Sunday, April 14, 2013

Real Liturgy As Seen Through Sarum

The above clip is the offertory of Fr. Sean Finnegan's 1997 celebration of Candlemas according to the Sarum use in Merton College Chapel, a variation of the Roman rite unique to the city of Salisbury and which English clergy widely celebrated until the reign of Henry VIII.

Here we see many variations of the very simple Roman Mass that I cannot help but think improve, but not over-ornament, the quality of the celebration. First one will note that the offertory prayers are startling short compared to the Roman missal's. This is because the host and chalice are offered in one prayer, as is the case in many monastic and local rites still celebrated in the right places to this day, but also because the chalice has already been prepared. The medieval Latin rite had both a flair for liturgical drama and a singular focus on the sacrificial nature of the Mass. A spirit of anticipation led many local and monastic clergy to prepare the chalice with water and wine during the gradual (at high Mass) or before the prayers at the foot of the altar (low Mass). One contribution of this feature is that the Mass becomes a complete, unified action, one visible to those gathered.

Near the camera we see "rulers of choir," something allowed but extinct in the Roman rite outside of Lauds and Vespers. There are three here, but there would have been an even number, with equal numbers on each side of the lectern. These men, who I imagine during older times were priests, "ruled" the choir by intoning various chants or by acting as cantors during the propers of the Mass. The wearing of vestments accentuates the role of the musician as a liturgical actor.

One sees three people wearing diaconal vestments rather than two. The acolyte was not the candle-guy in the Sarum rite. He was a minister of the Mass, just below the subdeacon in rank. The subdeacon held and sang texts and assisted the priest at the altar in these northern European rites. The acolyte, who in the Middle Ages would be apprenticing for the priesthood (remember, no seminaries until Trent), handled sacred vessels and held the paten under the veil during the Canon of the Mass. There is no strong delineation between "major" and "minor" orders in this sort of liturgy as there was in the Roman rite after Trent. I sense the subdeacon absorbed the duties of the acolyte in the Roman rite, giving us the practice of the subdeacon holding the paten today. Vatican II decided the subdeacon was not a major minister after all and Paul VI, in 1972, abolished the order of subdeacon altogether. Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches never held the subdeacon to be a member of major orders, which is why laymen may "vest" as subdeacon during pontifical Divine Liturgies.

Those incensed kiss a book of the Gospels (the Sarum missal just says the "text"). I will go out on the proverbially edge and guess that this is an influence from pontifical Mass which has insinuated the regular sacerdotal Mass. No problem with that. If this was somehow a corruption then we ought to remove the Gloria from non-Papal Masses.

Lastly, I would like to offer a few remarks on the motet of the offertory, John Sheppard's Gaude, Gaude, Gaude Maria Virgo, to my mind one of the most under-appreciated polyphonic pieces ever composed. I generally favor chant over polyphony. I find chant more "charismatic" (I mean that in a traditional sense) and I find most polyphony absolutely flat and vapid. Good polyphony reflects our journey to heaven, slowly starting on the ground and gradually rising up to heaven, with a few drops along the way. Once above, it becomes sublime. This piece does that. Its arrangement does not eschew plainsong either, permitting a line of chant betwixt each verse, before starting again at the bottom and rising upward.

Sadly, this was the last celebration of the Sarum use in Oxford. Oddly, Archbishop Conti celebrated the Sarum Mass in Aberdeen, Scotland (where it was never said before the Reformation) in 2000. There have been no Catholic celebrations of it since. I have heard rumors that the Russian Orthodox Church has installed an altered version as part of their Western Orthodoxy program, but I cannot comment on this practice, as I am unfamiliar with it.

The end of these Sarum celebrations is an awkward story. Apparently someone denounced the celebrations to the Archbishop of Birmingham—who did not care, as he had approved the Mass before hand—then to Cardinal Hume of Westminster. Unable to get any traction, this fellow wrote to Rome. Fr. Jerome Bertram, a fellow Oratorian with Fr. Finnegan and the preacher of the sermon for the celebration above, recounts that Rome assumed the Oxford group formed to organize this Mass, the "St. Osmund Society," was a British version of the "Society of St. Pius X" and immediately asked for the Masses to desist. Fr. Bertram recounts that the short-lived group is remembered by its former members as the "Donny Osmund Society."


