WHAT IS A CATHEDRAL FOR ?
By the DEAN OF CHICHESTER (the Very Rev. A. S. Duncan-Jones)
TN these days of rapid changes, and of want of regard for old institutions, it is difficult to write hopefully of such ancient foundations as are Cathe- drals." These gloomy words were written sixty-two years ago by Sir Frederick Gore Ouseley. He was an accomplished musician, whose devotion led him to found at Tenbury the College of S. Michael, so that when the glory had departed froth the Cathedrals there might still be one place where every day the praises of God might be sung according to the Anglican rite, and with the music that, during more than three hundred years, had clustered round it. It was only some forty years before that reform, much needed, had been forced upon the Cathedrals by a Royal Commission. But it was reform from outside, it was chiefly financial, and it had hardly touched the inner essence.
But already when Ouseley wrote, by his efforts and those of many others, Benson, Harvey Goodwin, Howson, Goulburn, Mansel and Church, new life was stirring. Though progress has been slow, it has been solid, and the Cathedral Pilgrimage of 1935 is some measure of its solidity. Yet how many of those who are drawn by the magic of these great shrines could give a clear idea of the purpose for which they are intended ? The majority would still probably say that they were magnificent monuments of the past, whose main function now was to provide a setting for the daily performance of rather elaborate music. Though the Cathedrals of England are far better known as buildings than they were in Dickens' day--largely owing to the fact that they are now free and open—a boon for which English people have to thank Mr. Bennett, the Dean of Chester, for it was he who had the courage to lead the way—it is doubtful whether their life is better understood than it was when the curious description of Cloisterham was written by the author of Edwin Drood.
A Cathedral is essentially the home of a religious fraternity whose duty it is corporately to offer • to God the daily round of prayer and praise contained in the offices of the Church. This is the conception of a Cathedral to be found in all parts of the Christian Church. In an Anglican Cathedral the rites will, of course, be those of the Book of Common Prayer, with its rich yet restrained phrasing. The regular services are. carried out by the clergy whom the Bishop has chosen to be his council or senate. It is essential to this right performance that as many members of this community as possible should continually take part, otherwise the corporate character is lost. It is not essential that there should be any other worshippers present. The services should be rendered with as much dignity as the resources of each Cathedral allow. To this end the fraternity should have at its command some assistants who are musically capable, and others who will perform the ceremonial functions without which the music may grow top-heavy.
The revival of these ideals has wrought great changes. The daily presence of a number of canons has replaced the anomaly of "the canon in residence," and the full Prayer Book use of Mattins, Holy Communion and Evensong has come into its own. Dr. Ralph Adams Cram, the well-known American architect, once said that there was nothing so abhorrently devoid of beauty as the morning service in a typical English Cathedral. " Apart from the singing, which is marvellous in its technical perfection, there is nothing which can be considered acceptable as an approximation to true religious ceremonial, and - the whole is typified by the exit of mace-bearing beadles, heading a dignified pro- cession of clergy, canons, choir and congregation after the conclusion of solemn High Mattins, leaving there patient old clergymen, not to sing, but to say the. remainder of - the Communion Service." All this is quietly passing, and its place being taken by what Dr. Demmer described in last week's Spectator as " the larger (though not less loyal) measure of cere- monial which conforms to the wholesome and beautiful standard which the Prayer Book provides in the Orna- ments, Rubric and other directions."
It is the Chapter services that are the life-blood of a cathedral, the element that preserves it as the heir of a great tradition and not a mere piece of dead antiquity. Their.spirit can be felt in the building when they are not in progress. Not many outsiders may wish to assist at theta continuously, but they will receive inspiration from tire knowledge that they are unceasingly offered, and stone of their fragrance will fall upon them as they drop in for a few moments in the morning on their way to business, or in the evening as they return home.
But if the cathedral primarily exists to be the setting of solemn daily services by the Chapter and its assistants, the Chapters have also always aimed at welcoming the general body of citizens to other forms of worship suitable to their needs. In the Middle Ages there was the People's Altar outside the Choir. Today in many cathedrals it is restored, and forms the focus of popular worship. Chapel and nave are the scenes of services of communion and instruction for lay folk at all sorts of times. Experience at Chester and Liverpool and elsewhere shows that when there are great gatherings of civic and other public bodies, of friendly societies, of Scouts or for Services_at Armistice- tide, it is far better to have something designed for the occasion than to attempt by Procrustean methods to force Mattins or Evensong into an unnatural and Un- convincing shape. Not the least encouraging sign of the times is the evidence that is cropping up in cathedrals, new and old, of a new instinct for liturgical art, one that has learnt from the great tradition of the past, but which can direct its knowledge to modern needs.
There is a third kind of activity to which the cathedrals lend themselves, and for which they should certainly be used, as they are in other countries. They form an admirable setting for the performance of noble music out of service-time. The Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester; Hereford, and Worcester is the most famous example Miss Fanny Davies took a welconie step when she began to give pianoforte recitals in a cathedral. Miss Jelly D'Aranyi's generous tour of the cathedrals showed to many how an inspired rendering of great music can gain infinitely in its power to lift the soul to higher things by the sacredness of the background these Houses of God provide:, In all these ways the English cathedral is making for itself a more deeply rooted place in the affections of the English people. Better sense of proportion and richer life are winning their reward. In an age Which is root less markedly one of rapid change than was the period in which Ouseley wrote, multitudes turn with expectation to_ buildings that speak by their solidity of that which changes not. The secret of the peace and strength they breathe is in their religious life. If that were gone, their power as reservoirs of hope would ebb. If they are to continue, they will need understanding friends, ready to preserve the spiritual fabric with the same enthusiasm that the structure of stone calls forth at present.