Saturday, 9 October 2010

Old Sarum...

The Sarum Use is one of those things I am fascinated by but know very little about. As a student at Heythrop I often flicked through a copy of the Sarum Missal in the Theology Library (I was particularly fascinated by a rubric in the Sarum Missal regarding the number of Collects - it said that there are never more than seven because Our Lord made no more than seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer) and found much of the text familiar, yet distinct and remote - I can best describe it by comparing it to Merry's experience of the tongue of the Rohirrim:

''But most of the time, especially on this last day, Merry had ridden by himself just behind the king, saying nothing, and trying to understand the slow sonorous speech of Rohan that he heard the men behind him using. It was a language in which there seemed to be many words that he knew, though spoken more richly and strongly than in the Shire, yet he could not piece the words together. At times some Rider would lift up his clear voice in stirring song, and Merry felt his heart leap, though he did not know what it was about.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter III).

Of course the nuances are not solely limited to language but to custom and ceremonial. The previous post, which I have in fact deleted (I didn't like it) contained Alcuin Club pictures of a Sarum reconstruction at St Cyprian's church at Clarence Gate. Well I say ''Sarum reconstruction'', it was probably not so in fact but Book of Common Prayer liturgy with a few pre-Reformation liturgical precedents (going by what I have gleaned of High Anglicanism as opposed to Anglo-Catholicism) which looked like Sarum. I must say I find this more appealing liturgically than the rage some Anglo-Catholics have for everything Roman - the New Rite, the modern Roman lectionary artificially inserted into a decorous reconstruction of the Old Roman Rite (usually with a single Collect, Secret and Postcommunion prayer), the use of lace cottas, ugly Roman style vestments, the ''big six'', an Altar stuck up against the wall of the Apse with gradines etc. I really really cannot understand this mentality. Why follow contemporary Rome to the letter when Rome has departed from Tradition when you're perfectly all right as you are? Why do away with the traditional surplice and replace it with a silly (and effeminate) looking lace cotta just because this is the Roman custom? Rome is by no means the liturgical sun of Christendom. Who was it that said that not everything Roman is Catholic again? Well it was a Pope of old Rome (St Gregory the Great, one of the finest) who said that things are not to be loved for the sake of a place but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things. Are lace cottas a good thing?

I think it behoves English Catholics to look more to the Medieval English liturgical patrimony than to the silly and untraditional customs of modernist Rome and the entire Counter Reformation period - a period marked by swift decline in the standard of liturgical celebration (it is noteworthy that Urban VIII's revision of the hymnody of the Roman Breviary most likely had private recitation in mind rather than the Office sung in choir - as it ought to be). Take the ''big six'' for example, and gradines; what are they for? What possible use is a gradine, and why are there six candles? In medieval churches there were no more than two candles on the mensa of the Altar (and very seldom a Crucifix) and any additional ones were placed behind, and not on, the Altar - like the arrangement in Salisbury Cathedral. The Islip roll, which includes an illustration of the High Altar of Westminster abbey c.1530, shows the altar entirely unadorned, with lights only on the loft above the altar screen and by the hanging pyx. The prescription of six candles (and a seventh for a bishop) is an entirely Counter Reformation rubric and has no tradition therefore in the English church - why, therefore, do English Catholics bother following this rule? Similarly the placement of the Tabernacle on the High Altar is a modern thing - whatever Michael Davies might have said about how ''important'' it is. It certainly wasn't important to St Bede, who had no Tabernacle (in his time the Sacrament was reserved not in the church itself but in the presbytery, and not seldom the houses of lay people), no Great Elevation at Mass and still managed to believe in the Real Presence. The Rood Loft dominated the medieval church and screened the Quire of the church off from the Nave, so the Rood should provide the crucifix of the church, not a brass one placed at the top of a gradine (and there is no use fussing about when the Altar is therefore ''unadorned'' by a crucifix). Of course there are no more Roods, no more Sarum, no nothing - just boring old Rome, Romish vestments, Romish cottas, Romish candles, Romish everything.

Medieval Liturgy ought to be the yardstick of liturgical orthodoxy and decorum. Baroque liturgy, such as you will find in the London Oratory, by comparison, is just decadent.


  1. Where did you get the picture?

  2. Sorry Maureen I meant to include a link in the post but forgot. The post has been amended now.

    The photos come from an Alcuin Club publication called Ceremonial Pictured in Photographs. The link is in the amended post.

  3. I do not think the rather beautiful celebration photographed at St. Cyprian's was ever meant to be be a reconstruction of the Sarum rite but BCP in 'Sarumesque' one might say. It certainly looks good and if you search YouTube for 'York Rite' you will find something very similar celebrated a couple of years ago.

    In the Roman rite the 'big six' are not meant to stay on the altar every day. The Caeremoniale lays down what is supposed to be done in Liber I, Cap. XII, ## 11 & 24.

    Two candlesticks (candelae in candelabris for simple feasts and ferial days; four candles for Vigils, Ember Days, the ferial days of Advent and Lent and other days four, and for Sundays and feasts six.

