Ceremonies of the Sarum Missal

A very kind friend bought and sent me a copy of R.J. Urquhart’s Ceremonies of the Sarum Missal. It is not a book I would have bought myself given its high price set by the publisher T&T Clark. I was grateful for this most generous gift.

On the back of the book are found three brief reviews including Fr John Hunwicke. I was rather surprised, since Fr Hunwicke had tended to be more “Roman” than “English”, favouring the English Missal as an Anglican and the Roman rite as a priest of the Ordinariate. He notes the influence of Fortescue and O’Connell, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described in its various editions. Christopher Hodkinson of Wyoming Catholic College in America speaks of a “renaissance” of the Sarum liturgy. Because of this book?

Is there such an opposition between the approach of Anglican Romanticism as exemplified by the likes of Percy Dearmer and the actual available sources which could be re-interpreted into an over-regulated Roman Catholic rite? Reading the introduction, I certainly sense the stuffiness of Roman Catholic canonical regulation and the obstacles intended to keep the Use of Sarum in a museum rather than considered on a par with the Dominican and Ambrosian rites. Nevertheless, this book was written and published in order to facilitate the practical use of this rite in more than hypothetical and abstract terms.

When the Ordinariates were set up under Pope Benedict XVI, some were of the opinion that Sarum would be the most appropriate rite, either in Latin or “Prayer Book style” English. However, most of the former Anglicans who formed the Ordinariate, at least in England, had used the English Missal and the Pauline Roman rite. Their liturgical practice was exactly aligned with English Roman Catholicism. Sarum was never a part of their experience of Anglicanism or Roman Catholicism. Why was this book published as late as 2020? Perhaps it is an appeal for the liturgical status quo of the Ordinariate to be modified or diversified? Is there a “market” for such a thing?

This book is as meticulously researched as Dr William Renwick’s chant books for the Office and the Mass and Fr Sean Finnegan’s forthcoming missal. I understand that the missal will be edited in such a way as to allow any priest used to the Roman rite to “say the black and do the red”. These three men have been doing the brunt of the work. I was dreaming about Sarum as long ago as the early 1980’s and I approached it from a Romantic point of view, knowing that human culture is the vehicle and vector of the presence of Christianity in a population. I was less equipped intellectually and in terms of methodology.

Personally, I come somewhere between “authentic” research and Romantic reconstruction à la Dearmer. I think we need both approaches rather than introduce denominational red lines, at a time when Roman Catholicism continues in its crisis of identity between authoritarianism and over-regulation, on one hand, and the temptation also faced by reformed Christianity in the face of modern culture. Dearmer lived at a time when non-conformity to the Prayer Book was severely sanctioned in the Church of England. He did what he could, in the same way as the London Oratory makes the Pauline liturgy look like something from eighteenth-century Rome. Perhaps one should be in possession of both this book and the Parson’s Handbook!

As a priest who celebrates daily Mass according to the Use of Sarum, this book will be of help in verifying the interpretation I have already made of the available rubrics and comparative approach with the French uses and the Dominican rite. I find it amusing that some make such ado about whether or not the altar has a post-Tridentine style tabernacle or altar cards. I have a small card with the Offertory prayers and the Placeat tibi lying flat on the altar. I can recite the Gloria and Credo by heart, but many priests have need to read them each time. Aesthetically, the altar without the clutter of altar cards and pots of flowers is a great improvement like in the monastic tradition. As a cradle Anglican, I was used to altars without tabernacles, and I use the hanging pyx to reserve the Blessed Sacrament.

One thing I discovered in France was the relative lack of regulation and a more flexible approach than in England. I speak of the country parishes with priests ordained in the 1940’s and 50’s, without the rubricist attitudes found among English conservative Catholics and Roman-style Anglicans. I am afraid that this book might encourage the introduction of a “post-Tridentine” rubricist mentality into the Sarum Use whose obsolescence has preserved it! Are we going to introduce the bobbing of genuflections and assimilation to the “extraordinary” Roman rite? I am a little guilty of such myself by wearing my old Roman vestments and using an early nineteenth-century French baroque chalice. Should we introduce Newman’s idea of organic development or Benedict XVI’s hermeneutic of continuity?

We could conjecture what might have happened had Sarum survived into the baroque era. The Roman genuflections would certainly have been introduced together with fiddleback vestments and altars with gradines and tabernacles. Should we introduce all that now, or Mass facing the people, microphones and pop culture? Should we go “Dearmer”? This is the danger of a self-conscious revival of a rite with all the necessary indults and permissions from Rome and the local Roman Catholic bishop. I feel easier with a simple blessing from my Archbishop and just getting on with it with what I have.

I suspect that something that was once the life of country parishes would be killed by over-regulation and its being “harnessed” in the Ordinariate and groups of people with special interests. I have encouraged this development, and almost found consolation in its not happening. I almost feel afraid, like when I see the first Christmas things appearing in a supermarket from October, more than a month before Advent. The big risk now is “artificial” Catholicism as what happened with the traditionalists – and the death of parish life in the country. It is a little like large numbers of Parisians buying holiday houses in Brittany!

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