Modern attempts to revive the Use of Sarum

For the sake of completeness, I published the following article on my old and long-defunct blog on 17th July 2006. Indeed it is a long time that I have been banging the drum, but my philosophical basis has evolved. The article has been on for all this time, so I copy it here.

In a comment I wrote at the time, I said:

When attempts to restore Sarum (pre-Reformation English rite) were made, it was generally the 19th century and the general mood was Romanticism and nostalgia for the medieval era.

I frankly see little point today of restoring Sarum, because first of all you need a minimum of “culture” around it, and it just won’t wash with modernity or post-modernity, even among “fogeys”. A good question to ask is whether our nostalgics of today would be prepared to go back to medieval penitential discipline and general conditions of life in the 15th century (fanatical inquisitors and all).

You also need the liturgical books and clergy who know the ceremonies. Everything is well documented, and “reconstructions” have been performed in various churches in England and Scotland. It has historical and aesthetic value.

What about the liturgy of the future in an Anglican context, or that of a part of Anglicanism in communion with Rome. I think the Anglican Use is on the right track, but it needs revision to remove the influence of the Novus Ordo – for example the Offertory prayers. The Sarum or Dominican prayers could go in the place of the Novus Ordo formulas. The three-year lectionary is a positive development and is widely used in the TAC to which I belong.

I have always felt that the Tridentine Rite is not really the thing for an Anglican context, and in the Roman Church it did need reform. The problem is that it didn’t get the right kind of reform. The subject is too vast to expound upon here.

The real issue is that Christianity is in a critical situation. There are Christians who need to continue to sustain their faith with traditional liturgies. The Church also has the job of evangelising, and liturgies have little role to play there – not with the kind of people who haven’t discounted belief in Christ, but who would never set foot in a church.

We have this vocation if all Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is not to go the way of Sarum.

My thought about Romanticism was entirely undeveloped and quite typical of what many people think of this subject. I made no distinction between the Christenheit oder Europa of Novalis or the New Middle Age of Berdyaev, and the historical knowledge we have of the period as portrayed by Umberto Eco and others. However, I recognised the need for a cultural context, which is not found in any Church at this time. I was at the time more on the same kind of wavelength as Msgr Andrew Burnham – the use of some Sarum elements in a newly formulated liturgical rite. This was also the opinion of Archbishop Hepworth. Shortly after this time, I resumed the Tridentine rite to which I was accustomed as a Roman Catholic. I took up Sarum in about 2008 once I found the books and learned the ceremonies.

Minds change and evolve over the years. My intuitions were not very different then from the way I think now. In my recent book A Twitch on the Sarum Thread, I recognise that Sarum could not be revived in an ordinary Roman Catholic or Anglican parish. I am unsure about which context would be right. Perhaps we need to be working on the context by gathering intellectually and aesthetically sensitive souls, the remnants of Romanticism and a common mind to rediscover the roots of everything.

* * *

Most of my readers may be familiar with the fact that pre-reformation England had a number of diocesan uses and variations in the liturgy. It was the same in most European countries. The Use of Sarum became increasingly standardised in the early sixteenth century, and the Convocation of Canterbury imposed its use to replace the other uses in 1544. It was replaced by Cranmer’s first Prayer Book in 1549. The Use of Sarum had a great deal in common with the Norman rites, such as those of Rouen and Bayeux, though Sarum kept some of the old Gallican and Celtic prayers not found in northern France.

The Use of Sarum persisted among some of the English recusants as late as the seventeenth century, and it had been printed in Rouen as late as then. The Bull Quo Primum of Pius V, issued in 1570 with the Tridentine Missal, provided for its survival, as for any other rite of more than two hundred years standing. It has been occasionally celebrated in Roman Catholic places of worship, notably in March 2000 by the then-Bishop of Aberdeen, the Rt Rev Mario Conti, as celebrant. It was held at King’s College Chapel, the oldest building of the University of Aberdeen, in celebration of its 500th anniversary. As the Una Voce report on the event put it, Bp. Conti “wore borrowed vestments appropriate to the period and used authentic chants which he said had taken a fair bit of practice at home”. In 1984 a proper funeral service according to the Use of Sarum was given to the bodies of the crew of several hundred sailors from the English Tudor warship Mary Rose, which had sunk in the Solent, the channel that separates the Isle of Wight from the English mainland, back in 1545, after the point when King Henry VIII had broken with the Pope but before the appearance of new burial rites in the first English Prayer Book of 1549. There was much discussion of what to do after the sailors were raised from the deep in 1982, and they were finally given solemn burial in 1984 with both Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy participating in the service at Portsmouth Cathedral according to the old Sarum rites of Requiem that they would have expected in 1545. The ordinary of the Mass was in Latin with the lessons, bidding prayer, Lord’s Prayer, and committal in English, and the music was of that era, by John Taverner, Christopher Tye, and Thomas Tallis. When the English Roman Catholic hierarchy was re-established in 1850, Pius IX offered the possibility of reverting to the Use of Sarum, but the English bishops preferred the Tridentine rite. There was a possibility that Sarum would be instituted in the newly built Westminster Cathedral, but in 1903, the pro-Tridentine party gained the upper hand and the Tridentine rite was adopted for London’s new Roman Catholic cathedral.

