There is an interesting discussion going on at Facebook on the old question of whether Sarum belongs in a museum or whether it still exists as a Catholic rite. It all started off by the question:
I once read that there was a debate among English Catholics at the time of the re-establishment of the Catholic hierarchy in 1850 that the Sarum rite should be restored as well. This was violently opposed by Manning and other ultramontane converts who wanted uniformity with the Roman Use. Anyone know the details where the debate came from and where it was argued (England or Rome?)
I have no pretence of having an answer to this historical question. During the discussion, I did link to Fr Finnigan’s article Aspicientes in Jesum: The Legal Status of the Sarum Mass. It is of interest from a Roman Catholic point of view, and it offers insight into the relationship between positive law and immemorial custom, the basis on which traditionalists base their claim for the Pius V liturgy. The question is asked and answered differently in Anglican and Eastern Orthodox churches.
I won’t go into all the arguments now. The prevailing opinion is that it is a “museum piece”, from the evidence that so few of us have any inclination to celebrate it. At the same time, a discussion group such as this one has attracted 196 members. The uses of Hereford and York, for example, attract much less interest at a “popular” level. It would certainly seem that a diversity of rites and uses within the Latin Rite is generally understood as symbolic of a difference of ecclesiology. Thus, the French Church which kept its distance from Roman authority attached greater importance to local uses than those for whom adhesion to Papal authority was a bulwark against Protestantism and for whom religious life was primarily a question of authority and obedience. At the same time, let us harbour no illusion about eighteenth-century Gallican bishops. A part of the motivation for Ultramontanism in the nineteenth century was that a tyrant hundreds of miles away was better than a dictator on one’s own doorstep!
In our own time, we need to get things into perspective. The greatest problem is not Sarum in a museum but the entire liturgical Christian patrimony in the dustbin with the McDonalds burger wrappers.
The adoption of Sarum by western rite Orthodox priests is a mystery to me. Before the 1054 symbolic date of the schism between Rome and Constantinople, there was no Sarum Use in England. There were certainly many variants of Celtic, Roman and French usages in England. I have nothing against the western Orthodox, but their use of creative anachronism certainly raises an eyebrow. The northern French tradition that became the Sarum Use was essentially imported by the Norman Conquest and some “native” elements continued to subsist.
I am somewhat burned out by arguments on canon law and the relationship between positive law and custom. The argument of authority is a strong one, present in the thought of the Italian Perennialist Julius Evola for whom Christianity was no longer fit to form the framework of human society. Fr Hunwicke once wrote on auctoritas, and the subject is highly relevant to this reflection. Perhaps Christianity can be cold-shouldered out of the picture due to the dwindling number of believers and its lack of authority in modern western society. Conservative Christians desperately hanker after temporal authority by riding piggyback on some vaguely conservative Christian political loud-mouth. Alternatively, Christianity does not depend on authority but a higher principle that transcends politics and people squabbling over interpretations of law.
There are arguments for and against using Sarum. My own reasoning was as follows. I was a Tiber-swimmer who swallowed all the stuff served up to new converts, and sided with the traditionalists. Very early on, I noticed the cognitive dissonance between Papal authority and the authority the traditionalists themselves wanted to wield instead of looking more critically at the whole thing. Then came the traditionalists in union with Rome from 1988 and that temple of youth of life in the seminary at Gricigliano. Knowledge of history brought home what was represented by Romantic medievalism on one hand and Italianate baroque on the other. After leaving the Institute of Christ the King and my years of marginal pseudo Roman Catholic life, I returned to the Romantic medievalist outlook. It didn’t happen immediately. As late as 2008 as a priest in the TAC, I was using the Roman rite in Latin. The English Missal and the Anglican Missal are substantially the Roman rite of 1570 in one Roman edition or another. I suppose I could have sided with the Prayer Book Catholics – but whatever you do to the Prayer Book, one can never be satisfied.
I cannot allow myself to judge the policies of a Church to which I belong, so I will only speak for myself.
One becomes stuck in a morass of emotional and liturgical instability. It is better to have a rite and stick to it. For me, the solution was Sarum, an “iconic” liturgical usage that would represent pre-Prayer Book Anglicanism. Nothing is perfect in this world, but I am still using Sarum seven years later. I occasionally do it in English, but nearly always in Latin following a reproduction of the Dickinson edition I found on the Internet and which was not cheap!
Pastoral considerations? I did promise to my Bishop that if I were ever to serve a community of lay faithful in our Diocese, I would conform to the Anglican Missal. The occasion has never occurred. I have nothing against it, since pastoral service would outweigh personal memories of my Roman Catholic years. I am nearly always alone at Mass, so the pastoral consideration is non-existent. I could celebrate the Tridentine rite, but it would not interest RC traditionalists – because I’m not the right kind of priest for them. I could celebrate the Novus Ordo, but then I would be masquerading as a Roman Catholic priest of the local archdiocese here. Who would be interested? Besides, the ACC does not use the Novus Ordo.
I think Sarum will continue to be of academic interest to liturgical historians and musicians. It will occasionally be dusted off for one-off use at some cultural manifestation in an English provincial town church. It will continue to fascinate seminarians and young priests. I had the idea seven years ago of setting up a Yahoo group list to discuss it, and more recently something more appealing to modern computer users on Facebook. It works well and subjects keep coming in even if my own inertia prevents me from writing very much on it.
Many of us priests have little to offer the future, but the future is not ours. We can be optimistic or pessimistic, hope that what we do will leave some trace for the good of others in the future. We have to have the humility that our work and lives will leave very little, and that we are called to live in a better world.
The thought always returns. If liturgy and Christianity itself depend on authority (living persons saying what we may or may not do, or standing customs accepted by all or a majority), then there is little to hope for – and some other principle should be sought. Sometimes too much thought will lead us into more trouble than we bargained for! …