  1. I was particularly struck by your point about the counter-reformation emphasis on doctrine at the expense of traditions in the liturgy, as well as the information that the oft-lauded ‘simplicity’ of the Roman rite is really the result of the general imposition of a scaled down rite for the office staff. Very important points.

    I wanted to add to what you say in your piece on the Sarum rite because you said you considered that the 2000 Aberdeen celebration of mass according to Sarum use to have been the first in Scotland. It was not, and presumably would not have been attempted if it had been. Paradoxically, it may have been the first in Aberdeen.

    I fear I could never edit wikipedia entries, as I often simply cannot remember the most recent work in which I read the information I know.
    Actually, with memory stirring, on reflection, I think I can probably name F.L. Cross’s older edition of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, a somewhat Anglo-centric work, as at least one of the sources here:

    This would not have been the first ever celebration according to the Sarum Use in Scotland because it was, by the choice of most Scots, the preferred version of the Roman Rite in Scotland before the Knoxian revolution -which could scarcely be called a ‘reformation’. It may not have been the original Christian liturgical use in Scotland, but that is a different matter.

    I understand the chronology was that for some time – how many centuries? sorry, forgotten – the Church in Scotland was subject to York, within its ecclesiastical province, and obliged to use its rite. The Scots did not like this and the pressure to break free eventually led to the creation of the two Scotch provinces of S Andrews and Glasgow rather late in the day. To celebrate their new-found freedom, they adopted the Sarum rite, as being Not-York. This may seem illogical, but it was evidently not about nationalism per se; a ready-made substitute was needed immediately, and the rite of Southern England was entirely acceptable, as long as it was not of Northern England.
    So, York was imposed –after what? –then Sarum to replace York.

    Aberdeen, meanwhile actually DID have its own use but I simply have no idea how far it spread, presumably it was used outside the cathedral church. (At least half of that one still stands too).

    I read that the architecture of the old cathedral in Glasgow (one of the few still standing in Scotland) is based on the style of Salisbury itself. I don’t see it, but scholars of design say so. This would seem to have been a symbolic gesture, in that case.

    More than any slight quibbling about highly obscure details of geographical distribution, I mostly wanted to say that your assessment of the local versions of the Roman Rite seemed right when you say that their ceremonial and local elaboration were appropriate and popular expressions of a rite that held together coherently without rigidity.

  2. I believe you are right about the Orthodox use of the Sarum rite in an altered form, but it feels surprising to read you call it a rumour. I would have characterized it as rather more substantial than that. I know of this only from the web and understand from it that there is a parish and monastery in Texas that publishes the Orthodox Sarum Missal. I was unable to obtain a copy through British booksellers, but did once have all the details. The website may not still be there but it published images of their missal.

    I mentioned elsewhere that I was going to try to post this to your Sarum post, but as soon as I had said that the internet went down. Glad to get it off my chest.

    1. Scotland seems like a fascinating case, but I must confess to complete ignorance about its local uses. I suspect Aberdeen's use could not have been too different from Sarum or York, all members of the Norman liturgical family, themselves cousins of Rome.

      Thank you for picking up on my point concerning the Curial liturgy. The example I gave about the unveiling of the crucifix on Good Friday in the 1570 Missal versus local rites I thought illustrated the point well. Many churches within Rome, basilicas included, had their own variations, as did the Pope (Papal Mass being ceremonially distinct from the Mass/Office of the Curia). Some strongly Roman features survived more intact in the local rites than in the Tridentine liturgy. Those who think the Tridentine liturgy is gilded or complicated should compare the texts and ceremonies to the Sarum use or the rites of the Lyonese cathedral, or even the Byzantine rite.

      The Orthodox have (or had) an experiment going with "western" Orthodoxy. The Orthodox from the churches of Russia and Antioch had re-constructred what they believed to be a pre-schism Roman rite, largely based on the Ordo Romanus Primus. I cannot comment on the accuracy concerning the "rite of St Gregory the Great"—other than that they sometimes import "improvements" from the liturgy of St John Chyrsostom—but use the of Sarum liturgy mystifies me. Sarum began when the Normans brought their uses of the Roman rite after Hastings in 1066. The magical date for the schism is 1054. Does this mean the Orthodox think a well developed, "schismatic" rite is acceptable? Odd experiment, which I sense is aimed toward Old Catholics and Anglicans who don't want the Pope.

      I have some of their books in pdf and in English. I am not sure if I should post them, or perhaps just links to them. I think I have an Ordo Missae for Sarum and a copy of the Office/Psalter.