Some Sarum customs and ceremonies survived in the Anglican Church, and attempts to restore the full Sarum Use happened in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, for the most part, Anglo-Catholics introduced Sarum usages into the celebration of the Eucharist following the official 1662 Prayer Book rite with the Prayer of Oblation following the words of institution. See this link for the Alcuin Club’s pictures of a Dearmer-ite liturgy. The pro-Sarum movement had a considerable amount of influence and led to the use of the Sarum liturgy in some Anglican monastic communities, such as the Sisters of St. Mary at Wantage (now a prestigious girls’ boarding school), and the publication of many Sarum texts and chants in the English language. Percy Dearmer’s The Parson’s Handbook is a monument of this movement. There are many churches in England fitted out in the Sarum style, with the famous riddel and dossal curtains and posts at each corner of the altar. St. Cyprian’s Clarence Gate in London is a beautiful example of this style.

There is something I once read in an e-mail list, but I am unable to find the exact details. Apparently, some traditional Roman Catholic students at Oxford University had the bright idea of reviving it in one of the college chapels as a way to “get round” the Indult, but its use was condemned by the Congregation of Divine Worship as an “abuse”. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, initially not opposed to these celebrations, was obliged to put a stop to the Sarum Masses in Oxford. I would be grateful for any detailed information about this point.

An English musicologist, Nick Sandon, published material from the Sarum Missal and Gradual. These books may be ordered from Antico Edition. The texts are in the original Latin. The existence of these books shows the continuing interest in the Use of Sarum and a survival of the Oxford Dream.

The Use of Sarum has found favour in some Orthodox communities wishing to restore a western rite, particularly in the Russian Church outside Russia and the Milan Synod. Finally, a somewhat byzantinised version of the Sarum Missal in English was published by Fr. Aidan Keller in 1998. An English priest of the Russian Church outside Russia, living in Tasmania, has published a “Sarum” tendency liturgy in his St. Colman’s Prayer Book.

There was an interesting phenomenon in London a few years ago, an Old Catholic priest (ordained by the American bishop Walter Xavier Brown) celebrating the Sarum liturgy in his home. I once met him, in the company of a friend, and found that the chapel was assembled from bits and pieces recovered from what we English cynics would call “tat shops”. He was something of a curiosity among the fogies of the London Oratory and some of the Anglican ritualist hang-outs. I later learned that this priest had been murdered in his home in some sordid affair, the details of which are unknown to me.

Contemporary use of the Sarum liturgy can seem somewhat as an eccentricity for liturgical fogeys and can easily distract from a more “mainstream” sense of the Church. Restorations are often done in a precious spirit, born of Romanticism and an unreal vision of the unattainable past golden era, something that led to the decline of the Anglican ritualist movement. Furthermore, Sarum books are extremely hard to find, even in reprints, whether in the original Latin or the various done into English versions from the late nineteenth century. I would personally be favourable to a revival of the Sarum movement, if the result would be more than an antiquarian curiosity or something to which ordinary Christians cannot possibly relate. Celebrated in full, Sarum was a highly exuberant rite, and would require no less than a very large church for its full deployment. It was a part of a whole culture that was destroyed by the Reformation and the Ultramontanist influence of the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation. The French rites of Normandy survived into living memory, and with them, something like a Spirit of Sarum. I have myself seen choir rulers in copes and little boy servers in miniature blue dalmatics at Father Montgomery’s parish of Le Chamblac (Diocese of Evreux), and the “prayers at the foot of the altar” said in procession. A convert from Anglicanism in the early 1940’s, Fr. Quintin Montgomery-Wright went to a Norman diocese (Bayeux) to find the Spirit of Sarum! I attended a Mass in a parish church near Fécamp in the 1980’s, said by a priest who was so old he had to be helped up the altar steps. An old lady played a harmonium placed right in the middle of the choir, and there were a few old men in copes. The old priest has since died, and the parish closed. Very, very little remains.

Could Sarum ever be restored as a living liturgy in our present-day circumstances? The survival of the Tridentine rite is still very widespread, and officially recognised by Rome, but the Use of Sarum has almost died, as have the other great Uses, even the Ambrosian Rite of Milan. As in the past, most Tridentine priests (SSPX and Indult) despise local uses and adhere strictly to the 1962 Roman books. However, it is an element to consider in discussions concerning the Anglican Catholic identity, a notion of liturgical tradition and an alternative to adapting rites of Protestant origin for Catholic use.

