I must tread warily. I am a Roman Catholic. I have no right, perhaps especially on the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s creation of protestantism, to tell the Church of England how it should conduct itself. But I do believe that what I am about to say will be supported by many Anglicans. And so I dare to say it.
But, before the criticism (which is not major) let me say how wonderful the Church of England can be. Today we had the funeral of my beloved father-in-law, Guy. The service, except in the one tiny respect to which I will return later, was extraordinarily beautiful and moving. The setting was perfect. We gathered in the Church of St Mary in Wimbledon. Most of you will have seen it. Its spire always appears on the BBC’s television broadcasts of the Wimbledon tennis championships. It is a magnificent, and thriving, church.
The music was sublime. The organist must be one of the finest in the land. The small choir led our singing perfectly. The hymns were all old favourites. One of my sons and his friend sang Panis Angelicus astoundingly well during communion. We had all the sentences at the beginning of the service. I always remember my own father’s (he was an Anglican) endless complaints about the modern practice of only having one or two of the sentences. We didn’t suffer that irritation today. My wife and her two sisters spoke briefly, but incredibly movingly, about their father. The new vicar of St Mary’s, who had never met Guy, gave a simply splendid sermon. She had obviously researched her subject meticulously. Somehow, she managed to understand Guy perfectly. His was an exceptionally good send off.
But there was that one, very minor, irritation. I have noticed it before, but only ever in Anglican churches. At weddings and funerals the Church of England delights in inflicting on its congregations its entirely pointless modern version of the Lord’s prayer. It is almost as if it gets a sort of sadistic pleasure from using a form of words, for a prayer we all know in its original form but which we don’t know in its bowdlerized version, which will confuse and annoy those of us who do not attend Anglican churches regularly.
It is not, of course, only non-church-goers who are thrown by the Church of England’s modern version of the Lord’s prayer. We Catholics, who stick to the original version, are just as confused by it. And what is the point of it? It strikes me as being horribly patronising. The assumption that we don’t know what is meant by the word “trespasses” is almost offensive.
Funnily enough, I remember, some years ago, a very wise Anglican vicar, who was about to set off to the Synod, asking me whether it was really true that my church was using a new version of the Lord’s prayer. I assured him, correctly, that we were not. He explained that he and the other members of the Church of England Synod were being told to vote in favour of this new version on the grounds that the Church of England must be ecumenical and go along with changes emanating from Rome. He delivered a splendid speech to the Synod in which he told his audience that, far from being ecumenical, it would be extremely divisive for the Anglican church to insist on a version of the Lord’s prayer which would never be accepted by the Roman Catholic church. But, as we saw today at St Mary’s Wimbledon, he lost the vote.