Thinking allowed

Rites of Ordination: Their History and Theology

book cover
Paul F. Bradshaw Rites of Ordination: Their History and Theology London: SPCK, 2014 ISBN 978-0-281-07157-9. pp. ix + 218. £19.99 pbk.

What does it mean to be ordained as a minister? This question stands in large print on the back cover of Paul Bradshaw’s excellent book. If it attracts those hoping to find vocational direction or insight into ministerial identity, they will be surprised by the contents. Bradshaw is not uninterested in these matters as they are expressed in ordination rites, but they are not at the centre of his study.

With an enviable combination of profundity and economy, he has produced a survey of eastern and western rites of ordination that stretches from the practices of the earliest Christian communities to the present day. This approach makes it possible to show what elements have been essential, which biblical images have been sustained in the language and theology of ordination, how relationships between orders have been understood, how the role of the laity has been acknowledged or eclipsed, and how candidates have been chosen. The first three chapters, which deal with typology of ministry, ministry in the earliest Christian communities, and ministry in the earliest ordination rites are particularly helpful in setting the scene for what is to come.

Bradshaw is the sort of historian who makes the evidence of his workings exciting. As his exploration moves to the rites themselves, we learn a good deal about how to establish a likely ‘original’ text by comparing versions of it in different near-contemporary documents, or by sifting out common features of later rites which must have come from a shared source. The account of the East takes up one chapter to five which might be defined as preoccupied with the West. This does not necessarily mean that the origins of the Eastern rites of ordination are more straightforward: only that they stabilised whereas patterns in the West continued to change. Thus it was not too long before bishops began to be appointed by the Pope and not by the popular acclaim of the local community.

Rites converged as the Church grew and spread. The ordination services which result from the meeting of Roman and Gallican traditions become far more elaborate than the individual streams which have come together. At the same time, there was a move away from local acclaim, relationship to place (the idea of a title), and the involvement in the laity in the choice and ordination of ministers. What increased was an emphasis on the sacrificial priesthood, to the exclusion of other aspects of this order, like shepherd and prophet. This attracted the criticism of the Reformers, beginning with John Wycliffe and trenchantly uttered by Luther and Calvin. Once again the question of what clergy were for, and how they differed from the laity, was at stake.

These are questions that the Churches, including the Church of Rome, have gone on asking – although it was not until 1990 that Rome had an ordination rite significantly different from the first printed pontifical of 1485. There is now considerable convergence on many of the desirable characteristics named by the World Council of Churches document, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982). But Bradshaw gives us a picture of work still very much in progress. Churches continue to ponder how to accommodate the laying on of hands in the ordination prayer without splitting it into three. They go on seeking ways to allow the voice of the laity to be heard in the rite and to represent local communities where ordination is celebrated in central locations. They keep trying out secondary symbolism to accompany the laying on of hands and prayer for the work of the Holy Spirit. No Church seems as yet to have got this quite right, and part of Bradshaw’s achievement is in showing how choreography can assist in solving certain problems. There is plenty of material here to guide practice, and to root it historically without allowing any irresponsible and badly-informed appeals to the Early Church. It is unlikely that any Church will embark on the revision of its ordination rites in future without first studying this book.

Buy this book.


The Study of Liturgy and Worship

Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Juliette Day The Study of Liturgy and Worship London: SPCK, 2013 ISBN 978-0-281-06909-5. pp.272. £25.00 pbk.

Back in the day when ‘Liturgy’ was Dix and ‘Worship’ was Underhill, ‘Study’ tended to focus on detailed analysis of increasingly narrow topics. When those who studied liturgy had been nurtured on a Tridentine Mass or a Prayer Book Communion service, much could be taken for granted.

So a book that takes liturgical study out of its straitjacket is highly welcome. Here, in a single volume are 22 essays of roughly equal length, grouped under four headings. ‘Foundations’ opens with essays on Worship and Liturgy. The second section, ‘Elements’, looks at Time, Space, Music, Language and Ministries. The third section, ‘Event’, deals with specific occasions for liturgy, whilst the most challenging chapters are perhaps those of the fourth section of the book, described as ‘Dimensions’. Here, in the chapter on Ethics, Siobhán Garrigan notes how at times ‘liturgy has failed to change, and might even have aided, some of the world’s greatest unethical situations.’ She notes that the Old Testament prophets were only too well aware of the need for worship to be ethical. We neglect their warnings at our peril (‘I hate, I despise your festivals’ Amos 5.21 and ‘Do not trust these deceptive words “This is the temple of the Lord”’ Jeremiah 7.4). She notes how Karl Rahner, at the Second Vatican Council, argued that ‘if you do not get life right, you cannot get liturgy right.’

