Sarum Reconstructionism

This is interesting – A “Sarum Use” church plant and why it wouldn’t work. In the perspective of “all-or-nothing” in which he presents it, he is probably right. If however the Sarum Use were celebrated in the same spirit as some contemporary Dominicans celebrate their liturgy, it would be different. One could also argue that the Tridentine liturgy could not be celebrated in churches that have been reordered for the Novus Ordo.

My argument has always been that using Sarum is no different from using the 1570 Roman liturgy in its various editions up to 1962, one you admit that not everything has to be “authentic” and purist. Pre- liturgical movement Tridentine can be somewhat “irrelevant” to most ordinary people!

In any case, the problem is not the rite but the whole question of parishes in the modern world. We arrive at a situation in which nothing can “work” in the modern world other than, perhaps, Orthodoxy outside the western world. It is difficult for me to get any objectivity about it, since I am alone most of the time. Try to popularise anything and it gets sucked down to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps what has “saved” Sarum is exactly being obsolete for the past 450 years.

In all due respect and without intention to insult the author (see the context What Is Classic Christianity? and Why Classic Christianity? which are very thoughtful in their content), I do detect the use of a double standard from the point of view of “pastoralism”: the use of the vernacular, congregational singing, visibility of the altar, etc. He willingly describes his “Protestant sentiments” and therefore a particular way of considering the role and purpose of public worship. For example, you can have books and leaflets for the laity to help them follow the service – but not for the Sarum liturgy, because it introduces an anachronism. Hand missals only existed from about the mid eighteenth century, and then much of the Ordinary of the Mass was left in Latin and not translated. This innovation only really began to come in in the nineteenth century with Dom Guéranger and L’Annéé Liturgique. He does not make the same criticism of Roman Catholic traditionalists.

The material requisites for a Sarum Mass are the same as for a pre-1962 Roman celebration. French-style fiddlebacks were occasionally found in early sixteenth-century England – as was the Ambrosian Rite in the parish of Telford. Things were loose then. Why not now? I use a baroque French chalice from about 1830, my ordination chalice bought at the Marché aux Puces in Paris. It’s just as good as any other style of chalice. You would only have to go to any expense if there was nothing in the church in question previously. The objection seems to me something of a fallacy.

Naturally, who would not prefer the church to be in English perpendicular or late decorated? Any church with a classical narthex / nave / choir / sanctuary plan can be used. It could be done just as well in the London Oratory or St Paul’s Cathedral as at Salisbury or Durham. I have appointed my own chapel in simplified English style, but I still use the vestments I wore when I used the Roman rite.

The pastoral arguments carry more weight. The Mass can be said in English, but there is a question of the style of the translation. The style of the two existing complete translations is inspired by the Anglican Prayer Book. Then, there is the question of the choir screen, which can be “see-through” and made of wood. The choir screen is not essential, but I would not do away with an existing one. There is nothing wrong with having Merbecke and hymns like with an Anglican Missal or Prayer Book celebration. The argument of inauthenticity or anachronism cannot be made to apply to one rite and not all others. The lectionary of the Sarum missal is much more complete than the 1570 Roman rite. There are weekday readings in the ferial weekdays, albeit Wednesdays and Fridays, like in the various diocesan uses in France.

Like this author, I am at sixes and sevens about parish worship. In the ACC, our parishes are tiny and consist of committed people. If they don’t like what we provide (generally the Anglican Missal), they have a choice of other churches. In “ordinary” Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes, it is another question. The old liturgical life is reduced to Mass and devotions, or informal non-liturgical prayer. Sarum would certainly be alien in such a setting. There is also a vast difference between country and city parishes. I would not attempt it in “ordinary” parish life, except as something “special” for young urban men, like the pre 1962 Roman rite.

Can we transplant mediaeval liturgy into the modern world and touch modern souls in the same way?

It’s a good question. What is suited to the modern world? Praise bands, flashing LED lights and overhead projectors like in Evangelical parishes in England and America? It is the old question. It is assumed that our cultural references are the same, but they are not.

The liturgical practice of the Middle Ages was part of a much bigger spirituality that a single parish could not recreate today.

Oh yes, dead right. But, this is an admission that Christianity has to adapt to the masses rather than be lived in small groups of those whom Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI and others would call the salt of the earth. Christianity cannot adapt to the masses. Could it in the middle-ages? That is a good question and the subject of historical study insofar as that is possible. Christian civilisation is dead. The real question is how the salt of the earth should worship. My answer would be – as they want… Then why not Sarum, or anything else?

