I have quite a few handwritten notes by Ray Winch which illustrate his view on the contrast between the Catholicism of his youth (1940’s and 50’s) and the medieval status quo. I remember the nights of discussion when I had to concentrate and be very patient of the slowness by which he exposed his ideas. He did tend to ramble – but always did return to the subject. He rarely looked me in the eye, and I would suspect he had Aspergers / high-functioning autism at the origin of his eccentric lifestyle and passionate knowledge and learning of philosophy and history. I seem to attract them!
He must have spent hours painstakingly writing things to send me, whether I was with the parish priest of Bouloire or at Triors Abbey with the monks. I do believe his memory can be honoured and served by publishing his essential message, that Catholicism without any other adjective is almost dead and only replaced with various ersatz expressions in Roman Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism. Ray sought a “medium” for this aspiration in Orthodoxy, but alas it was an illusion.
In many ways, I try to continue his work in my own way of thinking about things via this blog and my Use of Sarum group on Facebook. We cannot go back in time, but we can seek to do better in recovering the older sense of Christian civilisation and culture. I don’t think we will succeed, but we can die trying! Ray did… He had a big influence on me, encouraging me to read Russian philosophy – which changed my entire outlook as a convert to Roman Catholicism, changed my views about George Tyrrell and Catholic Modernism (as opposed to Liberalism à la Bultmann, Harnack, etc.). He was a pure intellectual with little practical sense! But, in many ways, he was like a father to me during the short time I knew him.
I still have some letters to transcribe…
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Catholic Worship in the 20th Century
I am old enough to remember Catholic worship as it was in England before the more significant liturgical changes. Living in the suburbs of London, during school holidays I visited many Catholic parish churches. Often I attended liturgical services in Westminster Cathedral when I was usually the only layman attempting to follow their choir offices. I was a relatively well informed observer. Having access to a few useful books in the splendid public library at Croydon, I knew a little of liturgical history. I was about 15 when I obtained and began to make some use of the Off. Parvum. A little later I acquired an Horae Diurnae and then some odd volumes of the Brev. Rom. Thus it was with a relatively informed mind that I observed what I did. I knew that what happened in a Catholic church c. 1950’s was vastly different from what happened c. 1450’s: yet, strangely, the contents of the official service books had changed but little.
I have witnessed the Rosary officially recited aloud during Mass – and much of the like.
Three points, often overlooked:-
i) Services held in the open church were intended only for the public (called the faithful). Even when there were 2 or more assistant clergy, only the priest who was taking the service came into the church. The priests, it seemed, had no need of Benediction or to venerate the Cross on Good Friday, etc. etc.
ii) A good part of Sunday evening Devotions and Benediction was celebrated in Latin. On these occasions the faithful sung lustily and, I supposed, not without comprehension. (I have recently checked this matter with a few old men).
iii) Low Mass was not usually intelligible even to those who knew Latin. Most priests celebrated the entire service in a whisper even before a crowded congregation on a Sunday morning. The almost universal assumption was that the liturgy was not for the faithful.
Worship in an English Medieval Parish Church
I have accumulated abundant documentary evidence to prove that, in every parish church, Office was recited in choir every day. Additionally, on ordinary weekdays then was Placebo and Dirige. The services were arranged in two clusters, called in the vernacular, “Matins” and “Evensong”. The latter began “an hour before the setting of the sun”. During much of the year Matins would have begun before dawn. Then was a daily parish Mass while, at least in larger churches, was a High Mass. Contemporary illustrations of a solemn service, without servers but with one of the ministers holding a torch for illumination, are more accurate depictions than I had suffered. Apart from some town churches when special times were prescribed, chantry celebrations were chronologically geared to the parish Mass. (Here I disagree with Duffy about the purpose of squints.)
The laity attended Mass and Evensong on Sunday, as other great days. Those who had some leisure – particularly old men and young boys – were often in church for at least some of the choir offices.
Every parish had some clergy additional to the vicar. All vicars were to appoint, and pay, a clerk.
Clergy were trained by a kind of informal apprenticeship. A boy would receive the Tonsure, but he might not receive major orders until he was fully adult. Clerics in minor orders could marry and continue to serve as clerks, though they could not then proceed to the subdiaconate. (This system persists in present-day Cyprus: hence, besides, a priest, all churches have a psalmista and often a deacon.) Very many churches had chantrists who had “to help with service in the high choir”. Then were also, often, capellani (hired assistant priests).
Clearly, strict rubricism was impossible, eg. At Twyford an Ambrosian missal was in use. Clearly the psalter and much else would have been known by heart.
Some large parish churches had, additionally to the services proper to the day, a daily Mass B.V.M. “cum nota”. For this, boys were sometimes hired, or rewarded with teaching. I would guess that harmonized singing was often used on these occasions.
What follows does not, in the nature of things, permit of direct documentary proof: however, there insufficient evidence of diverse kinds to have convinced me.
1) Latin was far less of an obstacle than is popularly supposed. I believe that even the illiterate were able to follow the greater part of the services relatively intelligently. Certainly it was not only the men of Wales and Cornwall who would have found the familiar Latin far more intelligible than Cranmer’s London English. (I suggest that the imposition of the “vernacular” was motivated more by political than religious motives. There is a close parallel with what a faceless establishment is even more engaged upon.)
