American Sarum: Monday Afternoon

Monday afternoon was the Sarum Mass. While there was a session entitled learning the rubrics beforehand, it was really an opportunity for a talk through what was going on as we watched the participants practice. Unfortunately due to the sickness of some key folks and the sudden disappearance of a central annotated edition of the service, the practice was more helter-skelter than it was intended to be and the rubrics session couldn’t live up to the original intention.

I have to confess upfront that it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Traditional Latin Mass. This would be a much more informed article if I’d been recently and could compare the differences between a “standard” TLM and what occurred at the conference—but I can’t.

There is no video of the mass that I know of, but there are some photos. This album contains photos from the entire conference with the mass at the end.

The church was surprisingly full—I think many of the regular congregants came and other interested folks. A couple of the people from my parish were able to come (and should leave comments to add to my account…).

The point of the service was to present as completely as possible an actual Sarum Mass. It was not a suggestion that this is what the Episcopal Church should do now, but rather to convey an experience of the liturgical world from which the Anglican rites developed and the world to which Dearmer, Frere, Staley, and other Victorian and Edwardian liturgists pointed as a source for understanding and enriching the Anglican rites of their day. The service was a reconstructed votive mass of the Blessed Virgin. Full programs containing the Latin and an English translation were handed out, but my preference was just to watch and listen without it.  As the basis of the Sarum truly is the Roman Rite, I didn’t have much trouble following along. To my eyes, it was much like other Latin Masses to which I have been but the server and subdeacon were much more involved in the preparation of the chalice than I recall. There was also a significant moment, I believe just prior to the fraction, where the deacon held the paten and sudary cloth high which was familiar from to me from late medieval manuscript images.

What struck me, likely due to Dr. Harper’s presentation, was the interplay between the choir and the altar party. The choir was singing almost the entire time and very little of what the altar party said could be heard. It was completely clear that the Ordinary of the Mass sung by the choir was following a different track from the altar party. That is, while the altar party undoubtedly said the same parts—the Gloria, the Sanctus, etc.—they did not wait until the choir had finished singing to continue their parts. Instead, the choral sanctus stretched from the beginning of the canon until the elevations, there was a pause for the elevations, then the choral benedictus qui venit continued from that point virtually until the end of the canon and the beginning of the Communion proper. It reinforced for me how linear our current service is: only one significant action is occurring at a time, and if an overlap would occur, we stop until that action or element is completed. The medieval experience seemed to have much more layering.  (Of course, it must be noted that the congregation present acted like a typical modern congregation—we “paid attention” and “followed along” as we are used to and did not wander around and do our own devotions as a medieval congregation would have!)

On one hand, the worship experience seemed more rich because of the multiple elements occurring simultaneously. On the other, the layering did obscure some aspects of the experience, deliberately so. The deliberate obscuring of the altar party’s actions and vocalizations left no doubt in my mind that my personal edification was not the point—their action was Godward. The elements most central presented to the congregation’s perceptions—the choir’s part—were also not for congregational edification as it was not in our native tongue and even someone like me who understands a modicum of spoken Latin sometimes would have difficulty understanding all the words due to the polyphony. Thus, the Godwardness of the experience was quite clear. What was less clear to me was the theological place of the congregation; I got the strong sense that we were superfluous. Yes, our being there changing something about the nature of the service in the same way that any act of observation alters the behavior of the observed, but I lacked a sense that we played a necessary role—and I found that theologically interesting.

I say “interesting” because it’s leading me to reflect on my understanding of the place of liturgy within the life of the liturgical community. I *do* see value in the continuity of liturgical action conducted on behalf of the full community in the full community’s absence. That is, masses and offices should be said on behalf of and in reference to the community even when the full community is not able to gather for them—even a token congregation provides the necessary continuity, but the presence of those few is both significant and important whereas the choir and clergy seemed sufficient in the Sarum system in a way that felt questionable to me.

This is the last post on the sessions of the conference, but I am working on a summary post that seeks to pull together what I took from the conference, what I think its real strengths were, and the questions that I believe it poses to the larger Episcopal Church.

5 thoughts on “American Sarum: Monday Afternoon

  1. Isaac

    Derek, your penultimate paragraph has some reflections in it that are running ’round my head as I read your description of the Conference. What strikes me about the medieval liturgy is its essential pagan character (descriptor, not judgement). A group of clerics perform arcane rites and sacrifices to appease the local god. Vestal virgins attend the priests and the rites, while the pious participate only at arms length.