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24 Responses to Sarum Reconstructionism

  1. Stephen K says:

    Your comment, Father, encapsulates a paradox about things – if you use them you lose them. As I think one can infer from what you say, the appeal of Sarum is very much in its obsolescence, its non-use, its elusiveness. It has assumed mythical qualities, or qualities one might equate with something ‘purer’ or ‘higher’. If it were readily available, it too would lose savour or its shine, I imagine. Everything we touch becomes tarnished.

    • Christianity itself has become tarnished, and it is lived by its becoming beyond us, suffering destruction. This seems to be a point made by Bonhöffer as he saw churches suck up to the Nazis in his time. Perhaps Christianity can only become real again if it is demolished (as we will will find in ideas akin to Marxist critical theory). Things do have a way of reconstructing themselves in unforeseen ways.

      Also, I view Sarum in a different way, through actually using it. It becomes mundane and routine like any rite, like monastic observances. It becomes a part of work and duty, like composing music or looking after your wife and kids. Perhaps in this way, we find we haven’t changed much on our level as human beings since the 15th century. Relevance is found in an unexpected way.

  2. MJH says:

    I am intrigued that you actually follow the Use of Sarum! I’ll have to see more of your blog to find out what that entails…

  3. Paul Goings says:

    My experience is that any particular instantiation of Christianity that you can name is no more or no less relevant or irrelevant to the vast bulk of modern persons. Hence, unless one wishes to just chuck it all, it seems to me that the smartest approach to to embrace a form that allows one to grow spiritually. If that’s Sarum in Latin, great; if it’s projection screens and praise music, great. Some will think that overly relativistic, but people, sincere Christians all, do appear to respond differently to different approaches.

    • Of course I don’t mind what others prefer as their spiritual fare. As long as “they” don’t tell “us” what to do…

    • Stephen K says:

      ….it seems to me that the smartest approach is to embrace a form that allows one to grow spiritually.

      Yes, I agree with what you mean, Paul, although I’d put it this way: “it seems to me that the least divisive and most natural approach is to embrace a form that one believes and feels allows one to grow spiritually.”

      • ed pacht says:

        Stephen, I have to qualify that. Not everyone that believes him/herself to be growing spiritually really is. Adopting a form because of what it does for me may be evidence that I’ve missed the point entirely. It’s not all about me. It is when our objective is to direct it all to God that we grow, sometimes even without knowing it or even thinking the reverse of ourselves.

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes, ed, I fully appreciate that just because one thinks something doesn’t make it so; and when rephrasing Paul’s statement I debated with myself whether the objective sense ought to be retained; but I decided that an equally valid point needed to be made: namely, that when it comes to choosing things, whether liturgy or food, we usually do, and to a large extent have to, rely on our subjective sense and the symptoms that follow. You find yourself getting crabby, intolerant, spitting all sundry things out? There’s a good chance what you’re doing or eating is not doing you much good, and even it is you are not likely to think so. So when we are discussing how we each might work out what we ought to do religiously in a liturgical sense, what we experience and think of as good is as good as we can probably realistically hope to rely on. Once you start saying that you should do what is good for you as opposed to what you think is good for you, you are starting to assume the as-yet-to-be-demonstrated, or risk doing so. To achieve the kind of elbow room and tolerance we all seem to desire, I think we do well to modify our language.

      • ed pacht says:

        I hate to seem overly persistent, but I think you are missing my point. Whether it is good for me or not is the wrong question altogether when we are talking of worship. If my main objective is to be blest, or to feel good, or to get something out of worship, who or what have I worshiped? Is there not the danger of self-idolatry? What matters is what I put into worship. Worship costs. Sacrifice hurts. There are rewards that come to us, but they are often difficult or impossible to perceive, and what we do perceive as rewards is sometimes only evidence that we have come to get. You know, I can’t judge some else’s motivation, but I can certainly examine my own, and it often falls short. Often when I feel satisfied and blest, it’s because it’s all about me, and sometimes, even if I feel dry and unsatisfied, I have indeed remembered that it’s all about God.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear ed, I may have missed your point but I think you might be missing mine. Granted worship has an object – God. Considered objectively, it is an activity that does not necessarily entail subjective feelings of good or spiritual fulfilment. Nevertheless, even where someone engages in worship of God out of sheer duty, unalloyed or unalleviated by any pleasure in doing so, it seems to me that human beings being what they are, that someone will at some point before or after the act acknowledge the good of the duty, of the performance of the duty, and will to that extent end up doing what they think is to their spiritual good. After all, God does not need to worship Himself. He does not even need us to worship Him, although from our point of view, we might need to worship Him and think it meet to do so. The further point is that given a choice between one form of worship of God – say, going out into the desert and sitting on the top of a pole like Simon Stylites – versus another form, chanting the office or divine praises, which one will most people do? Surely they will do what they think will help them worship best.