Sarum liturgy links :

* New Advent Encyclopaedia article * Article by Canon J. Robert Wright * Order of Mass in Latin * Order of Mass in English * Russian Orthodox version * A link with some pictures of Dearmer style / Sarum altars

A brief add-on after some reflection:

Having read some of Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars (or at least dipped into it), the typical parish scene in the late 15th and early 16th centuries would not have been some nice romanticised 19th century building by Pugin with Pusey or Keble as the parish priest. It would have been a part of a rural culture that was something akin to la France profonde – little villages and small towns where people were, as now, concerned for their work, family lives and – above all, what happened to them when they or their loved ones died. I think most of us are realistic enough not to see the period as the Oxford and London ritualists saw it, but as something more rustic and real than any modern city dwellers could imagine it.

Pre-reformation parish life had nothing to do with the city-dwelling fogies of London, Oxford or Philadelphia. There was certainly nothing precious about the priests who were distinguished from lay men only by their tonsures, their feelings hardened by seeing public hangings and animals slaughtered in the Shambles, people pouring their excrement out of their windows into the streets. Whether English parish life was steeped in superstition and immorality, or in genuine piety, would depend on the place and quality of formation of the priest and parish clerks. I have heard 14th century English parish life compared to that of some of the Greek islands of today or even Islam in Morocco, where the church was simply a part of life. One lived and died in it. It was all taken for granted – until the day it was all taken away…

Is it possible to revive the liturgical tradition of this general culture that was totally destroyed by both Protestantism and Roman Catholic Ultramontanism? I consider the RC Tridentine scene, which is less interested in the liturgy than politically conservative agendas and a vision of life that resembles 20th century totalitarianism. Roman Catholic traditionalism, like Anglo-Catholicism, is so self conscious – unlike some of the old priests in France I have spoken with who remember the old days and the different attitude they had. They just had Mass and Office in the parishes and didn’t think anything of it. I ask myself if the liturgy in itself is of any interest to anyone other than enthusiastic fogies and monks.

Where would I go with such reflections? Is it possible to integrate the liturgical tradition into modern life, whether it is Sarum, Tridentine, Prayer Book, Byzantine – or anything? The 19th century ritualists were able to introduce the liturgy into the poorest parts of London and other English cities. Now, the people of the “working classes” are alienated from institutional Christianity, but readily resort to superstitious practices – witnessing to their belief in the supernatural and non-material phenomena. They want cures from their illnesses and a way out of their poverty and hardship. This certainly happened because institutional Christianity – Roman Catholic and Anglican – became too precious, elite and intellectual, too “reformed”. Orthodoxy too adopts a “reformed” mentality as it comes into contact with the western world.

Most of us who are interested in Sarum like the nice clean Anglican churches in England and elsewhere, not too many statues, horribly ugly sets of Stations of the Cross or other things of questionable taste like in some of the Roman Catholic churches geared to popular devotion. My stomach turns when I go to Lourdes and see all those stores selling such crap to the credulous. Times don’t change very much!!! But, does our good taste remove our liturgical life from its cultural context? Is a balance possible between popular religion and good liturgical taste? Do we try to inculturate into modern secular enlightenment values like the revisionists and Novus Ordo people do – or do we go with the ghetto mentality? It’s a very difficult one to answer.

On a positive note, what is needed in Continuing Anglicanism is an expression of the Catholic faith in the English idiom. We English-speakers are worthy of a customary and it would not be fitting for us to be moulded in the uniformity of the Novus Ordo or even the glories of the Byzantine Liturgy. Unfortantely, Anglo-Catholicism has tended to force English Christianity into a Tridentine/Counter-Reformation mould. The core of the Tractarian movement was not in favour of adopting the Council of Trent and the Counter Reformation, but for restoring the English tradition. The Traditional Anglican Communion desires communion with Rome, and this is altogether laudable, but the Roman Catholic Church herself has left the Counter Reformation behind. We are sometimes called Anglo Papists because of this desire for unity with Rome, but we do well not to imitate the style of the traditionalists.

Liturgically, it would be wrong to seek to ape all the details of the Dearmer movement – the riddel posts, gothic vestments, apparelled amices and albs and all the trappings of the nineteenth century Sarum revival. However, traditional Anglicanism needs a wealth of rites and customs. There is no reason why the Use of Sarum may not provide the basis of an enhanced Anglican Catholic identity, and undergo a judicious reform and simplification in the line of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Liturgical Movement. For instance, the rites can be celebrated in traditional English, in any becoming architectural or cultural setting – whether gothic, baroque or modern – and in such a way as the people may actively participate in the celebration. In many respects, the Prayer Book of 1549 went in the right direction, but it did away with the venerable Roman Canon and many ritual aspects that would have done better to be retained. An Anglican liturgy based on Sarum would do a great deal to reunite the Prayer Book tradition and English spirituality with mainstream Catholicism without going the Tridentine Counter Reformation way – or the way of the present modern rites.

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