English Use and Sarum Use

In the nineteenth century, most efforts in the direction of a Sarum revival were in the hands of Anglican scholars, and in a clear perspective of a more Catholic celebration of the Eucharist and Offices according to the 1662 Prayer Book. Uniformity in the Church of England was strict, and a priest could go to prison in those days if he overstepped the mark! There are doubtless some Anglicans who would like to return to that degree of uniformity, but that is another subject. Thus, the study of the Sarum Use had the objective of constructing a way or method of using the Prayer Book as an English Use.

This English Use was promoted most energetically by Percy Dearmer, who worked on the basis of scholars like Palmer and Walter Frere. Many such works were published by the Henry Bradshaw Society, the Plainsong & Medieval Music Society and the Alcuin Club. The guiding idea through this work was enhancing the Prayer Book rites, with something home-grown from before the Reformation, rather than importing post-Tridentine Roman customs as was done by certain Anglicans. Thus were born two kinds of Anglo-Catholic churchmanship, defined on whether they were English or Roman. Dearmer popularised many of these notions in the Parson’s Handbook, which involved refurnishing churches with the notion of medieval aesthetics held by proponents of the then contemporary Arts and Crafts movement. In terms of furnishing, it is hard to find a town in England in which not at least one church is furnished in this way. Many cathedrals have high altars with dossals, riddels and frontals in this fashion. Carlisle is quite low-church, but is furnished in this way. York has a very long altar with riddel posts, but with six candlesticks from the Milner-White era.

One criticism levelled against the English Use, as against the idea of complete revival of the Sarum Use such as I advocate, is its being antiquarian, romanticised, selective and not a true continuation of tradition. I reply that the Roman use of c. 1920 is no longer in general use, but is the result of the efforts of dissident traditionalists. The current style is brutalist architecture, the altar facing the people and modern popular music. Indeed, much of modern Anglo-Catholicism has gone that way, and the logic is perfectly understandable. On the other hand, archaeologism can be taken to the extreme of reviving some rite from the third century. Why not the exact Jewish rite of the Last Supper? These are good questions, and we are unlikely to arrive at a response on which everyone will agree.

The raison d’être of the so-called English Use is somewhat moot, as liturgical usage has become much more flexible – for better or for worse – in establishment Anglicanism and the continuing churches. In the ACC, we essentially use the Benedict XV revision of the Roman Missal with accommodation made for the Prayer Book cycle of Epistles, Gospels and Collects, translated into Prayer Book English and baptised the Anglican Missal. Sarum is tolerated and contained. Most of our churches are definitely Roman Use. I do not seek to change a usage with which most of our clergy and faithful are happy. I still use Roman vestments, because they are what I have and I don’t have the money to discard them and make gothic ones. I use an early nineteenth century baroque French chalice, the one given to me for my ordination. Sarum means something more than mere trappings.

An important piece of work from the Dearer era for studying the English Use concept is English or Roman Use? by E. G. P. Wyatt. This distinction between English Use and Sarum Use is very important, though I sympathise with the former in the situation of those priests and parishes in my Church using the Prayer Book according to the customary rules.

Some critics on the internet suggest trashing Sarum altogether. Why? There is still a fascination with the old pre-Reformation ways of England – like in eighteenth-century France. There were the nineteenth-century scholars seeking to improve the liturgy of the Established Church within the limits of the law, and then even some English Roman Catholics of a more “Gallican” bent showed interest. Fr Sean Finegan’s Sarum masses at Merton College chapel attracted good crowds of students and Latin Mass Society people. Going by the videos, it seemed to be for more than idle curiosity or acting out a pageant. It looks quite similar to a Tridentine Mass – only those who know something about the liturgy can tell the difference – and people were clearly praying at it. If it’s so close to the classical Roman liturgy, why bother?

I am an Anglican (belonging as a priest to the ACC), but I have been fascinated with the idea of our tradition for longer than I spent in the Roman Catholic Church as a layman and a cleric. This was confirmed on knowing that there were other “archaic” traditions like the Ambrosian, Lyons, Paris, Rouen, Dominican and other Latin rites, without even thinking of the oriental rites. The principle of liturgical diversity is even enshrined in the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II, even though it has been curtailed in practice. The use of some of those rites, even the Dominican use, was broken and largely forgotten. Now it is revived, as the site Dominican Liturgy testifies, even though most Dominican priests use the Novus Ordo. There is an underlying nostalgia for Sarum, which is not the case, for example, for some of the dinosaur bones from the second or third centuries needing complete “reconstruction”. Sarum is completely documented, and reference to the Dominican use is helpful in clearing up “difficult” or unclear rubrics. There is an enormous difference between reviving a developed rite and the kind of archaeologism that inspired the Jansenists in the eighteenth century or the “litniks” of the 1960’s (actually as early as the 1920’s).

Sarum is not fundamentally English, but French. Usages in England in the middle ages were similar to France in the eighteenth century, the only difference being the baroque trappings this side of the Channel. Normandy gives a good idea of how Sarum would have evolved in England had there been no Reformation. The general spirit is looser and less of a legalistic straitjacket than the “bobbing and gawping” of the Counter-Reformation Roman liturgy. That being said, Sarum rubrics were quite precise in most cases. There is little room for the arbitrary.

Many arguments by Anglicans about the liturgy centre upon the trappings, which is unfortunate. Trappings are important and good, but not in isolation – rather as part of a whole. I have little experience with some of the excesses of London and South Coast “spikery”. The old joke is the church notice board advertising Matings, Snug Eucharist, Evensnog and Solemn Exposition of the Vicar! I was assistant organist at St Albans Holborn in the late 1970’s, and the liturgy was relatively simplified, an eastward-facing Roman Novus Ordo with various Tridentine bits and pieces. In the early twentieth century, I can understand some wanting a more sober and “monastic” style.

We need to emancipate Sarum from its association with the English Use movement and compare it with the general diversity of western liturgies. Four riddels posts do not make a Sarum liturgy as one waspish priest wrote some years ago. It can be celebrated with the same trappings as a Tridentine liturgy, in a church like Saint Sulpice in Paris, or in a modern building from the early 1960’s when the basic plan was still more or less traditional. I did out my chapel in Arts and Crafts “medieval English” style, since I worked from a tabula rasa. This is just to say that the use is not defined by the trappings.

It may not be a very strong argument for restoring Sarum, but the experience of having celebrated it for nearly six years does not leave me indifferent. My first reaction was the “feel” of not doing all the genuflections like in the Roman rite, but making profound bows – and not so many of them. Does this imply less devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, a criticism levelled by traditionalists at the Novus Ordo because it has fewer genuflections? I don’t think so, because I’m not just doing my own thing, but following what is written for that particular rite. I invent nothing. That is the joy of following a tradition, which comes back to life as soon as someone decides to cut out the talk and get on and do it.

The English Use movement did some wonderful work in its day, and we should not scoff at it. The literature needs to be read, and who knows, things could work the other way round. Instead of having Sarum support the Prayer Book, the academic monuments of the English Use movement can be used to help revive the Sarum Use as a complete liturgical tradition. I would not have been surprised if Dearmer would not have been inclined the same way had he not felt so constrained by Church of England law.

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One Response to English Use and Sarum Use

  1. Joseph says:

    May you have much success.. The pre-Reformation liturgies of West need to find some active expression if there is any hope of understanding what was lost as a result the Reformation-Counter Reformation polemic. In my opinion. I could be very wrong.

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