2) A measure of Latin literacy was widespread in the late middle ages. Having seen young boys teach themselves how to use complex computers, I have little doubt that an intelligent boy with access to the choir books would have required little assistance to learn to read. Our Cicero and Virgil, etc. would have usually required grammar schools and universities. It was the humanists who condemned Latin to death. Accidentally, I have stumbled upon incipient public libraries of non-liturgical books at St Paul’s, St James Garlickhythe and in Hereford. I guess that more might be found for the searching.
I. Many men who write about medieval life may be excellent at dealing with the documents, etc., but make absurd mistakes because they are not at home with that about which they are writing. I could provide many examples. Here is one from Life in a Medieval College [cathedral vicars] by F. Harrison (1952) with a foreword by the Most Rev’d Cyril Garbett.
p. 56 “Immediately after the hour offices have been sung in the choir … the meal shall begin … The meal shall be taken at 3 pm. Supper shall follow at 5 pm at cinque de le clok”.
p. 57 “After Prime, the vicars may drink Benedictine once only”. The author notes numerous occasions when the vicars drank Benedictine (sic).
You will understand immediately how he has come to suppose that the vicars had their only two meals separated by two hours. But, so far I have not seen why he should make the mistake of supposing that the vicars drank little but Benedictine.
II. Another writer supposes that, where the liturgy at Saturday required three High Masses on the same day, the last Mass was celebrated in the chapter house. One can guess how he comes to make that mistake. [Chapter houses did not have altars as a rule.]
Yet another writer explaining that, though the people would have not understood the Mass because it was in Latin, they would have had some idea about the feast or season “from the colour of the vestments”. This, of course, is a gross anachronism.
I think I told you about the author Hamilton-Thompson, who had obviously used a Missale Romanum to describe the ceremonies of Holy Week in a medieval parish church. Unfortunately, he had taken a book published in the 1960’s! Hamilton-Thompson is now a Reader in Medieval History somewhere!
Can it be that I sometimes make mistakes like those above? I hope that friends would tell me at once. I know that I am a poor proof reader. Thus, let pass frumentum for fermentum and Romae for Romanae.
You ask “Can you also show evidence of common people going to Matins … and Evensong…?” Yes, I can. Matins, Mass and Evensong was standard observance of Sundays and other solemnities. I sent you my transcript of the Synodal Statutes of Quinel of Exeter [quoted below]. “…presentes essent ad horas canonicas faceant campanus pulsari quarum sonitu populus excitatus, dum ad ecclesiam divinum officium audiendi et orandi causa accedit…” Quinel was not the only bishop to leave record of this matter. Also, there are references to attendances at Matins and Evensong in vernacular literature. It would seem that on ordinary days, Evensong consisted of Vespers, Placebo and Dirige if one Nocturn with Miserere (ie. Lauds) several other psalms for the dead called Commendatio. This latter was ps. 138, ps. 118 [twice a day!] with a responsory. So far I have not found a specific mention of Compline.
You write “… England’s religion is money, comfort…”. I totally agree with you. I would add that cowardice has become the national vice. No man will risk anything for any cause whatsoever. I am deeply ashamed to be English.
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De Divino Officio Nocturno Pariter et Diurno
Ministri ecclesiarum, qui ecclesiasticis sustenantur stipendis, prompte debent esse et solicite circa divinum officium paragendum, ut in vina domni virilita laborantes preter stipendia temporalia que hic percipiunt eterne retributiones denarium meriantur percipere post laborem. Quos circa ipsum officium propheticus sermo instruit et informat dum per profitum dicitur: “In matutinis meditabor in te, etc” et alibi: “Septies in die laudem dixi tibi etc.”
Hinc est quod singulis ecclesiarium ministris invertute sancte trinitatis iniungimus, ut secundum formam concilii generalis divinum officium nocturnum pariter et diurnum corde et voce simul studiose celebrent et devote, plane et plene absque sincopa psalmendo seu cantando singula que incumbunt. Caveant igitur psalmentes ut in medio versiculi pausant pusillium, nec unus sequentem versiculum prius incipiat donec alta plene dixerit precedentem, et sic psalmendo sese intelligant ut dom voce unus psalmit animi affectu alta simul psallere vidietur. Et quia canonice hore secundum temporum interstitia in eccleses parochialibus sicut in cathedralibus et collegiatis nequiant decantare, et precipimus ut presbeterii parochialis ab ecclesiis suis recedere non presumat donec festibus diebus ante missam vel post canonicas horas decantaverint, vel saltem legerint absque canto cum dies non fuerit feriandus: proviso quod missam sacerdos prius non celebret quo usque matutinas et primam suo exsolverit creatori. Precipimus etiam quod parochiales presbeteri omni die preteream in pascale tempore et festis sanctorum novum lectionum et in vigiliis eorum dicant Placebo et Dirige et Commendationem: Hec tamen tempora non excipimus dum tamen id velint facere ex devotione.
Preterea audivimus quandoque quod presbeteri, quamquam fuerint absentes forte ex illicita causa, tanquam presentes essent ad horas canonicas faceant campanus pulsari quarum sonitu populus excitatus, dum ad ecclesiam divinum officium audiendi et orandi causa accedit, presbeterium non inveniens, a clerico presente querit ubi sit et responsum accipient: Non est hic, iam recassit: et sic parochiani elusi recedunt, et ecclesia debit is defrandatur obsequis.
Alii vera capellani conductitu diebus dominicis et aliis solemnitatibus non prius celebret donec missa parochialis fuerit celebrata.