A Twitch on the Sarum Thread

I have just published this new book after quite a lot of feverish writing and recycling of some of my blog work. I have also included Canon Warren’s translation of the Order of Mass with the rubrics (in italics).

See my Lulu Bookshop and the book description. I still have to evaluate the printed book before making any revisions (very minor) and giving final approval. Here is my preface:

* * *

Following the fragmentary and personal style of my previous book Romantic Christianity, much of this volume is inspired by material previously written on my blog The Blue Flower. However, they are for the most part rewritten. This book is a set of reflections and does not pretend to be an academic work. Thus, I am not treading on the feet of those who, after considerable research into the sources, have begun to produce usable books for the Mass and the Office. In the bibliography, the reader will find everything I have been able to find on the history and celebration of this Use.

In Romantic Christianity, I emphasised the notion of beauty, together with truth and goodness, as the greatest apologia for the Christian faith. In my early twenties, I embarked on a course of instruction to become a Roman Catholic. During this time, I became fascinated with the pre-Reformation liturgy and the way it influenced late medieval English churches. Ironically, I probably learned more about the Church of England as I was leaving it than over the years when I played the organ and sung in choirs at school and in various parishes. The quote from Cranmer in his introduction to the Prayer Book is particularly haunting:

And whereas heretofore there hath been great diversity in saying and singing in Churches within this Realm; some following Salisbury Use, some Hereford Use, and some the Use of Bangor, some of York, some of Lincoln; now from henceforth all the whole Realm shall have but one Use.

Later on, I would discover that France too, up to a certain time, also had a diversity of rites and uses according to the multiplicity of dioceses and religious orders. Why did this diversity disappear? They were not formally abolished by Pius V in 1570, since he wrote:

(…)  and notwithstanding the practice and custom of the aforesaid churches, established by long and immemorial prescription – except, however, if more than two hundred years’ standing.

Roman Catholic canon law places jurisprudence and custom over codified law, and thus the authority of the so-called Tridentine liturgy was not to be absolute. In this way, most religious orders continued to use their old liturgical books as did many dioceses like Milan, Paris and Lyon to name the best-known.

Diversity in the liturgy was largely a victim of two phenomena of the Renaissance: the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. A whole ethos of the Church was not abolished but allowed to die as priests and bishops adopted the new ways in the latter half of the sixteenth century.

My romantic imagination pursued the lost and the marginal, seeking out the last remnants. It motivated my journey to France in July 1982 and my stay with Fr Montgomery-Wright in his country parishes in the Eure department of Normandy. Fr Quintin, as many knew him, preserved many of the old Norman ceremonial usages as he used the standard Roman rite of 1965. He had been an Anglo-Catholic priest in London during World War II, became a Roman Catholic and went to France in the late 1940’s and was ordained by the Bishop of Bayeux. He had a considerable influence on my own developing thought. During my time as a Roman Catholic, I chased dreams and the truth and beauty of my own imagination, oblivious of the bleak reality of the French Church of the 1980’s and the severe ideology of the traditionalists.

Since those days, I became more of a realist, studied theology at the University of Fribourg after having parted company from the traditionalists. I spent several years in the seminary of the Institute of Christ the King in Italy, to an extent inspired by the Oratory of St Philip Neri, but something else made me continue to yearn and dream. It is my hope that I will bring others to understand my motivation and attraction for this lost world of which the average English parish church stands as a silent witness.

More recently, I was brought to a brighter epiphany as I discovered the Romantics and their love for a romanticised Middle-Age as opposed to what was in all likelihood the historical period. My Romantic initiation came, less through Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Byron, but rather through reading Nikolai Berdyaev, the Russian philosopher who had emigrated to France, and Friedrich von Hardenberg, the German poet, philosopher and mystic who died very young from tuberculosis. The Romantic Middle-Age is a Platonic idea that is strongly present in our minds as a human culture that is open to the message of Christ and the plenitude of divine revelation. Friedrich von Hardenberg wrote his dream: Die Christenheit oder Europa in 1799 which is capable of a highly cynical interpretation if the Romantic notion of reality is disregarded.

Unashamedly, I identify with this particularly German brand of Romanticism and its notion of beauty, truth and goodness. It is a world apart, where disappointment and unhappiness are unknown. It is heaven on earth.

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1 Response to A Twitch on the Sarum Thread

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Congratulations! Your energy is amazing! And thank you for this engaging sample!

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