Sarum revival and pastoral considerations

Sometimes we read things like this here and there. This one is from an Orthodox priest arguing his scepticism about the western rite:

I guess I am ambivalent about the place of the Western-rite.  I think the liturgical nuances of the western-rite, especially the Sarum revival being attempted by some has little socio-cultural connection to Western people.  The approach of the Antiochian Western-rite Vicariate in drawing on post-Reformation Latin Catholic tradition – Tridentine as lived by the Western Latin Church into the 1960’s offers a much closer cultural connection.

If we look at Australia, there has been a complete failure to connect culturally and spiritually with seekers, …

My own feelings about this is whether the Tridentine rite / English Missal is any more relevant to the average seeker than other rites that are superficially very similar and distinguishable only by those with inside knowledge of the liturgy. I am relatively unfamiliar with the converts-to-Orthodoxy scene, and I have little idea about what kind of western spiritual seeker is attracted to the Byzantine Liturgy, or which would prefer the Antiochian “Tridentine” rite over Sarum. Perhaps Fr Dale or other Orthodox readers of this blog would care to comment and enlighten us.

I could perhaps make a guess that the Antiochian parishes in America using the Liturgy of St Gregory do so quite soberly. Some priests using Sarum perhaps are quite “precious” in their style, which might not be helpful to some people. For the layman (I don’t mean as opposed to clerics, but as opposed to those with specialist knowledge) the language of the liturgy is important. Latin is hardly likely to be appropriate in such missionary or pastoral situations, and perhaps modern language is more in keeping. On the other hand, some seekers look for an experience of the sacred rather than going to hear a sermon from a priest with “fire in his belly”.

Does the pre-Vatican II liturgy offer a close cultural connection. My guess is that it would attract the aesthetically-minded, those looking for spirituality and contemplation rather than being challenged by words, the kind of persons who would prefer to worship with monks in a monastery rather than in a parish setting. Are the traditionalist Roman Catholic communities (in communion with Rome or not) attracting large numbers of people or connecting with modern culture? I doubt it. Of course I live in Europe and not America. If people are attracted to a Tridentine liturgy, in Latin or English, why would they not be attracted to another western rite celebrated in the same degree of solemnity or simplicity?

The real issue of the author of the quote above seems to be the western rite in general from an eastern Orthodox point of view, which fairly well colludes with the viewpoint of conservative Roman Catholics telling their converts to knuckle up to the modern Roman rite. In one case or the other, it seems to be the assumption that people or our era and living in the places where we live are of a homogenous culture. For the youth in a hoodie whose life is geared to TV celebrities, Facebook, pop music and football, is it likely to make a difference whether the liturgy on offer is Tridentine, Byzantine or Sarum? The question is totally surreal.

In the history of the Church, the liturgy is something for the initiated and following a regular Christian life as a cleric, monk, nun or lay person. The uninitiated are invited to hear the Word of God in some way and share in informal prayers or quiet moments in a suitable place. A few might wander into a church and be so impressed by the liturgy that it converts them on the spot, but this is fairly rare. To most unchurched people, any kind of liturgy is gobbledegook, however modern and “relevant” it is claimed to be.

The claim that Sarum, or the Dominican, Ambrosian, Lyonese, etc. rites are out, whilst at the same time saying that other superficially similar rites are in is absurd from a pastoral point of view. I would find an argument for secularised modern liturgy, facing the people, in modern language and using pop music more convincing, though that is obviously not the kind of liturgy I would go for. But one hieratic liturgy against another seems to make no sense.

Connecting with culture and people of our time is a question of the priest’s personality and empathy for other people, the friendliness of the faithful, and above all anything that brings the seeker to believe that he is dealing with people who are coherent with their professed principles and give an impression of being redeemed. This is much more challenging than the sterile exercise of inventing “seeker-friendly” services!

If people – or some people, or even a few – are interested in Sarum or similar ways to celebrate the Eucharist and the Office, that seems a good enough reason to do it. It’s as simple as that. No one is imposing anything on anyone!

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3 Responses to Sarum revival and pastoral considerations

  1. sargael says:

    Totally agree with you. I sometimes fancy myself getting ordained and ministering to remote mountains parishes which have kept ancient rites. Demand and supply. I find the living rite argument cranky. Now, well, these people, catholics or orthodox, only care to have novenas to the sacred heart or serve endless molebens instead of having true liturgy. Because novenas and molebens are mass products, etc, etc. And few people care about quality anymore.

    • Alexander says:

      That’s not fair. I think people want to “have novenas to the sacred heart or serve endless molebens” because that’s what they know and they’ve learnt. Just like Anglicans want (amongst other things) to keep the prayer book traditions they’ve learnt.

      The difference is that the people with power want novenas. Different people have different ideas about what “quality” is and means, and what’s important to them in loving, worshiping and serving the living God, and how they know how to do it.

      Now, I think what you’d like to see, and what I would too, is more tolerance for diverse practice, and not uniform mediæval practice. But you’re not going to get that by insulting the powerful and presuming you can see their undisclosed inner thoughts. (Although the behavior of some Roman prelates does often bring to mind Jesus’s “Woe to you lawyers also!” comment;)

      Now in saying this I don’t want to deny the legitimacy of your emotions, but I want you to call to mind the other people involved—and not just how their actions cause you sorrow—and remember that they’re fallen men, struggling to serve the Lord and often failing too.

      (Do I sound like a prat/wanker/douche/whatever? No, honestly. I don’t want to be pointless.)

      • sargael says:

        Well, that’s the problem of modernism throughout all ages: the need for subjectivity and sentimentality, and the justification thereof. I do believe that the liturgical formularies do contain all that is necessary to sustain a deeply christian life and bring it to flower. Was it Father Florovsky who said that all he wanted to know about theology, he found it in the liturgical books of the Church?

        And, to my mind, it is an insult to the rights and to intelligence of the Christian people to deprive them of the benefit of the liturgical cycle on whatever pretext, especially, the frivolous ones we often hear from clerics: the people won’t understand, its “difficult”, etc. That should have been the basic minimum available to all at parish level. The problem occurs when private devotions are elevated to unwarranted dignity and extended to and imposed upon all- the private devotions, being ‘easier’, invite readily complacency and a certain spiritual luxuriousness, which are rather absent from the godly discipline of the liturgy.

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