Sarum: Answers to a Few Difficulties

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At the risk of seeming to flog a dead horse, I thought it would be a good idea to answer a few misconceptions based on the content of some of the comments to my previous posting on The Anglo-Catholic and a specially adapted posting on The New Liturgical Movement. It seems to me that this subject is not a "dead horse" because I find a certain amount of mainstream Catholic opinion in favour, including Bishop Peter Elliott and I good number of lay people saying that they would love at least to have the experience of attending a Sarum Mass, and for spiritual rather than merely cultural reasons. I therefore think it is worth the effort of dealing with some of the difficulties I have seen expressed.

Firstly, there is the question of whether the Use of Sarum must be celebrated as an exact and "authentic" reproduction as it was probably celebrated in the early sixteenth century, or whether pastoral adaptations are possible. The aspiration to celebrate the Sarum liturgy is often assimilated to the "British Museum" series of broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 in which you can hear reconstructions of Sarum chant by specialised choirs and the various ringings of the bell, with total silence in the background - the absence of ordinary early sixteenth century English folk. For me, this is not the aim. My aim is to promote the revival of a legitimate local Catholic rite for normal use in a parochial context.

Now my argument is precisely if the English Missal can be celebrated in English, using musical settings that can be reasonably well "pulled off" by an amateur parish choir and the congregation, using English hymns when desired and appropriate, I see no difference with doing exactly the same to the Sarum Use in English using one of the two available translations. There is no more incompatibility or difficulty with the Sarum Use in English than with present Anglo-Catholic usage when supplementing various versions of the Prayer Book with bits and pieces of what some of the more prissy English Anglo-Catholics used to call the Western Rite. There is nothing against any appropriate musical setting for the liturgical texts, most of which are nearly identical between the English Missal and the Warren translation of the Sarum Missal.

One great obstacle to any progress in the future Ordinariates, especially in the TAC (less so in the Anglican Use parishes and the English Anglo-Catholics using the modern Roman rite) is stick-in-the-mud conservatism. We do something because that is how we have always done it. It is the conservatism on the Russian Old Believers and the French Petite Eglise, hardly a sign of adult discipleship. We do things not because we have always done them, but because we are convinced there is intrinsic good in either digging our heels in or allowing conservative and progressive changes for the better. Obviously, mess about with the liturgy in an arbitrary way, and the people will say "We will not have the new service because it is like a Christmas game. We will have the Mass in Latin as before"! I don't think the good Cornish Catholics of 1549 would have been so upset if there had been an English translation of the Mass they loved, and it didn't involve iconoclasm, destruction, compulsion on pain of getting strung up from the nearest gallows - but optionally and progressively. But in those days, people were just chattel to be disposed of at the pleasure of the strongest and most influential. Before we do anything, we need to become aware about why we treasure and cherish a tradition, before it is swept away as irrelevant because we had no credible defence. To continue along this track, some lay people say they find their entire Anglican patrimony in the Prayer Book. Among Anglo-Catholics, how many use the Prayer as it stands and with no material or ceremonies imported from elsewhere? Very often, clergy and lay people who say they are faithful to the Prayer Book are in fact using the Anglican / English missals or at least a significant amount of material which is in fact not Anglican but completely post-Tridentine Roman.

A once-in-a-lifetime chance. The Catholic Church in England, it is said, refused several opportunities to revive the Sarum Use. They preferred the Roman rite, because they felt that a Roman identity was the best bulwark to defend the faithful from the influence of Anglicanism and Protestantism. By the time ecumenism started to soften the sharp edges of bitterness and polemics, the "conservative" thing to do was to keep the Roman rite and not revive the long-forgotten Sarum Use.

How forgotten is the Use of Sarum? However rarely it is used, it was never forgotten. It became an icon of Englishness in the Romantic mists of men of the nineteenth century. Pugin built churches to conform to Sarum norms, not Roman usage, yet the Use of Sarum was never celebrated in those churches. The imagination of many Anglican medievalists ran amok, and the Latin and English versions from 1868 (when the Ritualist movement was at full tilt) were both done by Anglicans. Dearmer stopped just short of using the Sarum books, but cunningly dressed up the Prayer Book rite in an ingenious essay of ambiguity as the Sarum Use. Everything, from the rood screen to the three-level sedelia and apparelled amices and albs, were restored at St Mary's Primrose Hill except the rite itself. It was never forgotten, but the Prayer Book was compulsory on pain of severe sanctions to the exclusion of any other rite. We should not forget that the English Missal was totally illegal in the Church of England and still is. It is not an Anglican rite, and is just as illegal as reviving Sarum. We in the TAC no longer suffer from those constraints, and there will be other constraints to "get round" or negotiate in the Ordinariates.

