American Sarum: Sunday Morning

I apologize for the significant delay in getting this out—most of my meager online time this week has been spent in the discussions at the Cafe…

The main event of Sunday morning was, of course, Mass at Christ Church, Bronxville according to their Sarum Use.

The difficulties with logistics came home to roost on Sunday morning. The hotel for the conference was a good fifteen to twenty minutes away from the church. With the number of people at the hotel, one shuttle was not sufficient for the number of attendees without cars. As a result, M and I had to go on the shuttle’s second trip and arrived late to the mass, coming in at the end of the Gloria. We started out seated in a side-aisle behind a pillar where we had no view at all of the chancel area but we moved during the offertory hymn to a spot in the nave where we could see what was going on.

Canon Davies preached the sermon—I quite liked it and thought he did a nice job weaving questions of identity and naming in the beginning of John with the I Am statements of that Gospel; others found it wordy and a bit diffuse.

Three points before I continue to the ceremonial:

  1. It was Mass; I was there to worship. As a result, I didn’t take notes and can’t draw out any schematics. What I am relating is what I can remember seeing based on where I was sitting. Other attendees with better views and/or memories should feel free to offer corrections!
  2. Dr. Percy Dearmer—by way of The Parson’s Handbook—is the best known and most authoritative proponent of the English Use. And that’s the term he uses: English Use. While much of the practices and principles are drawn from Sarum books, his goal was a synthesis of the tradition for his times that would preserve both the English and catholic heritage of the Church of England to be used in strict accordance with the rubrics of the authorized Prayer Book. At one point he writes: ” A great deal of harm has been done by the thoughtless use of the word ‘Sarum’ when the statements of the Prayer Book should have led us to the only exact word ‘English'” (PH 6th ed., 38). That the church identifies its use as Sarum suggests that it is in contact with Blessed Percy and his sources, but also that they are not full exponents of his English Use.
  3. I won’t (and can’t) go into detail on the history of the parish. However, it seems from the rector’s talk later in the day that the church had some early Dearmerite influence at its beginnings, and an influential clergy team later who introduced some aspects of the English Use. There was quite a gap, though, and the rector identified a number of ceremonial changes that he had made to make things more like they were before. As a result, I don’t know how long they have been doing things in the manner that I saw—I can only relate what was done on Sunday.

The service was a Rite II Holy Eucharist from the BCP. They used the high altar, celebrating eastward, which was appointed with riddel posts and riddels. Interestingly, the two angels holding the candles were facing each other rather than outward. There were three vested sacred ministers—the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon—and the crucifer and thurifer both wore tunicles as well. All five had appareled amices, but I saw no appareling on the albs.  (Alb appareling is present in some of the recent photos in the parish books, though.)

These are the differences that I noticed from my Fortecue Anglo-Catholic parish:

  • There were no genuflections. (Dearmer insists on this.)
  • There was less incense than usual. While I thought I saw the top of the thurifer’s head in the gospel procession, I didn’t hear the pause-clank-pause of censing the book. After the censing of the altar—which the celebrant did alone—he pivoted then censed the choir and congregation with three long swings. Then the thurifer took back the thurible and censed him with three doubles. There was censing at the elevations. (Dearmer reserved censing for things not people and IIRC was against the notion of “double swings”)
  • At the Sursum Corda when the celebrant turned westward to speak to the people, the deacon and subdeacon on their respective steps turned to face each other (and the celebrant) in the “open position.” (I’m told this is a Dearmerite position but it’s not in the directions of the 6th ed. of the Parson’s Handbook; it could be a later concept.)
  • When the deacon and subdeacon lined up with the celebrant, it was always at the middle of the altar. I don’t recall seeing them line up together at either horn of the altar.
  • There were a few textual deviations from the BCP such as the inclusion of Ps 34:8 (“taste and see…”) after “Behold the lamb of God…” at the conclusion of the canon.
  • There was no offertory procession
  • The procession moved in the usual order (crucifer, torches, choir, clergy, celebrant last) as opposed to Dearmer’s order where the clergy are right after the torches and before the choir.

So, by my reckoning, the ceremonial of the parish was definitely catholic and had a fair amount of influence from Dearmer but was not wholly or strictly English Use. The most noticeable influence of English/Sarum custom was in the ornaments and vestments. An anglo-catholic like myself could point out a number of differences from “standard,” the most notable being the lack of genuflections. To an uninformed participant it would probably have seemed like a typical idiosyncratic anglo-catholic Mass.

The thing that surprised me the most wasn’t in the chancel, though. It was watching the congregation (those who weren’t there for the conference). Very few of them made manual gestures during the service; most exited the pew to receive the Sacrament with neither a bow nor genuflection. While the chancel action seemed standard catholic fare, I didn’t see much evidence of catholic practice in the pews. I don’t know if this relates to discontinuity in liturgical practice between rectors or other factors but the spirituality of the ceremonial did not appear to be present in the gathered body.

4 thoughts on “American Sarum: Sunday Morning

  1. Chas Marks

    As someone who was interested in attending the conference, but was unable to, thanks for the taste you have offered here on your blog.

  2. Finn Froding

    Many thanks for the description of the services, and for the thoughtful comments on the speeches and presentations; links to other documents and video were especially useful.

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