The Use of Sarum

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The Church of Salisbury shines as the sun in its orb among the Churches of the whole world in its divine service and those who minister it, and by spreading its rays everywhere makes up for the defects of others.

Bishop Giles de Bridport c.1256


The Use of Sarum is the pre-Reformation liturgical form in the English Church. It is a use of the Roman Rite and has many similarities with the Dominican Rite. The origin of this liturgical usage is largely the Use of Rouen and a few imports from the Celtic and Mozarabic traditions.

Modern-day interest in Sarum is quite surprising, considering its abolition by the Anglican authorities in 1549 and its desuitude in the Latin Church from about the early seventeenth century. It is often denigrated by conservative Catholics, and people with ideas of reviving the old English liturgical tradition are passed off as eccentrics. As the photograph above, taken from a video recording, shows, Sarum is occasionally celebrated to this day and is assimilated to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite and the Ambrosian Rite of northern Italy. It would certainly be encouraging to see Sarum as a kind of "extraordinary" form of Anglican liturgical patrimony.

It is tempting to construct an apologia for restoring this Use as a part of Anglican patrimony, but such a method would be counter-productive as I have discovered by writing articles on The Anglo Catholic and reading people's reactions in the comments. Some are for and others are against, and both camps often through preconceived and mistaken ideas. Such "received ideas" include thinking that Sarum is "way over the top", too complex for anything other than occasional use in a cathedral, and, in particular, simply being an aesthetic backwash for English rites more or less based on the Prayer Book. It is also tempting to see Sarum as a pragmatic solution to solving the differences of liturgical usage in the Anglican world. Like the Dominican, Bragan or Ambrosian rites, not to mention Paris and Lyons in France, Sarum is a variant of the Roman Rite with an integrity of its own.

We can also remind ourselves that the intention in the late 1960's and 1970's was to crush all liturgical rites in the Church and replace them with the modern Roman rite, and introduce similar reforms even in the Oriental Churches. It was to be a repeat performance of 1549 and 1552, but this movement of deconstruction was halted by the appointment of Archbishop Bugnini to other duties in the Church, a number of steps by John Paul II to emancipate clergy and faithful attached to the older form of the Roman Rite and the present situation under Benedict XVI.

I doubt that Sarum could be revived on a large scale or be made an official liturgy of the future Catholic Anglican personal Ordinariates, but I am convinced it should be a reference in much the same way as the extraordinary form of the Roman rite will be the standard for a gradual process of reform and restoration of the liturgy by slowly transforming the ordinary form promulgated by Paul VI. A few of us would opt to celebrate Mass according to the Sarum Use in private and on special occasions with the lay faithful.

As suggested in the final sentence of the preceding paragraph, there is a pastoral dimension to the introduction or reintroduction of any "foreign" liturgical form. It has to be done gradually and without force. In many situations, the idea is best forgotten and it would be wiser in these circumstances to stick with a liturgical form that is familiar to the faithful, and transform it slowly, progressively, and only as truly necessary.

Sarum liturgical books are hard to find, and when they do turn up as rare books in second-hand bookshops, the asking price is often high. The Latin edition by Dickinson and the English editions by Warren and Pearson are available from the Internet in pdf format. It suffices to collate the pages into a DTP programme and bind the books. Work is being done to publish Sarum texts and the plainchant books for both the Mass and the Office.

This part of my site is dedicated to promoting the Use of Sarum and helping readers to understand its significance in the Anglican patrimony as a liturgical standard for supplementing familiar Anglican rites and usages, the Prayer Book in particular.

I will add files to this page from time to time, and will also collate valuable material from my Sarum e-mail list and its archives.


E-mail List

I set up this group in April 2008 to discuss both academic and practical aspects of the historical Use of Sarum. This group is primarily intended for Anglicans and Roman Catholics, but is also open to Catholics who are not in communion with Rome, Western-Rite Orthodox and other Christians who may be interested in our topic.

The idea of this list is to collaborate in a movement for reviving the Use of Sarum and celebrating it in churches and chapels, over and above difficulties caused by the separation of the Churches to which we belong as priests or laity. The approach is flexible, for example sharing resources, texts, information, and discussing ways for teaching people who know less than we do.

118 members as of June 2010.


Further reflections


To study the Use of Sarum

I recommend the following links to articles about Sarum (academic and historical):


Files to copy onto your hard disk

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Practical Sarum Revival work - Victorian Ritualism and in our own time : links to choral groups, interested laymen and priests

Victorian Ritualist era

[Note: Percy Dearmer did not attempt to revive the Use of Sarum, but to adapt the Prayer Book by the introduction of Sarum customs.]