American Sarum: Saturday Morning

Morning Prayer

The day’s events opened with a sung service of Morning Prayer. As you can imagine at a conference of Anglican musicians, the singing was wonderful. The psalms were well-chanted by all; standing in the midst of the congregation singing the hymn was a great experience. Morning Prayer occurred and God was duly worshipped.

It was a perfectly acceptable prayer book service, but I was confused at some of the choices made. The psalms were chanted with the cantor singing the first half of the verse and the congregation singing the second half—I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced that before and found it unusual. The canticle following the single reading was the Te Deum. While I would have chosen the Benedictus on principle, the Te Deum is a perfectly legitimate choice—but the Suffrages were set A. Our current Suffrage B is the set that the West has historically appended to the Te Deum. The ’79 BCP detatched them from the Canticle and appointed them as an option, making them the natural choice when the Te Deum is used.

The combination of these choices made me wonder—if the conference is on American Sarum, why not do a more Sarum-style Office? Why not use the Benedictus, and if the Te Deum is used, why not use the suffrages sung with it at Salisbury? Why not use Sarum practice in chanting the psalms? The implication is that the Sarum Use is exclusively a Mass use. And it may be at this particular church—I haven’t seen any references to public Offices. But it needn’t be and shouldn’t be; a use that consciously engages the Sarum tradition is missing a significant piece of that tradition if it omits the Offices.

Session I: Fr. Unterseher

The first session was by Fr. Cody Unterseher, a priest associate of the parish who is finishing a PhD in Liturgics at Notre Dame, and a member of the Pray Tell blogging team. This session was focused around the notion that, contrary to the oft-repeated parish phrase, no—we haven’t always done it that way. Thus, as a theory-based introduction to the conference as a whole, it served as a reminder that there has always been diversity in Christian liturgy. Drawing on the work of Paul Bradshaw and others, Fr. Unterseher noted that discontinuity is as much a feature in Christian liturgy as continuity. No—we haven’t always done it that way. While I do have some quibbles with some of his historical points—particularly around what level of continuity did exist and an overly hasty dismissal of the Ornaments Rubric—the presentation did a good job of introducing non-specialists to the legitimate discontinuities in the liturgical past. The purpose of this historical introduction was make the point that discontinuities are not uncommon in our liturgical record—and we now live in a situation of much change and turbulence. We should’t let how we’ve done thing in the past hold us back from what we could be doing and how we can leverage our historical resources to help us in this new situation.

Session 2: Dr. John Harper

This session was one of the reason I came to this conference and Dr. Harper did not disappoint. In a fast-paced and data-rich hour, Dr. Harper walked us through the key points grounding the medieval Use of Sarum. He began by reminding us that there was a clear and distincive Ecclesia Anglicana that authorized the Sarum Use between 1534-1549. During this fifteen-year period between Henry the 8th’s definitive break with Rome and the introduction of the first Book of Common Prayer, England was a church apart from papal domination that authorized the Sarum Use as the official use of the realm. Homing in on the word “Use,” he challenged the typical protestant equation of Use with texts and suggested that we gain a fuller sense of the term is we understand a Use to be the confluence of:

  • Materials—both texts and objects
  • People—both as offices held by individuals and the personalities who inhabit those offices
  • Place—meaning both a geographical location and the normative worship spaces
  • Time—used in a general periodic sense but also referring to the local sense specific to a day and place

He then explicated these four factors with a wealth of detail and a fantastic set of slides which included the two cathedral sites at Old and New Sarum and the major stages in the construction of New Sarum. This was coupled with a discussion of the major individuals—mostly bishops—who saw the growth and expansion of Sarum and how the community of canons likewise grew until it reached a stabilized number of 52 canons on a quarterly rotation in New Sarum.

Regarding the spread of the Sarum Use he noted that it was one of the earliest coherently codified Uses in England; due to the cathedral’s shift to New Sarum and Richard Poore’s compilation of the customary and ordinal for the new building, Sarum offered a clearly defined system which other dioceses could borrow for use and adaptation. Furthermore, Sarum Use was frequently adopted by parishes in diocese which retained a monastic cathedral. Since parishes couldn’t use monastic uses without significant adaptation, the secular Sarum Use was a natural substitute for writing/compiling their own.

Dr. Harper’s final point was to return to the concept of a Use as something very much more than just a text. Medieval liturgy was very much a “sensory polyphony” where a variety of sights were overlaid by a variety of sounds and a variety of smells. Texts, actions and movements were also layered with the various parts of the worshipping body participating in different activities at the same time and only coming together at the main cofluences of the liturgy like the Great Elevations.

We were left with a sense of the wealth and richness of the liturgical environment and the possibilities that existed for us in appropriating even a bit of these for our current context.

4 Replies to “American Sarum: Saturday Morning”

  1. “……actions and movements were also layered with the various parts of the worshipping body participating in different activities at the same time and only coming together at the main cofluences of the liturgy like the Great Elevations.”
    Sounds very much like what goes on in most Orthodox Churches even today. The bazaar rigidity of most Western worship is amazing. My solution? Eliminate nearly all the pews so that the worshipers may move and breathe and not be put to sleep in boredom!

  2. To Matthew’s remark about Western choreography, I would add particular mention of Anglicanism: the assiduous attention to Tridentine timing of crosses and bows is unknown in Roman Catholic Tridentine Masses, where even the most pious grandmothers cross themselves when they feel like it (don’t hold your breath for the “wave” at Benedictus qui venit).

Comments are closed.