The Sarum Effect

The recent Sarum Vespers in America has made quite an impression, as The Legitimacy of the Sarum Use attests. Our Rad Trad (I wish he wouldn’t use that name!) has often come up with extraordinarily sensitive reflections. I have always found him sympathetic with me. He wrote in this article:

More famously, Fr. Anthony Chadwick celebrates the Sarum Use in his chapel in France. Much like the Oratorian celebrations in Oxford, Fr. Anthony does not make his Masses an act of historical play acting, replete with period style vestments and vessels. He uses what he has from his days observing the Tridentine books and does his best. He has even put out videos of his low Masses, one of a straight through low Mass and the other an instructional. Both are the only videos of their kind available now.

I have been banging a drum about this subject for more than a decade, but my perspective has evolved from a precise rite to the religious culture that surrounded it. This is something that was brought home to me as I came to France and saw some last remnants of popular parish culture involving a spirit that was totally different from the traditionalists. The priests I met in the 1980’s and 90’s are now dead.

I am presently planning a new book on the subject, and I find that Rad Trad’s methodology and mine concur: the question of reviving Sarum in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and Western-Rite Orthodoxy. Then I am thinking about the question of whether it can be revived and in what kind of cultural context. Naturally, I bring in that “universal panacea” of Romanticism, which, in the nineteenth century, revived France’s devastated Church and developed Wesley’s inspiration of bringing God back into the Church of England, restoring the country’s medieval churches and making the Prayer Book Communion Service look a little more like the medieval liturgy through the use of vestments and an eastward-facing altar.

I seem to be almost the only priest using Sarum as my ordinary spiritual fare, but I am alone and getting on in years. Come the inevitable, my Sarum life will also pass into history as did the remnants of the Norman uses in the 1980’s and 90’s. Perhaps the way the traditionalists (SSPX and with Rome) are evolving would surprise me, but I no longer live in their world and I am out of touch. Their priests are getting older and more mature and may end up like old parish priests. We have not to forget that the Tridentine liturgy is also a medieval rite in its essentials (with all the elements going back to the early Church) and can be celebrated without everyone getting anxious about the Mass being invalid if Father forgets to put on his maniple!

Sarum is more symbolic than anything else. It is the last medieval rite (use) to be used in England before the iconoclasm of the Reformation and the changes in the Roman Catholic Church to restore its credibility represented by the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. It represents an idealised and Romantic view of a longer history of the Church than only the last four hundred years of constant bickering between Protestants and Catholics. We now live in a time when society shows no interest in any churchy things and humanity seems to be on a “race to the bottom” like the 1930’s.

I am in no illusion about (neo) Romanticism, because its being popularised would destroy it as happened in the late nineteenth century. It needs to be an unpronounced word among thinkers, writers, musicians, artists and sensitive souls. The best we can hope for is to sow seeds for the future, all too aware that the future may bring Götterdämmerung and the continuation of mankind’s fall. Perhaps there may be another brief window like roughly 1790 to 1830 and 1890 to about the 1960’s. On my own, I feel very inadequate and quite overwhelmed by the Philistine. I will join a few friends next October in southern England, and hope to be able to sow seeds of ideas which those gifted in leadership can plant and grow in humanity’s garden.

Rad Trad does legitimately ask what would be the right setting for Sarum. The Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral are obviously not going to do it, at least beyond a few nice processions. Its being celebrated in America or Canada seems something of an anomaly, though it can be seen as a little more normal in Normandy. Perhaps I should use the Use of Rouen, if I can find books older than the Neo-Gallican overhauls of the early eighteenth century. But, I am not a priest of the Archdiocese of Rouen or even in communion with Rome. I suppose I am English and belong to the English diocese of a Church of Anglican tradition – but my Bishop uses the Anglican Missal and not Sarum. Perhaps a solution would be to say that Sarum belongs to the English and northern French world as a descendent from the rite of Rouen. Here in France, there have been some celebrations of the Parisian and Lyon rites by priests of the Fraternity of St Peter.

Perhaps what needs to be revived is not so much Sarum but the liturgy itself, turning away from both the Tridentine crackdown on abuses and the post-Vatican II ideas of archaeologism (restoring rites from the early centuries of the Church on the basis of scant documentation) and inculturation on the basis of modern mass culture. I think we should encourage bishops and priests of all Churches to go back a few hundred years and be flexible about the practical aspects like the use of the vernacular and Latin. We must also not forget that the liturgical life has been, and should be, a preserve of the initiated elite and not the mass of the (baptised) catechumens.

The Ordinariate(s) would have been a most appropriate context for reviving Sarum, which altogether justified its use in Philadelphia in a Roman Catholic parish church. The appropriateness comes not from the place, but the attempt to bring the positive and Catholic elements of Anglicanism into a Roman Catholic context.

Here is a quote from my unfinished book:

What I find so tragic is that never were the Anglicans and Roman Catholics so close spiritually and culturally than in that period shortly predating the paroxysm of Roman triumphalism and the authoritarianism of Pius IX. The Anglicans sought their medieval roots, and the Roman Catholics sought their Recusant heritage, both from exactly the same source.

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7 Responses to The Sarum Effect

  1. Caedmon says:

    Was Wesley really interested in restoring the use of vestments in the C. of E? As for the restoration of eastward-facing altars, I thought that was the work of King Charles and Archbishop Laud.

    • No, Wesley only began a devotional and theological movement. Vestments only came in with the Ritualists. In the Restoration period, the Communion Table was no longer moved into the middle of the choir for celebration from the north side. Instead, it was north end celebration. The eastward position, like before the Reformation, was also an initiative of the Ritualists. All that being said, I see Wesley at the origin of a movement that was continued and developed by the Oxford and Cambridge movements, and then by the Ritualists.

  2. Caedmon says:

    I’ve re-read the passage. It seems that I misread it the first time.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    You have got me wondering what is known about whether or not John and Sebastian Cabot had chaplains aboard on their voyages on behalf of Henry VII, and what services they held (or are likely to have held) – which has in turn just made me aware of the Cabot Project:

    http://www.bristol.ac.uk/history/research/cabot/

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    With respect to your saying “Perhaps the way the traditionalists (SSPX and with Rome) are evolving would surprise me, but I no longer live in their world and I am out of touch”, the schola in which I am now singing is that of an SSPX parish, and in the short time I’ve been there we have had one service with parts of the Ordinary in Fifteenth-century polyphonic settings and are headed for some more on Ash Wednesday, this in St. Willibrord’s, a beautiful Nineteenth-century church in reconstructed Fifteenth-century ‘Nether-Rhineland Gothic’ style, with (to my ear) a fine acoustic.

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