        In other words, ed, I can only worship the way I think will be the best way for me, not the best way for you. And you cannot do it either. We cannot escape our subjectivity and it is a delusion to think we can. God will not be perturbed. He knows our hunger and our inescapable egocentrism or self-referentialism. He doesn’t expect us to be un-human. I don’t see how He could be put out by the fact that we do what we think will be to our good. It is after all the basic motivation at some level in everything we do – even when we attempt what we think will be a purer altruism.

  4. ed pacht says:

    As I see it, In a predominately Christian society, liturgy will have the tendency to form society, as seems to have been the case (in many respects) in the Medieval period. Sarum was largely a formative influence in its time. In a predominately secular society a tendency develops for liturgy to conform to the predominately non-Christian cultural standards, and ultimately to become less and less the bearer of a distinctive message, more and more conformed to the immediate present, and more and more divorced from the timeless spiritual realities. That’s why I’ve said elsewhere that worship that is only or predominately contemporary is seriously lacking in its ability to raise and transform worshipers. I’m not in favor of an antiquarian approach, but am very much of an opinion that Christian worship does need to resist the march of “progress”, and should always look just a bit dated, for only so can it carry the timeless values past the mere conformity to modernism into the as-yet-unknown future. What I believe to be needed is a relaxed use of old ways that speaks to, but is nit identified with the society in which it lives.

  5. Dale says:

    If this is what it takes to bring ’em in. Well, not thanks. Is the Roman Catholic church even Christian anymore?

    • Something I find amazing is that the congregation shows no sign of moving with the rhythm or hand-clapping, singing or anything. Total passivity.

      • Dale says:

        Since it sometimes happens that the people still have Catholic sensibilities, they might be in shock?

      • Stephen K says:

        Although, to be fair, total passivity is a phenomenon to be observed at all kinds of liturgy. But then who really knows what’s going on in anyone else’s mind or soul whether they are bobbing up and down in genuflections or sitting or standing like stunned mullets?

      • Dale says:

        Stephen, joking aside, I think that Fr Anthony’s point was that even in this howdy-doody mass, there is no more, even perhaps, less, congregational participation than in the old mass. And remember one of the main reasonings behind destroying the ancient liturgical tradition of the west was to make the mass more participatory.

      • ed pacht says:

        Yep. One of the reasons I withdrew from the Evangelical Church where I was in staff is that I tired of the entertainment model. That congregation was physically active in worship, yes, but even so it was all directed from the stage. It’s amazing how much more real participation there is at our low Mass.

      • Stephen K says:

        Thank you, Dale. The irony momentarily escaped me.

    • Anthony says:

      I couldn’t get past the first few seconds.

      • Dale says:

        Anthony, they have posted more of this “mass” on youtube, what I have posted is not even the worst of it. With this type of liturgy being fairly widespread in the Roman Church, and unlike the traditional liturgy openly supported by the Pope, one does tend to wonder whatever were the Ordinariate people thinking when they joined up?

  6. Timothy Graham. says:

    In the Byzantine rite the liturgy of St Basil is only celebrated ten times every year, but they don’t “streamline” and get rid of it. I wonder if the Sarum rite would work well in a parish as a rite used for its most liturgically rich services when it feels like something extra is needed: like the ritual of the Easter sepulchre and Easter Matins, or Christmas Matins; or feasts like e.g. St Thomas of Canterbury where it would be very appropriate to use, and the Five Wounds votive. I think people would begin to respond to it as part of their liturgical life even if it was celebrated infrequently but was associated with certain feasts.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      There has been, until recently, a church in the Netherlands where it had become a tradition to celebrate the Epiphany in the Ambrosian Rite, where the weekly practice was to have a morning OF and an evening EF mass every Sunday – so, something successfully analogous to what you suggest.

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