    One of the trajectories of doing Church that I noticed when I was in England, particularly in city centers, is this pagan model. The priest said the Daily Office, usually with two or three of the most dedicated in the parish, with Sunday Communion drawing more (< 100). Christmas and Easter drew crowds, and people made their genuflections at hatchings, matches and dispatchings, or when the spaghetti had really hit the fan (usually by lighting a candle or placing a note on the 'prayer board'). Despite the best efforts of the Parish Communion and Liturgical Movement, the old habits seem to die hard. The Sung HIgh Mass tradition (the one that limits the participation of the broader community) would seem to reinforce that model. Not decided whether that (the pagan model of Church) is a good thing or not, but it would seem to me that any liturgy that intentionally removes the participation of the laity isn't meeting your "Kinetic Expression" definition of liturgy.

    In other news, splitting the Sanctus and the Benedictus Qui was the norm for a very long while, but was forbidden by Pius X, IIRC. I don't know the current status of that 'split.'

  2. Joe Rawls

    This reminds me of the Latin Mass with which I grew up, especially the “layering” (which also occurs in the Orthodox liturgy). The notion of laity as “superfluous” is also somewhat valid, though if that’s what you grew up with, it would seem perfectly normal. Referring to the comment above, the separation of the Sanctus and Benedictus by the consecration was still in place right up to the introduction of the vernacular liturgy.

  3. Derek Olsen

    Isaac, on the notion of “pagan” I refer you to Luke Johnson’s excellent analysis of Christianity in its Greco-Roman milieu, Among the Gentiles, where he demonstrates (quite convincingly to my mind) that there were multiple aspects of “pagan” religion within which Christianity participated and to call out certain aspects of later Christianity in that way is to mistake both paganism and Christianity.

    Come to think of it, this deserves its own post…

  4. Christopher

    I would only warn about the word participation. We have so swallowed Vatican II’s “full, active participation…” meme, a meme directed toward Roman Catholic practices, not Anglican practices or other Reformation traditions for that matter that already had recentered the role of the congregation in the life of the liturgies, that we forget that listening to the schola, bowing, genuflecting, and the like are in fact forms of participation. There isn’t space in our liturgies often to just sit a moment, or to be able to let what’s happening happen without having to be completely involved (the Orthodox are instructive on this…going out for a cig or a snack during the liturgy). These days there isn’t even a space after having been communed to just be in silence, which too is a form of participation.

    I had noted before that we get nervous if a prayer is repeated, say, the Our Father, more than once in a service, or if there are eddies and circles in the flow, but a liturgy that must bring folks along in a multisensory way cannot rely upon the straightforwardness of words alone… And must allow space for folks caught up in the lushness to wander a bit…

  5. Scott Cooper

    Being a person from Derek’s parish, and being so instructed, I will offer my own thoughts:

    On the train ride back to the city from Bronxville after the Sarum Mass, an interesting discussion broke out on the subject of the reception of communion. One participant said that while she had appreciated the Mass from a historical perspective, she felt that she could not communicate because it seemed to her that she had not been at an actual worship service but the recreation of one. This had been my own position at first. I was frankly more interested in hearing Taverner’s setting of the Mass and examining the handsome architecture of Christ Church than in forcing myself to imagine being a 15th century worshipper. But then I gradually convinced myself that since a validly licensed Episcopal priest had celebrated a Mass recognizable in liturgical form to millions of Western Christians, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ were truly present among us. Although a 15th century English Christian layperson would not have communicated at a similar Saturday Lady Mass, the organizers of the conference made provisions for the laity to receive, and I thought that if the Blessed Sacrament were graciously offered, I should partake. As a 21st century Episcopalian, it would not be my first choice to attend a medieval Latin Mass every week, but personally, I don’t have to participate in the Mass Rite II style or even understand the language for Jesus Christ to be present in the sacrament. For example, suppose I were to attend a Nippon Sei Ko Kai Eucharist in Japan. I don’t understand Japanese, but from the shape of the liturgy and the intent of the faithful present, I would know that a sacrament had taken place. I know that others will feel differently.

Comments are closed.