What about the translations? As I say, they exist. The Pearson version of 1868 is in print, but in a cheap paperback with the page edges glued to the spine. It cannot be used at the altar without breaking up after a short period of use. The Warren translation of 1911 is available here – Part 1 and Part 2. I found mine in a second-hand bookshop in England, but paid a steep price, more than £100. It can be OCR'ed and printed, and the readings can be copied in from the King James Bible. Everything is therefore as available as the English Missal (as a reprint). These translations are in Prayer Book language. Therefore, all the music composed for the Prayer Book Communion Service can be used with Sarum. There are no incompatibilities with traditional Anglican culture.

The greatest argument against the Use of Sarum is that of its having become obsolete, and therefore its revival would be an act of "archaeologism" and against the sound principles of liturgical tradition. I have already alluded to this above. It has not been in total disuse, since it has been celebrated occasionally in the nineteenth century. Why else would a book be published in 1868 that is not a purely academic critical edition like the Wickham Legg version of the early twentieth century? Within living memory, Fr. Sean Finnegan has done it in Oxford, Bishop Conti has done it in Glasgow. Some ACA parishes use it occasionally on a fairly regular basis (they use the English Missal the rest of the time), and I use it daily in my insignificant chapel.

Would a bi-ritual or multi-ritual approach be better, as one size does not fit all? Our time is one in which people have a choice on what is offered on the market. I am myself loathe to advocate such a solution, but I would be interested in reading someone else's arguments for such a solution, in the hypothesis it would be accepted by Rome (like the hundreds of Eucharistic Prayers that can be used with the modern Roman rite). Using an old rite and a modern rite in the same church requires the setting up of two parallel calendar and lectionary systems. It is possible and done in many places, but is this really desirable? Should we replicate such a “system” simply because in the Roman rite, the old rite is admitted again for the pastoral reasons given in Summorum Pontificum and the new “intruder” rite is here to stay? Would it not be better to adopt Sarum, allow some judicious pastoral adaptations (like the language of the people), and have that as our rite (then we would use either form of the Roman rite for pastoral reasons - either because our own people are used to that like in England or because we are helping out in regular Catholic parishes)?

Suitability for everyday use? How many people go to services during the week? What is more wrong with a Sarum Low Mass than an English Missal Low Mass?

Another serious misconception is the idea that the 1949 Prayer Book was simply a translation of the Sarum Use. It is not. The two rites simply need to be found here and compared: Sarum - 1549 Prayer Book. If you have any doubts, print them out and compare them side by side. A Prayer Book Eucharist is not Sarum because it is done "Dearmer style" or with "English" trappings. It should also be remembered that not all continuing Anglicans are Americans, so the 1928 American Prayer Book is not the tradition of non-Americans. Would American Anglo-Catholics like to try English 1662, straight and "no frills"? No cheating! You say the Prayer of Oblation (the equivalent of the Unde et memores in the Roman Canon) after the Communion as an alternative to the Thanksgiving prayer and before the final Gloria. I don't think they would like it unless they are Protestants! It's the same thing for the 1979 Prayer Book. It is a problem only for Americans, and many Americans reject it.

A part of "repairing" a liturgical tradition, remembering that the English Anglo-Catholics are nearly all using the modern Roman Rite for the cogent reason that they knew that botching up the Prayer Book could never bring satisfactory results and the basis of a stable liturgical tradition. It is always the result of someone's private and subjective taste. With Sarum, we have invented nothing - we say the black and do the red. It is our way of obeying the Church, by using a legitimate and stable tradition. Anglo-Catholicism, like French Catholicism in the nineteenth century after the ravages of the Revolution and Madame la Guillotine, was the result of restoration and not of continuous tradition. One vital thing is to prepare people through catechesis and instruction on the liturgy, and this blog is intended for that purpose.

Do we have to go on with what the English stopped decades ago when they adopted the modern Roman rite? Sarum can pull us out of that quagmire, just as using either form of the Roman Rite. Sarum is an "icon" of Anglicanism, and it retains it actuality in this way. It is not obsolete like, for example, the third-century liturgy of Hippolytus.

