturgy make provision; but, obviously, there is ample provision for the eucharist.

Is it seriously suggested that an archdeacon who becomes aware that an incumbent or other member of the clergy in his or her archdeaconry is doing something unlawful cannot do anything unless there is a formal disciplinary complaint? If your correspondent cannot obtain the restoration of Church of England liturgy by agreement, it would seem that a formal complaint would is the only route available. Whether that is desirable is another question.

(The Revd) David Hadfield
Forest Row, East Sussex


Your question: I have been asked several times why we are encouraged to use red as the liturgical colour for the Sundays before Advent. The season seems neither to be especially of the Holy Spirit nor of the martyrs. Can anyone offer a rationale? T. O.


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