A Sarum Question

A correspondent wrote to me with a question on the Use of Sarum.

At solemn high Mass ad usum Sarum, where was the Gospel proclaimed? And facing which direction? And do you know the origin of the Anglican tradition of chanting the Gospel in the nave facing west?

I answered with the rubric from the Sarum Missal as translated by Canon Warren, which is found in the first Sunday of Advent.

At the end of Alleluya or of the Sequence, or of the Tract, before the deacon advances to announce the Gospel, he shall cense the midst of the altar only ; for the lectern should never be censed either at mass or at matins before the Gospel is announced. Then he shall take the Text, that is to say the book of the Gospels, and bowing to the priest standing before the altar, and facing east, he shall say thus without note: Bid, Sir, a blessing. The priest shall reply : The Lord be in thy heart and in thy mouth, that thou mayest announce the holy Gospel of God. In the name of the Father, etc. But if the priest is celebrating by himself, he shall say privately : Bid, Sir, a blessing, and afterwards shall say to himself : The Lord be in my heart and in my mouth, that I may announce the holy Gospel of God. In the name of the Father, etc.

And thus the deacon shall advance through the midst of the Quire, solemnly carrying the Text itself in his left hand, with thurifer and taper-bearers preceding him, to the Pulpit. And if it be a double feast the cross shall precede him, which should be on the right hand opposite to, that is facing the reader of the Gospel, the face of the figure on the Crucifix being turned toward the reader. For whenever the Epistle is read in the Pulpit, the Gospel should be read in the same place also. And when they have arrived at the place for reading, the subdeacon shall take the Text itself, and hold it in the left hand of the deacon himself, being, as it were, opposite to him, while the gospel is being read, the taper-bearers standing by the deacon, the one on his right hand, the other on his left, and turning toward him. But the thurifer shall stand behind the deacon, turning towards him. And the gospel shall always be read by a reader facing north. And if a Bishop be the Officiant, all the ministers in the quire shall come forward to sing the Sequence, when there is a Sequence, except the principal deacon and the principal subdeacon. And the deacons and subdeacons, together with the rulers of the quire, shall remain in the middle of the quire until the principal deacon returns from the pulpit through the quire, after reading the Gospel. But when he begins the Gospel, after The Lord be with you, he shall make the sign of the cross over the book, then on his forehead, and afterwards on his breast with his thumb.

This resulted in another question:

As usual, the Sarum rubrics are a bit confusing to me. Does this suggest that ad usum Sarum the Gospel is always read from the pulpit? And when it is read from the pulpit, by “pulpit” does it mean rood-loft? And if the rood-loft is not meant, what does it mean for the reader to face north in the pulpit? Isn’t there only one “natural” direction for a reader to face while reading in a pulpit (i.e. in the same direction in which he preaches)?

I had to be honest and say I was somewhat unsure.

The pulpit we know nowadays is largely an invention of the Reformation and the Counter Reformation. Few pulpits are older than the 16th century. The pulpitum is a big stone choir screen as can still be found in most of the English cathedrals. The width of those structures (from the west side to the east side) is quite considerable, often some fifteen feet, making it possible to install an organ from about the 17th century. Facing the north as in the Roman rite is perfectly feasible. I imagine that during High Mass in a parish church, the rood screen is too flimsy for a whole load of guys to climb up onto, and they would have remained at floor level like in the Roman rite. That’s my guess.

Patricius has written a very interesting article – Northwards… I like his final reflection:

My inclination, nowadays, is that the proclamation of the Gospel, being at once for the edification and sanctification of the people as well as an act of liturgical worship, the Word ought to be brought into the midst of the people and proclaimed facing eastward.

I remember this very arrangement when I was in the choir of Kendal Parish Church in the mid 1970’s. When the priest or deacon reading the Gospel was in the middle of the nave facing east with the acolytes either side of him and someone holding the book, all the people in the congregation would instinctively turn to that point. The symbolism is quite beautiful.

Have any readers any other suggestions?

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8 Responses to A Sarum Question

  1. Fr. Martin says:

    This is one point where the Byzantines have the superior method, the Epistle and Gospel are read facing the people, after all it is the congregation to which authors addressed their writings.

    • That’s what I always do when I have people at Mass. If it is a “low Mass”, I stand in the same places as reading the Epistle and Gospel at the altar. I just turn round holding the book in my hand. On more solemn occasions, I take the book and stand between the choir stalls facing east for the Gospel. I take a few liberties with details, but not with the essential rationale of the rite.

    • Dale says:

      Actually Fr Martin, in the Russian recession of the Liturgy, with deacon, the deacon faces eastward to chant the Gospel; if there is no deacon, the priest faces westward. This seems to be the more ancient tradition, the Greeks now have both deacon as well as priest facing westward during the chanting of the Gospel…but that is a recent development. Also, in the Russian recession, the Epistle is also sung facing eastward traditionally.

      • Father Martin says:

        My experience with Eastern Orthodoxy has been with the Antiochians and a Ukrainian priest, I was not aware of the many liturgical differences. It’s certainly different from the standards of the Tridentine mass.

  2. Fr. Martin says:

    I tried a similar approach while I was still affiliated with the RC Traditionalists, my bishop did not approve. In the end it made little or no difference, had they been aware of my opinions of the papacy I would have been burned at the stake.

  3. James Morgan says:

    In Eastern Orthodox parishes I’ve seen (including my own) if there is no deacon, the priest reads the Gospel facing the people, if there is a deacon, he reads facing ‘east’ from the middle of the name.. I do not know the reason.

  4. Dale says:

    One thing that I did find odd in your correspondence’s ritual question is that Anglicans face westward for the Gospel; this is not according to the old ritual notes; when a deacon sings the Gospel in the nave or before the altar steps, he faces North, both in the Anglican as well as the Roman tradition. If there is no deacon, the Gospel is chanted on the altar (properly on the north side) facing east. The last Gospel is said facing slightly to the North. The tradition of facing North arose during the early centuries in the Roman rite when the Church was in the process of converting the Germanic and Gallic tribes, who geographically came from the North; hence the good news of the Gospel was being proclaimed to those in the North. It is a beautiful and very ancient tradition.

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