    Westminster Cathedral used to light the required number of candles but did not remove the other candlesticks. Fr. Clement Russell at St. George's Sudbury used to have arguments with some Westminster VG. He was told to put six candles on his high altar. I understand he got the CE out and told the VG that he would put six on his altar if every parish took the required number off their altars on other days etc. Sarum only ever had two lights upon the altar - having more is relatively late. There is a rubric in the Gradual which says how many cantors one should have (c.f. 'rulers' in the English Uses etc) which too is ignored of course

  4. Rubricarius, thanks for your comment. I just think the Roman Rite is rather bland compared with Sarum. The photo above was a deliberate choice to illustrate the procession to the Altar with the Gifts - something no longer in the Roman Rite (except, ironically, in its modern form!)

    Regarding the ''big six'', I seem to remember reading in Duffy (The Voices of Morebath I think, or possibly Stripping of the Altars) something about six brass candlesticks being removed from a parish church around 1550 but I can't for the life of me remember the details (otherwise I'd have included this in the post). So it seems that the custom in England before the Reformation was nebulous - anything from 0 candles to 6 (unless this was an isolated case completely).

  5. Sarum is a regional variant of the French rites that developed from the Old Roman Rite, i.e. the rite of the parish churches of Rome which is the ancestor of Sarum, Hereford, York etc along with many of the rites used by the Religious. The 1570 Roman rite is a descendent from the reformed liturgy of the curia which was a 'streamlined' use for busy people. Do look at 'The Orgins of the Modern Roman Liturgy', Van Dijk & Hazelden-Walker (to which I think I have referred you before). By 'Modern' they mean 13C to 16C. Sarum is not a 'sister' rite to the the Tridentine rite but rather a cousin or a great-great-great uncle to use a family-tree metaphor.

    In Sarum additional candles were placed near the altar but not on it on greater days. I think it was Dr. Wickham-Legg who published a survey of various Medieval Uses showing the almost universal use of two candles on the altar or even one. Candles on the altar had a purely practical function - that of providing light (c.f. use of the scotula). By the late Medieval period candles had acquired all sorts of meaning so, e.g. the 1474 MR has Masses with thousands of years' indulgence for lighting three candles or seven etc.

  6. No lace cotta adorned the MC at Blackfen then, nor big six upon gradines? Whilst I would delight to see the historical rites of Sarum, York, Durham and Lincoln int al celebrated, what was done at Blackfen the other evening and the Baroque splendour of the liturgy at the London Oratory serve us well as glimpses of heaven

  7. Rubricarius, yes Sarum is no more native to this country than the Roman Rite. Which makes me wonder about what sort of Liturgy St Bede experienced. The general thrust of his Ecclesiastical History is the debate between the Roman and Celtic factions about the date of Easter, and St Bede was adamant on the Roman side...

    Magister, no no lace for me - if it appears so it is an illusion created by the lighting.

  8. And by the way Thursday was not my first time as the MC of High Mass.

  9. Your competence on Thursday demonstrated your experience

  10. The pictures are nice, but very clinical. Sarum, in reality, was "dirty" - inveterately untidy and thoroughly non-respectable - people wandering around all over the place, doing this, that, and the other; ambling up to the bishop at this throne, during the liturgy, and asking him stuff; deacons arriving and departing apparently at random; beasts in the narthex, bellowing and shitting.

    That's real liturgy.

  11. "The pictures are nice, but very clinical. Sarum, in reality, was "dirty" - inveterately untidy and thoroughly non-respectable - people wandering around all over the place, doing this, that, and the other; ambling up to the bishop at this throne, during the liturgy, and asking him stuff; deacons arriving and departing apparently at random; beasts in the narthex, bellowing and shitting."

    Sounds like Greek liturgy to me - meant as a great compliment!

    I agree the pics are clinical but ruddy good nonetheless (obviously under the MP).

  12. And why is the subdeacon sporting a tree stuck down the back of his neck? - or it it an extravagantly Sarum mohican?

  13. Sounds like Greek liturgy to me

    You're right. Especially the beasts. ;0)

  14. Thanks for this post.
    Very informative and interesting.
    I do agree we have lost much with "minimalism" within the Roman Rite...this gives a great insight into the need for returning to proper liturgical Tradition; pray God it will, in time, happen.

  15. Were the famous St Cyprian's photographs of a recontruction? I had always been led to believe that they were simply staged photographs and had never heard any suggestion to the contrary. This would certainly explain Moretben's observation. The Gild of Clerks did their own versions of these in the same place a few years back. Comparing the two sets, it is interesting to note that some of the interior decor of St Cyprian's had not yet been completed at the time of the first set.

    It was also the Gild of Clerks who did the reconstructions of the York Requiem mass in 2002, I think, and the York Corpus Christi mass in 2004, and the Sarum Assumption mass in 2007. I took part in the latter two.

    I broadly agree with much of what you say in this post, Patrick, and, as a long-time lover of Sarum, and as one who rejoices in its authorisation for use in Orthodoxy, I think you would be somewhat pleased with some of its elements. The hymn inventor rutili, sung during the procession of light at the paschal vigil, is particularly beautiful, both in terms of the words and the melody. The Sarum exultet chant is also infinitely superior to the Roman one - clearly with the same basis but with greater elaboration. On Father Aidan's website, there is a recording of part of it being sung by me about 6 or 7 years ago, when I was just learning chant. It was never intended for long-term public consumption but he thought it was worthy of his website.