Some comments would suggest the ceremonies are so complicated that Sarum could only be suitable for Christmas or Easter or for some other really big feast. This is no more so than the English Missal, between Pontifical High Mass at the Throne following Fortescue & O’Connell and Low Mass and the Missa Cantata practised in most small parishes. In fact, when thus simplified, the Sarum Mass is more sober and simple than the English / Tridentine missal, simply by comparing the two rites of Low Mass. The Sarum is quite monastic and very similar to the Dominican rite.

Perhaps we are not going to get Sarum because Archbishop Hepworth has written: "A great deal of work has already been concluded in the updating and expanding of Anglican service books. The calendar of saints for instance in the Prayer Book of 1662 has no additions since then, in spite of the manifest sanctity of so many Christians since that date. Much more work needs to be done and will be a very high priority for those engaged in implementing the Constitution". Then why did Bishop Elliott write about Sarum, and why has the subject of Sarum come up in so many of the most unexpected places? Archbishop Hepworth himself has mentioned Sarum as a possible source for such work. Obviously, we must wait and see, but it all seems very ambiguous at present. This is obviously deliberate given the amount of division among Anglicans on this very subject.

Another argument I have seen against Sarum is that it does not contain the genuflections (instead, a profound bow to the Blessed Sacrament before each elevation) found in the Roman rite. I can answer this simply. Rome has made modifications over the centuries to rites like the Dominican use. Genuflections were introduced and copy the style of genuflections that are typical of the Roman rite. They can be introduced into the Sarum Use if desired. However, the number of genuflections in the modern Roman rite is reduced to three: the consecrations of the Host and the chalice and just before the priest's Communion. Few traditionalist polemics focus to any great extent on the genuflections.

Would Sarum represent a big cultural shift? I think not for anyone accustomed to the "English Use" à la Dearmer. Also, Sarum can be celebrated in a baroque Italian church with fiddleback vestments and so forth without losing a jot of its own integrity. The Ambrosian rite is usually "framed" in baroque - in spite of its antiquity. I like English things personally (you'll gather that be looking at my chapel), but trappings amount to very little. The colour sequence of Sarum isn't carved in stone, and I'm sure the Roman colour sequence can be substituted (eg. green for Sundays after Trinity instead of red). Is there any opposition between using Sarum and popular religion? To the contrary, Dr Eamon Duffy has discovered that devotional life in the parishes of pre-Reformation England was extremely fervent, with surprisingly few abuses (eg. simony). The Feast of Corpus Christi figures in the Use of Sarum, and there were processions of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction in the early 16th century. Benediction can continue in any church where the people are used to it.

I continue to make the point that the rite can be separated from the "Dearmer" trappings. You don't have to be "all-or-nothing" purist. It's like playing Bach on the piano. Pianos didn't exist in Bach's time, so he played the harpsichord and the organ. Now we have pianos and synthesisers, you can still play Bach and make the music sound good.

Another argument I have in favour of Sarum in an Ordinariate context is "political". The "Groups of Anglicans" are essentially divided into three categories: Forward in Faith mostly using the modern Roman rite, the TAC and the Anglican Use parishes in America. We are distinguished by our origins and our liturgical usages. If the choice of liturgies in English was between the Warren translation of the Sarum and the new ICEL modern Roman rite, I see little reason to be nostalgic for the Prayer Book Eucharistic rite (the Office is another matter discussed elsewhere). Catholics often tell jokes about extreme Anglican liturgical diversity. In fact, most of the idiosyncratic usages are no longer in use since the 1970's and 80's. Anglicans in England use the Novus Ordo and the Book of Common Worship. A very few use the English Missal (eg. All Saints North Street, York or Fr Hunwicke in Oxford) and less high-church parishes use an "interim" version of the Prayer Book (Prayer of Oblation put back in its place after the consecration and before the Lord's Prayer, Fraction and Communion.

I really would like to read arguments in favour of a new Book of Divine Worship, either initiating a new Anglo-Catholic tradition on the basis of a single and stable rite or providing a smorgasbord of options and variations to suit every taste and "churchmanship". The thing that bothers many people is the dichotomy between the Prayer Book being the only real traditional Anglican liturgy in theory and its rejection (or paying lip service whilst using another rite) in the name of Tradition by Anglo-Catholics. Has Anglicanism a liturgical tradition? Objectively, when coherence is sought, such a tradition is absent. The choice is therefore between imposing the Roman rite, which is not the Pope's intention, or restoring a former tradition that could be assimilated with no more difficulty than the English Missal in illegal use since the early twentieth century, itself, an “artificial tradition”.