Ruth Meyers in the following chapter reminds us of the place of worship in forming people for Mission, and building a ‘Mission-Shaped Church’. Philip Tovey’s chapter on Culture reminds us of how slowly and grudgingly progress has been made. The Second Vatican Council had raised the issue but going beyond vernacular masses (which was a huge step), real change expressive of different cultures has been limited. He also notes that The Anglican Communion, with prayers for ‘us and for all men’ has been slow to adopt inclusive language and produce liturgies for occasions when a significant proportion of communicants are children.

‘Dimensions’ concludes with Myra Blyth’s chapter on Ecumenism. She writes as a Baptist minister who spent many years at the World Council of Churches. Churches have moved from priding themselves on fine distinctions and divisions to heeding Jesus’ prayer that all should be one. The Lima document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry was a real milestone. But, Blyth notes, there have been setbacks. She writes, ‘For Margaret Kässmann, former Bishop of Berlin-Brandenberg, the (2003) report and especially the framework for common prayer, represents a backward step on the ecumenical journey. It is “a document of fear which takes great care to establish the boundaries that divide us”’.

The inclusion of these themes as equal has produced a well-rounded study. But this has meant that much has had to be abbreviated and the valuable list of further reading at the end of each chapter will need to be accessed in order to explore each topic in more depth. I might have looked for a longer chapter on ‘Eucharist’ but the chapters on ‘Ritual’, on ‘Prayer’ and on ‘Sign and Symbol’ and ‘Word and Sacrament’ provide valuable insights to add to what is found there.

The importance of ‘Word’ is also stressed in chapters on liturgical language, and on Proclamation, which can bring us back to noting the importance of a chapter on Ethics. These discrete essays fit together superbly. The richness and diversity of content has meant that the reviewer has found a great deal of importance beyond what might have been expected; essays on Eucharist, Services of the Word, and those which mark membership and rites of passage. The way the book is constructed means that no aspect can be treated in isolation, and the totality of what it offers will make a great contribution to enabling those responsible for worship to make it a transforming and enriching experience.

Buy this book.

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Church Times articles

Over the last few years I have written a number of pieces which have been published in the Church Times. These have appeared on their monthly computing / internet pages, and have included reviews and surveys of web sites on various topics.

The most recent of these articles is now available on the Church Times website: a preview of Apple’s new Mac mini computer. You can read the article here

[Footnote, 12 April 2005: Apple today announced that the next version of Mac OS, Mac OS X 10.4, code-named ‘Tiger’, will be available from 29 April. So, now is the time to go and buy that Mac mini, safe in the knowledge that you will get the latest version of the OS. I placed my order for a Mac mini this afternoon!]

Some of the earlier pieces can be found in this list


bestselling artist of all time?

The BBC website reports that this accolade is claimed (by the publisher) for Annie Vallotton.

Who’s Annie Vallotton you might ask?

She is the Swiss woman who illustrated the Good News Bible in the 1970s.

Sample quote:

One of the most memorable examples is of the crucifixion in Luke’s gospel. The thorn-crowned head hangs forward, below the single line of the shoulder. Above it, two right-angles are the cross.
Somehow this plain sketch conveys the desolation of Jesus far more powerfully than two hours of Mel Gibson’s blood-spattered film, The Passion of the Christ.


The Great Schism

This morning I listened to another programme in the BBC Radio 4 series, In Our Time. This must be the best programme on the radio, and this week it looked at the Great Schism between the eastern and western Church, concentrated in the mutual excommunication in 1054.

What is even more remarkable is the relevance of much of what they were talking about to the current goings-on at Lambeth. Here we had a dispute primarily about authority, and about a shift in the balance of power, from the ‘old church’ in the Greek-speaking east, towards the Latin-speaking west, culiminating a determination by the up-and-coming west and its patriarch at Rome to concentrate authority in its hands, rather than sharing it in a more democratic ‘first among equals’ basis.

My only caveat would be to wonder about the authority of an ‘expert’ who thinks that communion in one kind, increasingly practised in the West, meant that the laity were limited to receiving only the chalice, and not the bread — a statement which no one corrected.

Anyway, the broadcast is worth listening to, whether or not you see any parallels, or whether you agree with my suggested parallels (perhaps it’s like a good sermon, which every listener thinks is directed solely at them). Then, if you haven’t done so before, enjoy youself browsing through the archives listening to previous broadcasts over the last couple of years.


Future Shape of Church

In his website Future Shape of Church Edward Green, an ordinand at Westcott House, Cambridge, explores what it means to be Christian in a post-modern world. This developing website contains a number of interesting essays, including one on sexuality and another on the need for the existence of God: ‘religion,’ he writes, ‘is a thing of value that can exist independent of the actuality of a divine being’. The site also includes essays and sermons by others, including Dr Fraser Watts, Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Science at Cambridge University.