The Use of Sarum in the Roman Catholic Church

This link has come up in the comments to previous posts, but it merits being given a higher profile. A Case for the Restoration of the Sarum Rite in the Roman Catholic Church by Bernard Brandt. This acutely intelligent person has gone into his subject with sensitivity and dedication.

When I first perused this article, I was overcome with feelings of profound alienation from that Church and its hierarchical structure. I spent too long in it at the wrong time in my life. I left it totally burned-out, and I had the same experience at the time when I was in the TAC as one of Achbishop Hepworth’s priests, inches away from the whirling machinery. My own instinct, based on correspondence and reading any number of articles, is that Sarum has no chance of being accepted ever again in the Roman Catholic Church. Local rites and usages fare even worse than the 1962 version of the Roman rite, which is carefully rationed and marginalised.

There is certainly a good canonical case for Sarum, and it has aroused considerable interest in the Anglican and Roman Catholic worlds of the mid nineteenth century. The interest remains. Otherwise no one would bother.

There are two essential approaches: Anglo-Saxon and continental European. In England and America, we tend to be legal positivists and observe the letter of the law. It is our Germanic way, law and order, and a large place left to trust and honour. In the Latin countries, it is the combinazione, everything being forbidden by law and buried under layers of bureaucracy, but the law can be defied and the legislator worn down by attrition when “Everybody is doing it”. Bureaucracy is rendered inoperative. In France, many parish priests defied canon law and their bishops, used the old rite and stayed in their parishes up to their deaths. I think particularly of Fr Montgomery-Wright in the Diocese of Evreux and Fr Jacques Pecha in the Diocese of Le Mans. There were many others, some of whom got together in Opus Sacerdotale, a priestly association set up in the 1960’s. It was more difficult in Italy, but some priests had enough clout to get away with it.

Fr Finnigan was using Sarum on occasions in England in the 1990’s, but a busybody informed Rome – and it all had to stop. Fr Finnigan obeyed, because his ministry as a priest extended beyond problems of liturgy, and the blackmail was complete. The most vocal of the English Ordinariate, like Fr Hunwicke, have shown no interest in Sarum, even if the good priest in Oxford has written some interesting articles in his blog.

It is not the official rite of my Church (the ACC), but I was already using it when I crossed over from the TAC. Bishop Mead has no problem with my using Sarum, though I would have to use the standard Anglican Missal (substantially the Roman rite with the Prayer Book sequence of Sunday Collects, Epistles and Gospels and various alternatives in the Order of Mass) if serving a congregation. It is a tolerance in our Church on the basis of it being a traditional rite, not of my invention, and appealing to our English identity. But, the ACC is not the Roman Catholic Church.

I have opened a Facebook group to try to arouse interest and “popularise” Sarum. It has 196 members – so much for Sarum being some kind of dusty relic in a museum! There is the argument that liturgical books are hard to find. I have the Warren edition for saying it in English and the Dickinson for the original Latin. The latter is perfectly usable at the altar, though I have printed out a booklet for the Ordo Missae with the jungle of rubrics cleaned out. The chant for Mass and the Office is being published by Dr William Renwick, in both Latin and classical English. The material is available, so the rarity of books is not an obstacle.

Fr Finnigan was doing the right thing in the 1990’s, celebrating it in Merton College chapel in Oxford for cultured men and women. The same chapel has been used also by Roman rite traditionalists. That is a positive step. Few if any priests will ever get official support from their bishops to whom a medieval rite is so alien. The only thing to do is get on with it and legitimise it through usage and canonical prescription. The trick is not to get stopped by force.

The “Tridentine” rite only survived through the “French” approach to law and authority, through the old French priests. Archbishop Lefebvre was no exception in the late 1960’s and 1970’s before the whole thing became politicised and polarised. They defied law and authority and kept on with it, and eventually the movement gained the support of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger / Benedict XVI.

Times have changed and the wind seem to have gone out of the sails. One can only hope for a new breath of fresh air…

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4 Responses to The Use of Sarum in the Roman Catholic Church

  1. Archbishop Anthony says:

    The Sarum Rite is permitted in the Western Rite of the Russian Orthodox Church.

  2. I would like to thank Fr. Chadwick for his kindness in posting this entry, and particularly, his kind words as regards my poor offering.

    I would agree with him that if Sarum is to be restored as a rite, whether in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Independent Anglican, or Western Rite Orthodox communions, such restoration will have to begin, and largely remain, as a lay movement. And in these apospasmatic or fragmentary days, it might be best if lay people from all of those communions work together to that purpose. I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s words: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

    In that context, I would also like to thank Archbishop Anthony for his Orthodox perspective on the Sarum rite, and his encouragement of that rite.

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