Liturgical Garden re-post

Here is another posting from a little more than a year ago from the English Catholic. I try to get as much reflection as possible going about the Use of Sarum. The pre-Reformation Church was a bit of a mess, but it was human – and traditional.

The Liturgical Garden

A new [2nd January 2011] article has come up in a blog – On The Sarum Rite: Beginnings, which is noteworthy in the quality of its reflections. Derek Olsen, the author, describes himself as a “Benedictine Anglican Medievalist within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical”. He also describes his domestic situation, which may cause an eyebrow to be raised, but that does not concern me. I keep an occasional eye on his writings.

These reflections do help to reflect on the question What is Sarum?. There are some differences between Sarum and the Norman uses of the eleventh century that were imported into England with the Norman Conquest. Mr Olsen reminds us that a Use is not a rigidly organised structure of liturgical observances like the Roman rite since 1570 and a century or two before as the various codes of rubrics were increasingly well organised. The colours of vestments and ceremonies were far from uniform, even within a single diocese. I read somewhere that the parish of Telford in Shropshire was using the Ambrosian missal in the fifteenth century because that is what they had, as simply as that.

The reality of medieval England was probably like the loose cohesion between parishes in an Orthodox country like Greece or Cyprus where there has been no movement of reform and standardisation. We tend to consider the “set of customs and characteristics” of Sarum in the light of the Tridentine reform of Paul IV, Pius IV and Pius V. Sarum was not a thirteenth century “codification” like the Roman rite in the sixteenth. We observe the interplay of different Norman diocesan, monastic and other northern European usages.

The one reflection that all this brings into mind is that a situation in which the liturgy is simply a traditional part of our spiritual and ecclesial life is a thing of the past. It now comes pre-packaged, as a finished product from its makers and imposed by authority, a product of rubricism and codification. This was globalism centuries before the outlawing of the export of French cheese made from unpasteurised milk! The ‘freedom’ movements of the 1960’s were largely in reaction to this trend, and dissolution was largely the result. The notion of tradition and cohesiveness of “something that is” was forever lost. Ironically, we Anglicans with our lack of liturgical uniformity, other than Anglo-Catholics conforming to every jot and tittle of Tridentine norms, seem to have most kept the pre-Reformation notion of liturgical tradition. And, that is in spite of having to live with a Prayer Book rite that was stripped sown much further than the modern Roman rite of 1969.

I think there is a lesson to be learned, as I do so much eschew abstract study without any practical application. Catholics are torn between a choice of Tridentine rubricism (or a transposition of that spirit onto the modern rites) and 1970’s style “liturgical creativity” and abuse. I do believe liturgical stability comes not from compulsion and codification, but from learning to love the liturgy, singing Mass and Office day after day, year after year, living in the school of the Lord’s service and preferring nothing to God’s work. We may wonder if it is possible to live the liturgy outside the monastic life. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. I would love to see the establishing of collegiate churches and canonical foundations, because those communities of priests make the regular solemn celebration of the liturgy possible – and above all a sense of stability, peace and being a ‘leaven’ in the world.

It will not be possible to roll back the reforms of Trent and Vatican II, but I do see the possibility and need for a new process of settling down and healing for the liturgy by the mutual influence of the classical and modern Roman rites, and by the influx of local and ethnical traditions like ours in the Anglican world. Local communities should be free to create the nurseries in which the liturgy can be re-grown, if we want to use the analogy of gardening and agriculture. I am convinced that this is the way for the future, and not that of ‘manufactured traditions’ presented and imposed by authority.

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